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Posts Tagged ‘Athens Ohio’

Heading into Casa

In the spring of 1985, a group of 8 unemployed restaurant workers decided to form a worker-owned cooperative. The original founders had never run a business before, but collectively had over 100 years of restaurant experience and were determined to create their own livelihoods. They turned to the recently formed Worker Owned Network (now the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks) and with their support developed a business plan, secured financing and created the foundation for Casa Nueva’s cooperative structure. As a measure of the sustainability of this vision, some of today’s worker-owners include children born to that first generation of Casa founders.

Celebrating 25 years

Last night twenty five banners, each a tribute to a year of Casa Nueva’s successful experiment as a worker-owned enterprise, covered the walls of this Athens hotspot. A big crowd of The Locavore Solution’s friends and loyal customers came out for a night of celebration, food and music.

Casa champion Leslie Schaller

The festivities were kicked off by Leslie Schaller, Casa Business Manager and the sole remaining member of the first group of worker-owners that founded the restaurant. Standing in front of a banner that listed all of the workers who have owned a share of the restaurant over the years, Leslie acknowledged the on-going support of the community in creating Casa’s success.

The mayor

Next up was Athens Mayor, Paul Wiehl, who proclaimed October 20th Casa Nueva Day. A highlight of the early evening was the awarding of the year’s ‘eater’ award, selected by Casa’s staff.

Jerry Chester

This year’s prize went to Jerry Chester and Matt Griffin who had their first date at Casa 25 years ago and continue to be loyal customers.

Just in time for the many children in attendance, Flyaway Saturn, an Athens-based band that writes and performs music for the whole family, took the stage. Soon folk, small and large, were bouncing to the band’s beat, with all that motion only building the hunger for the next event – FOOD!

Many of Casa’s former worker-owners have, over the years, launched their own food enterprises and they gladly donated food for the party. On the long table in the central dining room, one could sample fare, made just for the occasion, by Avalanche Pizza, O’Betty’s Red Hot, Purple Chopstix, The Village Bakery, and a special CASA (caramel, apple, spiced ale) brew from Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery. By 9 PM, most of Casa’s baby boomer-age fans headed home, making room for the younger generation to dance away the rest of the night.

It’s easy to love Casa’s seasonal menus, comfortable bar, and quirky staff, but its spirit is truly inspiring. In a world gone mad and bland, Casa’s spicy insistence on supporting local farmers and food producers, treating its workers well, and building community, shine. Here’s to another 25 years and more!

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Many of us are only two generations removed from a primarily locavore way of life. My grandmother ate seasonally, grew and gathered her own food, put food by (canning, pickling, drying) or purchased it locally. Putting a face to the sources for her food was an everyday experience since the farmer, butcher, orchardist, miller, brewer, baker and fisherman were her neighbors.

The dominance of big ag and other corporate interests in our food lives, concerns about the environmental impacts of shipping foods thousands of miles, and the desire for more transparency about the sources of what we eat has led many people to reclaim a ‘nearer to home’ approach to food. This can be challenging for the many in the U.S., living in what are essentially food deserts. Yet where there’s the will, ways appear. In Youngstown, a Rust Belt city in northeast Ohio, where virtually every inner city grocery store has closed, food champions are combining community gardens, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), and corner store upgrades to provide healthy, fresh foods.

Here in southeast Ohio, we are fortunate that our food culture has been profoundly influenced and strengthened over the last 20 years by the passions and hard work of our region’s farmers, specialty food producers, independently-owned (and in one case, worker-owned) restaurants. Another important layer is the critical mass of local food economy non profits and resources such as ACEnet’s Food Ventures facility and Community Food Initiatives‘ investment in community gardens, the Edible Schoolyards project, and its Donation Station program that delivers fresh, locally sourced food to people in need at over 40 locations in and around Athens County.

Selling eggs at the Athens Farmers Market

So how does the 30 Mile Meal Project impact those within a 30 mile radius of Athens? For consumers, 30MM responds to the growing desire to know where their food comes from, who is producing it and how (think eggs and the recent salmonella outbreak). The Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACCVB) has created a 30 Mile Meal Map, making it possible for locals and visitors to find nearby food and farmers markets, eateries that primarily use local foods in their menus, CSAs, farm tours, food festivals and events, and more. You can even search for specific local foods such as dairy products, grains or beans. Through our partnerships, we offer learning opportunities such as food-making and cooking workshops and farm tours.

For our 30 MM partners, a major aim of the project is to support local foods earning opportunities for farmers, food producers, food markets, food events and local food enterprises. We’ve created an umbrella brand (logos, a tag line, signage, and products) that can be used to promote their particular piece of the 30 Mile Meal pie (farm, food product, restaurant, festival, etc). ACCVB recently launched a 30MM e-newsletter (anyone can subscribe) that shares farmer profiles, news of upcoming events, a ‘Dining Out with the 30 Mile Meal’ column, and recipes.

Other activities in development include a seasonal calendar of 30MM events and workshops, farm tours, market to chef cooking experiences, additional food-themed events, and local foods recipe contests. The project supports the ACCVB in responding to the growing interest in agri- and culinary tourism and through 30MM partnerships can create and promote touchpoint locavore experiences for both visitors and locals.

As the 30 Mile Meal Project takes root and branches out, our expectation is that it will nourish a more robust, sustainable and locally-driven economy. The seeds are planted…

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