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Eating in One Place
by Ann Marie Awad
Local produce from small, local shops will change the way you think about food
The apples (from Tom Tower Farm) retain their juicy flavor in the same mouthful with creamy goat cheese (from Lively Run Goat Dairy) and spritely onions (from Weiss Farms).
But the crunchy whole grain crust is made right here at Five Points Bakery.
What you’re eating is a Five Points pizza, a culinary meeting place for the agricultural bounty of Western New York, and only Western New York, because that’s the whole idea. Another food shop, Farmers and Artisans, all the way up in Williamsville, have got the same idea: that the best food is all right here in front of us. Both shops have made it their mission to get local foods in your fridge and in your pantry. And people are taking the bait.
Five Points Bakery, located on Buffalo’s Lower West Side, opened its doors April 2009, a short distance away from the home of the Gardner family. After having come across an old stone French mill, Kevin and Melissa Gardner decided to open a bakery to bring local goods closer to people’s kitchens. They’ve been in business nearing on a years.
The Gardners and their four daughters make Five Points a warm and welcoming place. “I want my kids to have a place that is nice to live in, a business that will provide for them and be good for the community,” Kevin says. “And for their kids, and it’ll end up enriching not just the neighborhood and their lives, but it’ll be contributing to our city as a whole and our country and our planet.”
The Gardners say that the larger mission behind their cozy little shop is sustainability. “Our recession is from people making problems that are not sustainable. Our business model is not going to make us rich, but it’s going to provide for a comfortable life for me and my wife and our kids,” says Kevin.
Their shop has expanded over the course of the year, first only offering bread, now carrying enough products for a one-stop-shop pantry stock, and even for a quick meal.
In Williamsville, the same phenomenon is taking place. Hidden away on East Spring Street is the small building that houses Farmers and Artisans, founded in September 2009 by Julie Blackman of Blackman Homestead Farm, David Setzer of Artful Table, and Jo-El Drajem of Blossom Hill farm. Already they’d been selling their goods at farmers markets for years, and the shop is meant to be a way to make their products, along with others from the area, conveniently available.
“Our goal is to make wholesome locally grown foods available daily year-round. We want to provide an outlet for the farmers and producers in the area that are doing a great job,” says Blackman.
Both businesses agree that it’s essential to tell customers exactly where their food comes from and how it was made. “By having a direct relationship with the producers, we can vouch for the quality, taste, and origin of the foods available at Farmers and Artisans,” explains Blackman.
The Gardners’ philosophy is the same. “It’s very easy to cheat. That’s why we have an open kitchen. We want the accountability of people watching us all the time. When you’re in a kitchen behind closed doors, things happen back there because nobody’s watching,” says Kevin.
Both businesses carry interesting arrays of products, many things that people have not seen in grocery stores for decades. At Five Points, you have your pick of heritage lard, free-range goat, buffalo and pork meat, raw honey, sweet corn, and their locally grown and home-ground wheat flour, among other items. At Farmers and Artisans, there is bread, butter, cheese, sausage, coffee, and fresh seasonal produce all produced by Western New Yorkers. Between the two stores, there’s more than enough to fill a pantry, cabinets and a refrigerator.
The looks of both are reminiscent of the general stores of old. Five Points’ wooden counter is laden with homemade sweets, chocolate, and honey. A huge wooden worktable dominates the kitchen. Farmers and Artisans’ warm, house-like atmosphere centers around baskets brimming with potatoes, onions, and garlic. The rich smell of real, homemade chicken soup, the kind with the fat left in for flavor, seems perfect.
The customers seem just as devoted as the owners. Places like this are not just selling you bread and butter, but a philosophy of culinary awareness, of your environment and of the options immediate to oneself. “As we learned more about industrialized farming methods, my husband Blair and I became increasingly interested in choosing to support a more humane and natural way of eating,” says Monique Watts, a dedicated consumer of local goods. “We want to support our local economy, so we began to look for vendors selling locally grown foods.
“While in the past we might have gone to just one place to get all of our groceries, now we have more options to visit various neighborhood markets, as was the custom of city residents in the past.”
Watts gets her produce from a local farm share, or sometimes from Guercio’s; she gets her bread, honey, and flour from Five Points and only shops at Wegmans or Tops for free range meats. For eggs? She’s got chickens in her own backyard.
But here we get into the question of cost. “It is very expensive to eat this way. But I don’t mind spending extra on food,” says Rachel Schneekloth, who only shops at the Lexington Co-op and Five Points. “In this country we seem to think that we can spend a small percentage of our budget on food. In other places in the world, people spend much more of their budget for food. I do not think I am entitled to cheap food. I think we should be paying the price that food really costs.”
Watts is on the same page. “It can be a bit more expensive for some items, but overall there are options that can keep prices low,” she says. “However, as more people begin to support vendors selling food grown in our region, it will become more profitable for farmers to grow more and offer produce at lower prices.”
On the other side of the operation, producers need businesses like this, too—producers like Patrick Lango of White Cow Dairy (Blue Hill Farm), makers of yogurt, cheeses and dips. “Without the Elmwood-Bidwell farmers market, and without Wegmans, the Co-op, and Farmers and Artisans, there would no longer be a Blue Hill Farm in East Otto, New York,” says Lango. “We would be just another invisible footnote to the economic reality the industrial food system has forced upon so many other small farms in our region.”
These stores have aimed for a foothold in the collective lifestyle of the community, and with it, they’re getting the attention they deserve. As more consumers decide to visit Five Points Bakery and Farmers and Artisans, their consumer patterns change and more importantly, so do their eating patterns.
“Having places like Five Points Bakery set up businesses in the heart of neighborhoods can play an important role in bringing back fresh food sources to urban residents,” says Watts. “It would be great to see a kid walking to school eating a banana he or she picked up at a market on the way rather than a bag of chips bought at the convenient store.”
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