The Atlantic Cities on Buffalo farm-to-table movement

The Buffalo farm-to-table movement is making waves at The Atlantic Cities, with its coverage of former Buffalo Rising food editor Christa Glennie Seychew and her account of the rise of the grassroots culinary scene in a city that is typically known for its killer wings. Writer Christine Sismondo, takes us from Christa’s first meet-up with me (the founder of an online publication dedicated to local issues) to her first encounter with farmers at a local food terminal, to her eventual role in helping to develop relationships between the farms and the restaurants. Check it out…
How did you get into the Buffalo food scene?
I went to culinary school, although I didn’t exactly excel. I also wondered how easy it would be for a woman to move up in the kitchen, so I worked front of house. After I had my kids, I was looking for part-time work and just happened to meet the founder of an online publication dedicated to local issues – very forward thinking for that time. I told him I knew a chef who was working hard to use only local ingredients and suggested he write a story on him. He countered I should write the story. And so I did my PTA-mom-best, worked really hard and wrote the best story I could. Then he started assigning me more Buffalo food stories. Read more.

About the author  ⁄ queenseyes

Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Catalyst behind the Pierce-Arrow Film Arts Center. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette. Themed New Years mayhem at various locations. Next up: Porchfest... Also offers package tours of the city for groups or individuals. Contact Newell Nussbaumer | Newell@BuffaloRising.com

15 comments
Malone_C
Malone_C

Also, Nora in DC pretty much invented the whole concept. I remember this happening even being us regulars were bothered by Hill and Bill and their entourage regularly there in the mid 90s

Malone_C
Malone_C

Try going on weekends, or Tuesdays. Farmers or their representatives bring in their produce to the market and sell them outside on 8th Street, SE, not inside the market. Your comment about cello bags is just plain incorrect, you are misinformed.

If you live two blocks away I don't really need to inform you of this. I would find it hard to believe the Amish and other folks from Virginia in their farmer garb and hats selling their loose produce are buying it from the same place the UnSafeway is. Ask them and they will tell you exactly where they are bringing them in from. As to price, since you live on Capital Hill where the average price of a house is $650k, you guys can afford it, it is a market based principal. The place is always packed, they certainly have not priced themselves out of the market, otherwise they would have never rebuilt the market after the fire.

Rand503
Rand503

I do, as it's just two blocks from my house. However, the food stalls in the Market merely resell the same stuff you can get at any supermarket, albeit at higher prices.

On the weekends, there is a "farmer's market." It's pretty darn funny to see a "farmer" selling carrots wrapped in the same cello you see at the Giant or Safeway, or kiwis from NZ.

Of all the so-called farmers, only a few of them actually sell any produce from the Shenendoah valley or W. Va areas, which is where the farms are located. The prices? EVerything, from tomatoes, to apples, peaches,and pears are $2.49 a pound. I bought three apples there today and it cost me almost four dollars. Three heads of garlic cost me eight dollars. Sure, they were good, but how often can you do that? They price themselves out of the market for most Washingtonians, so I hardly think its' much of a farm to table movement.

The Boss
The Boss

"One of the problems larger cities have is that they aren't always surrounded by lots of farmland. Boston and NY, for instance, have ocean on one side of them, and endless suburbs on the other. You have to go pretty far to find a sizeable number of farms"..... That is why farmers go the restaurants instead of the other way around. Farmers from as far as Ithaca drive weekly to Manhattan to sell thier goods, not to mention the bounty coming from the lush Hudson Valley, just over 90 minutes from NYC.

Rand503
Rand503

In the Washington area, I am not aware of much of a farm to table movement, if any exists. And I do read plenty of local articles about food and such.

One of the problems larger cities have is that they aren't always surrounded by lots of farmland. Boston and NY, for instance, have ocean on one side of them, and endless suburbs on the other. You have to go pretty far to find a sizeable number of farms. So the farm to restaurant ratio is so skewed that it simply isn't doable very much. In smaller cities, the opposite problem happens -- lots of farmland, but a lot of that farmland is dedicated to single profit crops, such as soybeans or corn, and in any case, there isn't much of a demand in terms of restaurants.

So Buffalo is, like porridge, just about right. large enough that there are plenty of restaurants and other eateries to ask for local food, and lots of farms that are growing regular edible crops for sale.

