Over the years, Jeri Woodhouse has worked a number of different careers — high school English teacher, social worker, campaign manager, boat dealership owner, and now the owner of A Taste of the North Fork, a boutique food store showcasing local food products such as pestos, jams, jellies, mustards. The store is currently in transit from its longtime Peconic location to Southold.
But her love of all things coastal and her passion for sustainability in agriculture and food production has been a constant throughout her career shifts, she said.
“I’ve changed jobs many times, but my interest in food has been an interest throughout my life,” Woodhouse told Patch last week during a morning of campaigning on Love Lane in Mattituck. “I never thought I’d be making and selling food for a living, but it’s been a happy accident.”
Woodhouse, 69, is a Democrat running against incumbent Mike Domino for a seat on the Southold Town Board of Trustees, a local governmental entity that serves as the watchdog of shoreline use.
A native of Merrick, Woodhouse has lived in Orient for 25 years with her husband, John, who is retired from the domestic leather trade. She has five grown children, two who live in Greenport and three who live in Sagaponack.
After having worked for the campaign of former Town Supervisor Josh Horton, in 2008 she was appointed as chairperson of the Town Planning Board — the first woman to serve on that board. During that time, she learned how integral the Trustees are in land-use decisions and learned to use her organizational skills to work with the many agencies involved in town planning.
“You don’t plan just on the local level — you’ve got to deal with county and state agencies,” she said. “You have to consider intensity of use, of appropriateness, you have to know subdivision code and the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, that’s become very important.”
Though she had no background in architecture or building before serving on the Planning Board, Woodhouse said that her background in social work helped her get up to speed.
“Working with the hamlet stakeholders, listening to their needs as community members and applying what you learn to the decision making process is a true expression of democracy,” she said. “I’ve always been a quick learner in a political setting.”
Woodhouse’s interest in political activism began in the mid-1970s, when she was a high school English teacher in Bellmore, and folk-rock singer Harry Chapin performed at her school. Chapin opened her eyes to the humanitarian work he was heading up to end world hunger. Woodhouse said she became an activist for Chapin’s cause and helped create legislation to address world hunger under the Carter administration in the late ‘70s.
“I realized that when you become involved in something you believe in, things really can happen,” she said. “I’ve been there on a macro level and now on a very local level.”
Woodhouse, a lifelong Democrat, ran and lost for a seat on the Southold Town Board three years ago. But her interest in local politics has not waned — she said she's always been intrigued with local third party movements and sustainability farming practices she’s now seeing in farmers across the North Fork.
“It really amazes me, the number of young farmers now relocating out here with the idea of sustainability, leaving jobs in the city to come out here and do what they love,” she said.
A resident of coastal communities all of her life, Woodhouse also spent a few years running a boat dealership out of Huntington and is the owner of 42 acres of preserved wetlands upstate that is home to several rare plant and animal species — another experience that she believes will make her a good Southold Town Trustee.
And, she said, having a woman’s perspective on a town board can’t hurt.
“I’ve always believed that good government is a product of diversity,” she said.