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Sunday, July 17,2011

Athens serves a local-food smorgasbord

This week is Athens County 30-Mile Meal Restaurant Week

By David DeWitt
Photo Credits: Dustin Franz
Photo Caption: Johanna Henninge prepares locally grown onions in the kitchen at Village Bakery Tuesday morning.
Editor's note: This is the latest installment in a series about local food, farmers and markets around Athens County. This article focuses on a variety of businesses that give customers the opportunity to buy local food all week long. This week, July 17-23, is the Athens County 30-Mile Meal Restaurant week, featuring eateries that use local ingredients such as Abrio's, Avalanche Pizza, Casa Nueva, Bagel Street Deli, Della Zona, Kiser's BBQ shack and more. These restaurants and their roles in the local food market will be explored further in future articles.

While the Athens Farmers Market provides a twice-weekly venue to purchase local food from farmers directly, several stores around Athens sell local food to customers all week long.

Athens has a variety of chain stores where residents can purchase name-brand items, but these other businesses make a name for themselves selling items that can only be found locally and are produced right here in Athens County.

"What you choose for lunch will change the world," a sign hanging at Village Bakery on East Sate Street in Athens tells its customers. "We honor that by offering a wide selection of foods chosen for their excellent flavor and their impact on our village and our planet. We use real foods from real family farms that surround us. We do not participate in corporate agribusiness that destroys our access to real food. Compare. Be wise. Get real. Celebrate your power to change the world every time you pick up a fork."

Village Bakery is one of the stores locally where customers can purchase a wide variety of items that come straight from the surrounding region.

From meats and dairy to farm-fresh eggs, wine and breakfast and lunch meals, the food at Village Bakery is selected from a number of local growers and producers. Village Bakery consists of the bakery and an adjacent area known as the "undercover market."

The store opened in January 2002, owner Christine Hughes said last week. At the time it was just a small bakery, she said, but expanded into its current space allowing the business to offer much more.

"We've been growing the local food movement through our business as it grows outside of our business," she said.

On one wall of the undercover market is a painted map of area food producers in partnership with Village Bakery. They include places such as Starline Organics, Shew's Orchard, Snowville Creamery, Shagbark Seed and Mill and a wide variety of others.

"I guess what we're doing is making it easy for (people) to buy local," she said. "Even if that wasn't their intention when they came in the door... It's an opportunity to get people in who may not have considered the effect of buying from the local agriculture and what effect that has on their community and their health and the health of their community."

Over on Stimson Avenue is long-time local store The Farmacy that also features a wide variety of locally produced food products, and a deli for customers to grab lunch.

Ashley Eastman, store manager of the Farmacy, said last week that the business was started in the 1970s (according to its website, 1970). She said at the very beginning it was tough for area people to find simple food items such as brown rice locally.

"We do carry some products that come from pretty far away," Eastman said. "We try to maintain a pretty even ground. A lot of our customers are concerned about local, but other customers want organic. So we do carry local eggs but we also carry certified organic eggs."

She said the store carries more than 80 products that are made in either Athens, West Virginia or Ohio. The store also features a supplement section, including a couple of locally-produced items.

"There are some people that are just die-hard local," she said. "They come up and they are buying Shagbark chips, Frog Ranch salsa and I'm just like, 'That is awesome. Eighty percent of your purchase is all-local.'"

Eastman said that as far as local food goes, Athens has something pretty special going on that can't be found in a lot of other communities.

"We have a lot more farmers," she said. "We have a lot of young people who want to farm, which is so great."

Eastman also predicted that with a wealth of resources, if the country started seeing a scarcity of food resources, Athens would make it through.

"It was pretty apparent to us when we had an eggs scare (awhile) ago," she said. "We had our regular customers coming in to buy eggs; but we had a lot of other people coming to buy eggs too."

Meanwhile, just a half block away is Busy Day Market, where Libby Markham has set up a deli and a gourmet-to-go freezer section, as well as a couple sections in her otherwise traditional corner market to see various local brands.

The deli was opened last summer, she said.

"I (put in) the deli so people could have something to eat, because there's not a whole lot of places to eat on Stimson besides fast food," she said. "I wanted to have something a little healthier than fast food, somewhere between the Farmacy and Kentucky Fried Chicken."