I'm no expert in this, and I'm just putting together what I have read and observed over the years. Even if Buffalo is late to the race, it's nonetheless good to be in the race nonetheless. We don't have to be the first or even the biggest, but we should at least strive to be the best that we can be at it.

ChristaSeychew
ChristaSeychew

I understand all of the points BRO readers are making, and agree with the bulk of them. This effort began in 2008, and while eating farm-to-table was in full swing in other cities at that time, that was certainly not the case here in Buffalo. In fact, back then you could count the restaurants sourcing locally on one hand. Today we have chefs that work to source meat, poultry, eggs, and produce year around, and dozens more that source local when it is easiest, in the summer and fall.

Sadly, sourcing local isn't that easy for restaurants despite the great strides we've made. Despite demand there is no local distribution company purchasing from farmers and creating lists of the local products that they available for their customers. In WNY, if you are a business, school, or hospital and you want to buy local food—even when it is the height of the growing season—you are likely to hit too many obstacles to reach your goal.

This is truly sad considering that our region has the ability to grow a large variety of crops based on our geological and agricultural conditions, as well as scads of unused farm land. But that's just talking about potential. Right now we have thousands of existing farmers farming below capacity or unable to find a market for all that they grow.

My goal, with all that I do, is to create demand for their products, hence my company's productions like the farm tours mentioned in the article and other things like Nickel City Chef. If I can encourage restaurants and consumers to demand and seek out local food from their suppliers, hopefully there will one day be a market for the high quality, healthy foods our region's farmers have dedicated themselves to growing.

I believe that while what I do (and the others who work with me and elsewhere in our region) may not be innovative, it is worthwhile. If our local food system was up and running, the economic impact would be staggeringly beneficial to our region, not to mention the many nutritional and culinary benefits our region's citizens would reap.

Finally, I am proud that WNY is home to so many innovative agricultural undertakings. Our urban ag movement is well beyond that of most other cities our size and larger. The independent urban farms and the Farmer Pirates are going to change everything about what it means to live (and eat) on the East and West Side for future generations. There are farmers that are major innovators as well, and several of the wineries and hop growers are not far behind. The schools that have planted gardens and are making an impact on their students' eating habits and understanding of what "real" food is and can be are not to be forgotten either.

I encourage those of you who find the concept of farm-to-table passe to join the movement actively, as it is vital to our future and there are too few of us in the field (pun unintended.)

BuffOx
BuffOx

Looks like the BRO readers/commenters have ideas on how to make Buffalo a truly innovative city (beyond the innovation that is *already* happening). Why not aim to make that a reality? We can always say that someone else can do it, but Buffalo is a great city in which to take risks and find success. Knowing WNYers like we all do, I'm guessing it would be quite easy for us all to prove the cynics wrong. I'd make a pretty positive guess that Dr. Pamela Brown would be quite open to such an engaging suggestion...

Chris
Chris

Agreed... This article is 15 years too late to the game.

Now if the article was talking about public schools integrating farm elements into their school lunches and raising awareness about how food is produced and the importance of fruits, vegetables, etc... that might be worth something.

Chris
Chris

Agreed... This article is 15 years too late to the game.

Now if the article was talking about public schools integrating farm elements into their school lunches and raising awareness about how food is produced and the importance of fruits, vegetables, etc... that might be worth something.

Malone_C
Malone_C

Dude, get out of the beltway every now and then and see what is happening in the real world.

ladyinwhite
ladyinwhite

Taking the lead in what? Farm to table? Sweetheart, this movement has been hot in other cities for years now. We are merely catching up.

TheRepatformerlyknownasosirisascending
TheRepatformerlyknownasosirisascending

Sounds fishy to me.

Consider that "Diners Drive Ins and Dives" has been here more than once. Generally people watching such a program would want to know where such things are happening... so they can actually go there themselves.

I'd say that story is patently false. Had such a thing happened, can you imagine the chefs they spoke with keeping quiet about such an outrage?

Rand503
Rand503

This story is one worth telling. Buffalo is taking the lead and we are a model for other cities.

My sister told me that apparently one of those Food Network channels wanted to do a serious about Buffalo's chefs and this whole movement on the condition that Buffalo can never be mentioned. Apparently, the thought that something progressive coming out of Buffalo would be incredulous to the average viewer, in their opinion. So the chefs said, no, we won't cooperate if those are the terms.

Does anyone know if this story is true? I'm glad the chefs stood firm against such idiocy, if true.

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