by Nicole Lessin
Last fall, we asked readers to vote for the farm, restaurant, food shop, food artisan and nonprofit who they felt are making a major contribution to our local food community. Here we proudly present the winners—and a glimpse at what makes them compelling.
CHEF / RESTAURANT
Chef Josh Jones of Salt & Time Butcher Shop & Salumeria
Chef Josh Jones has learned that liver has been sorely missing from people’s lives. Ever since he began offering the Odd Bits board on the menu each night, the response to the two or three different kinds of offal has been surprising. “We put them on the menu for five dollars each, just bite-sized pieces of offal, to get people to try something that they have never tried before,” he explains. “Every time we put a liver dish on, it sells out within fifteen or twenty minutes—there is a very positive reaction to it.”
Jones says he enjoys the challenge of his position running the day-to-day food operations as chef of the restaurant because he shares with owners Ben Runkle and Bryan Butler the deep commitment to using the entire animal. “A lot of restaurants claim to be nose-to-tail, but they really just buy noses or the tails,” Jones says. “We literally get the entire animal, and it’s my job to make sure there’s not a single little bit of it that goes to waste.”
Antonelli’s Cheese Shop
If you ask John and Kendall Antonelli which is the favorite cheese at their Hyde Park store, they’ll tell you whichever one they are eating at the moment.“We love them all, and we’re really proud of them all,” says John. “We rotate through products fairly regularly, and it’s always fun to revisit a long lost love and get it back into our life.”
In fact, the Antonellis hold the artisanal and locally produced cheeses in such high esteem, they invite their customers to taste their way through the seven distinct styles featured—from the soft-ripened to the blues. “Our cheese mongers are there to guide you,” John says.
Their customers also like to know the back-story behind the cheeses—including who made them, why they made them and even what their families are like. “We got into this business because we wanted to keep learning and keep adventuring, if you will,” says Kendall. “Opening the cheese shop was a way to invite people on that journey with us.”
About three-and-a-half years ago, Stephanie McClenny knew she was on to something when she tried selling 100 of her handcrafted, locally sourced jams at a Saturday farmers market. “We sold out in the first two hours,” says McClenny, a former pediatric nurse who now sells her award-winning jams, jellies and preserves as a full-time career. “And the funny thing is, it took me two months to make the hundred jars of jam, and I realized I would then have less than a week to make a hundred more jars for the following Saturday farmers market! So that was definitely a turning point.”
These days the processes are more refined, and McClenny says she has learned important concepts for running a small business. Yet despite the monumental effort involved, she’s inspired by the strong demand for her products, the potential to educate and learn from people about the art of preservation and the never-ending parade of readily available, seasonal ingredients she has to work with. “There are limitless possibilities for creation, which kind of keeps things fresh for us,” she says. “You know, once we’ve cooked every last strawberry we could possibly cook, along come peaches—so we’re saved.”
FARM / FARMER
Glenn and Paula Foore of Springdale Farm
Glenn and Paula Foore of Springdale Farm both agree that planting a seed and watching it grow is a “little miracle, every time,” and that it’s a proud moment when they get to display the ultimate expression of that miracle at their twice-a-week farm stand.
But they also enjoy the non-botanical elements that have grown out of their iconic East Austin farm. “I thought we would just be digging in the dirt, but the people we have come to know, the relationships that have developed, the chefs that come in and the surrounding community that come in—that whole aspect of it just sort of surprised me,” Paula says.
In fact, the Foores say their work involves not only growing food for the community, but also educating people about sustainable agriculture—from helping parents show their children where carrots come from to encouraging elected representatives to consider new legislation that would give agricultural tax exemptions to urban farmers. “Here in Austin, we have such an amazing food community, but there are still people we need to reach who don’t understand what we are doing and how important it is,” Paula says. “We’re just a little farm, but there is work to be done.”
Sustainable Food Center
Teaching area residents about good nutrition and how to cook with fresh local foods at their new East Austin facility; operating four area farmers markets and helping people grow vegetables at a community garden: These are just a few of the myriad ways the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) works to bolster our local food system and, in turn, strengthen our community. “Our tagline is ‘from seed to table,’” says Elizabeth Winslow, SFC’s communications manager. “We try to support efforts in building a stronger food system from the ground up.”
While these programs may seem to be mostly focused on food, their impact can be far reaching—from lowering diet-related diseases to making sure our food dollars stay nearby. “A strong local food system impacts every aspect of life within a community,” Winslow says. “It’s health, it’s environment, it’s economy, it’s social justice.”