Eating local takes on new meaning in Athens County

Beets for sale from Homecoming Farms during the Athens Farmers Market.

Beets for sale from Homecoming Farms during the Athens Farmers Market.

To better understand how food connects people, you can visit Athens County — where a project known as the 30 Mile Meal has helped to unite the stakeholders in the local food economy.

Or ask Luar Romero, general manager of Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery in uptown Athens.

When he rattles off the places from which he buys ingredients for the restaurant’s kitchen, Romero names farms, not wholesalers — most of them within 30 miles of Athens.

Feta cheese for the craft brewery’s signature feta-cheese salad dressing comes from Integration Acres in Albany.

So do papaws, which are used to produce its Pawpaw Wheat imperial ale.

“And its black walnuts,” kitchen manager Tom Potter said.

Laurel Valley Creamery in Gallipolis, Potter said, supplies the cheese used in cheese plates as well as cheese curds.

Athens Own, a processor of meats sourced from only Athens County farms, provides the beef for the classic pub burgers, Romero said.

And the company-owned farm, Barrel Ridge in Lodi Township, supplies much of the salad greens and other produce.

Jackie O’s is literally serving up the 30 Mile Meal.

Every July, Athens County celebrates 30 Mile Meal Month with a series of events aimed at showcasing its food community.

The concept of creating a hyper-local food system originated six years ago as a marketing tool but has grown into a model of collaboration being copied in other cities, including Youngstown, Ohio, and Huntington, W.Va.

The 30 Mile Meal was developed by Paige Alost, director of the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Leslie Schaller, program director for the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (commonly known as ACEnet).

Alost found herself in Athens after her husband, Stan, accepted a teaching position at Ohio University.

Schaller, who has lived in Athens since 1971, is one of the original owners of perhaps the town’s best-known restaurant, Casa Nueva (previously Casa Que Pasa, for those who attended OU before 1985) — a worker-owned cooperative specializing in locally sourced foods.

Customers walk down the main walkway during the Athens Farmers Market.

Customers walk down the main walkway during the Athens Farmers Market.

Schaller and ACEnet had worked with numerous local food producers to get their businesses established.

Alost, who had worked on a “regional flavor” project focusing on food and art, was mulling the “ Eat local” concept when the idea germinated.

“When they talk about eating locally, 100 miles is considered local,” she said. “We wondered, ‘ What does 30 miles look like?’”

The city’s central location — most of Athens County lies within 30 miles of Athens — helped to solidify the concept.

The project not only united the players in the local food economy but, perhaps more important, also provided them with a shared identity.

The participants include more than 140 farms, restaurants, food-makers, brewers, distillers and wineries as well as the Athens Farmers Market (which has received national acclaim) and existing food events such as Ohio Brew Week.

From a tourism perspective, Alost said, food is a natural vehicle for showcasing an area.

“When people travel, we all know they will eat before they stay overnight,” she said.

But the culture of Athens, with its laid-back hippie vibe, provided the secret ingredient that has helped to make the project so successful.

Court Street, known for its string of college bars (and infamous Halloween party), is also home to businesses such as Fluff Bakery, owned by transplanted Clevelanders Jessica and Jason Kopelwitz.

After Jessica’s sister and brother-in-law, Angie and Matt Starline, began Starline Organics in Athens, the Kopelwitzes decided to relocate there to escape their “corporate lives.”

Jason, a chemist, began working as a brewmaster for Jackie O’s; Jessica opened Fluff in 2010.

At Fluff, she sources about 40 percent of her ingredients from local purveyors, including Starline and the Pomeroy business Snowville Creamery.

She can’t beat the quality of the local goods, she said, but also benefits financially by not having to buy in huge quantities. She also likes knowing that her money goes to folks who are likely to patronize her bakery.

“Economically, it makes sense,” she said.

Becky Rondy — who operates Green Edge Gardens, an organic grower in Amesville — said the 30 Mile Meal gave area restaurants the incentive to look locally when sourcing ingredients.

Athens residents were already sold on the concept of buying locally, she said, but the project drew food businesses.

Kip Parker, manager of the Athens Farmers Market, said the 30 Mile Meal has increased exposure for area farms and allowed some to expand.

Many, including Green Edge, are selling produce, cheese and other items to restaurants and markets throughout Columbus. (Barcelona, Basi Italia and others buy from Green Edge.)

Every non-chain restaurant in Athens, Parker said, is sourcing at least some of its ingredients locally.

The project has also helped solidify Athens County’s reputation as a foodie haven, giving food producers state and national exposure, Schaller said.

“Our local food and beverage scene is really unique and extraordinary.”

 

Athens area plans month of events

July, or 30 Mile Meal Month in Athens County, celebrates food and beverages grown, sold and prepared within a 30-mile radius of Athens, Ohio. For links to events and lists of participating vendors, visit athensohio.com/category/30-mile-meal.

Picnic Week, through Friday: picnics encouraged in the many Athens County parks

Ohio Brew Week, Friday through July 18: more than 200 Ohio craft beers spotlighted during a week that ends with the Last Call Street Festival, from 2 to 11 p.m. July18 (www.ohiobrewweek. com)

Restaurant and Food Truck Week, Saturday through July17: specials on locally sourced meals and menu items at participating restaurants

Farmers Market Week, July18-24: a celebration of the Athens and Nelsonville farmers markets, the Chesterhill Produce Auction and specialty food producers

Craft Spirits Week, July25-31: a showcase of the libations of Athens County breweries, wineries and distilleries

From The Columbus Dispatch  |  July 7, 2015