Markham started doing catering at ACEnet at first, and that's where she said she met a lot of local food producers, which inspired her to bring their foods into her store.

"When you get into that food world here, you just kind of meet everybody," she said. "So we just started adding a lot of the locally produced food items to the store. That's what a lot of people want to see anyway."

She said she wanted Busy Day Market to be more than just a college-aged customer's beer store.

One popular feature of Busy Day is its gourmet-to-go freezer where customers can select a meal for one or two people, anything from chicken divan to lobster ravioli, that Markham has pre-prepared and that just needs warmed up before eating.

"We get our lamb from a local producer," she said. "We get our beef from a local producer. It's great to get that kind of meat from around here."

Another place to purchase various local food items is actually the Kroger out on East State Street. While many Kroger stores do not carry an extensive local or organic line of foods, the one in Athens has recognized the strong area market for such items, and put in several aisles dedicated to the food producers of the area.

So the options for residents when it comes to buying local are wide open.


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Let's not forget; Fluff Bakery and Catering, Eclpise Company Store, Jackie O's, Stephen's, Salaam, Zoe, O' Betty's, Ali Baba, Jana's, China Fortune, Lui Lui, Bulk Food Depot, Kasler's, and I'm sure I'm leaving some out.

And, it's Shew's Orchard.



I know that this little installment is supposed to be pretty self congratulatory, and I'm not saying Athens is not more conscientious than most when it comes to ecological and sustainability issues. That being said, I hope this series contains a piece on the rising cost of shopping locally. Like all things popular, eating locally has become more of a status symbol than a responsible lifestyle. Recent reports from home ( I live in Denver now) Haven't been positive on this front. Here are some examples:

Blueberries at the farmers market- $9.00 a quart

Loacal eggs- $3.00-4.50 a dozen

Pork sausage- as high as $12.00 a lb.

and let me say from experience that the Village Bakery is a ridiculously expensive place to have lunch. Here in Denver I've seen such blasphemies as grass fed beef ribeyes for $72 a lb, so I guess this might be a little picky, but still. 

Look I understand that you pay more for a better product, and I believe that locally grown things are without fail the superior product, but Athens is Appalachia, local farmers have a higher calling than making as much money as possible of the locally grown craze; making sure their neighbors can eat.




BS! I bought local blueberries, harvested fresh, $2,50/ pint. Free range local eggs, $1.50 -2/ doz., pork sausage $3.50/lb. If you limit where you source, you're missing the #1 tennant if buying local, "Know your farmer, know your food."

There are many resources for buying local, and supporting your community. Your last paragraph calls into question your integrety. You show that you don't know enough about our local food system to make the assertions that you do. Where does anyone suggest that our farmers are abusing their place in that system? Only you tip toe in that arena.

I suggest you learn more about this local food system, and the real costs of buying/ or not/ local!


My integrity, really? Don't I have to somehow be dishonest to lack integrity? Here's my integrity; I spent 30 years on a farm in the Athens area so spare me the "learn more about farms rhetoric", and if you're suggesting that my prices for the farmers market are wrong then you can take it up with my source. Not everyone in Athens is plugged into more direct sources for their food, so if your suggesting people at the market don't know this fact and exploit it, I disagree. Why don't you walk down to Seamans right now and see what local eggs cost there. Go ahead I'll wait. Just because you know where to find these things doesn't mean others do. My integrity is well intact by the way, no matter how many nameless, faceless, internet know-it-alls try to say otherwise. I'll be home in two weeks, I'll bet you the money that the produce costs that I have no trouble finding the prices that I've stated above. Integrity: it's putting your money where your mouth is.



I'm lookin' forward to seeing you find that $12/lb. sausage.



"You show that you don't know enough about our local food system to make the assertions that you do. Where does anyone suggest that our farmers are abusing their place in that system? Only you tip toe in that arena."

EXACTLY.  Why don't you come back and see what's going on in the local food scene for yourself -  and who participates.  It's not just the 'well-heeled elite' of the county at the Farmer's Market, at the Village Bakery, at Casa, etc.  Not by far.  So things aren't perfect, but it's a heck of a lot easier and cheaper to buy locally produced food here than it was in Indianapolis - a city with over three thousand farms in its immediate area, farms of all sizes, some organic.  The farmers and local food activity of Athens are why I moved back.  And it's been more than worthwhile.