Four Easy Ways the Average Person Can Support Urban Farming in Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

To recap my previous posts about urban agriculture, here are the four easiest ways to support urban farming and community gardens in Buffalo.

1). Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). You’re going to buy food anyway. Placing your order a head of time makes organic farming economically viable. They sell out quickly, but Buffalo Spree compiled a nice guide to WNY CSAs here.

2). Make sure your elected officials know that you support farm-friendly legislation. Michael Raleigh writes about some of the important issues here.

3). Donate your compost. It’s cheap and good for the environment. You can go through services like  Farmer Pirates Cooperative.

4). Volunteer. During the season, Massachusetts Avenue Project has volunteer hours from 11a-1p each Saturday. The Wilson Street Urban Farm has volunteer days the second Saturday of each month. Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo also encourages volunteers at their affiliated community gardens. It’s like babysitting, you get the joy of spending time with the kids for a little while, and then give them back to their parents when it gets annoying.

The Wilson Street Farm: Urban Agriculture in Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

There’s a reason most of us love the IDEA of urban farming. It’s the idea of turning nothing into something. It’s the core of urban renewal. It’s productive. It’s healthful. And it’s usually started with little to no outside funding. Living the idea is another story.

“We have a very different life from most Americans,” said Mark and Janice Stevens. They  began their Wilson St. Farm six years ago. They moved from a rural area in Wyoming County after connecting with people through their home church group. The family found a lovely house in the Broadway-Fillmore district with a sizable plot of land around the back for homesteading.

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According to Mark, the house and land “had everything we needed to transfer our lifestyle from there to here. There’s not many cities that we could do this in. For the people who have what they really want to do in life, but aren’t going to make that much money from it, Buffalo is the perfect place for that.”

Janice talked about how they’ve come to be accepted by their neighbors. At first people thought they were Amish but “we genuinely had an interest in everybody.”

Mark added “I think we’ve earned our place here. Treat everybody like they’re a valuable human being, and they’ll generally respond.”

Mark and Janice agreed that “Our vision for urban farming is small farms in the midst of people who are excited about it. They would be the center of vibrant communities.”

That’s a radical departure from our food economics today. But is there any other way to control the food we eat? We’re more weary of consuming chemicals with our food. We’re suspicious of government definitions of organic. “If you’re really interested in real, good, food, you have to know where your sources are,” Mark concludes.

The Wilson Street Farm defines organic as, “We’re going to farm by learning from nature. Nature always wants to come into balance with itself,” There is a role for the consumer here, as well. We usually want our food to look perfect but as Janice offers, “Most of nature is not perfect.”

Urban agriculture isn’t simple. The Stevens family has years of experience. Most of us  won’t make the true commitment needed to be fully involved in it. But I do believe we can help the people that have. I asked what that is.

“We have volunteer days the second Saturday of each month,” Janice replied. “We’ll give you a job,” Well, volunteer Saturdays are over until April or March, so there must be something else we can do. Organic farmers seem to need all the compost they can get. There are residential composting programs through the Farmer Pirates Cooperative.

“The purpose of the co-op is to make it easier for the average Joe to get into it,” said Mark. Janice suggested that getting involved with community gardens is also a good way to learn. “You have to ask a LOT of questions,” she said.

We may not know how to build urban farms, but we can at least help the Stevens family and the other urban farmers in Buffalo who do. They are the small farms in our midst, we are the people who are excited about it.

Never Eat Shredded Wheat in Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

There’s no East Chicago (IL) South Detroit, or North Cleveland. In Buffalo we have all four, but consider this:

The East Side and the West Side are almost never called East Buffalo or West Buffalo.

North Buffalo and South Buffalo are absolutely never called the South Side or the North Side.

Any ideas why?

The Top 10 Quotes from TEDx Buffalo 2013

By Griffin Jones

Probably a lot more, but this is what I wrote down.

10). “We will continue to report the story of me. But I remain skeptical that many will report the story of us, the collective story of society,” –Mike Connelly

9). “The longest running conversation you will ever have is with yourself,” –Matt Petroski

8). “We have so many problems and so far to go, so much is possible for us. We are all changing our neighborhoods. We’re changing our cities. Not so they look like someone else’s city. So they look like us,” –Bryana DiFonzo

7). “The unimportant is beauty. So what this means is, the things we might overlook…might be where beauty lies,”–Jeremy Speed Schwartz

Danimal Cannon rocking Chiptune.

Danimal Cannon rocking Chiptune.

6). “The hope for my life was lost and unexpectedly returned by the great hope provided by my good neighbors. Now we feel our life in the US is blooming, like marigolds in spring as in our native land,”–Bishnu Adhikari

5). “We can see everything but where we are. So we can see almost all of it. And we can understand most of it. But we don’t really have the full picture,”–Ben Siegel

4). “Capitalism only works if we are wiling to defend our human dignity, to protect your quality of life, and to stand for your own values,”–Gloria Zemer

3). “I hope that what we can think about, is that we were a version of Buffalo in 2013 that thought so much of itself, that we were going to create an attitude of curiosity,”–Ben Siegel

2). “You have to be able to overcome the fear of rejection of your own ideas so you can advance the ideas of someone else,” Matt Petroski

1). “Righteousness is seeing good in each other,”–Michael Martin

 

What Local Businesses Need to Learn from Five Points Bakery

By Griffin Jones

“Once you start something, people get excited. They want to be a part of it,”

It’s a good thing Five Points Bakery is open on Monday. Talking to Kevin Gardner at my least favorite point in the week was a good way to set my focus.

Kevin and his wife Melissa opened Five Points on Rhode Island Street in 2009. Melissa had worked at and managed Dolci Bakery on Elmwood Ave for a number of years. She brought in Kevin, who was working as a General Contractor. They liked it, but felt they had to start something new. People already loved it for what it was, why change an established business?

Kevin Gardner of Five Points Bakery at 426 Rhode Island St.

Kevin Gardner of Five Points Bakery at 426 Rhode Island St.

“Nobody had a bread made from local flour.” The Gardners were interested in breaking away from buying wheat as a commodity. It was volatile, unsustainable. A major wheat fire in Russia caused a shortage that led wheat prices to skyrocket. “Why should something going on in Russia affect me on the west side?”

So the Gardners negotiated a fixed price with local wheat farmers that meets the financial needs of both parties. “It’s a fair price,” Kevin said, referencing that he still pays the farmers the same price when wheat prices plummet. “It doesn’t matter what the market does,”

That’s scary to do in Buffalo. Conventional business  wisdom, especially in WNY, is to keep the bottom line as low as possible to protect profit. Kevin argues that responsible business is good for the top line.

“When you do it effectively, the customers care. They’re not the same customers they were fifty years ago. You have a product people feel, really, really, good about,” As a businessman and a capitalist, I dwelled on that last remark for a while. How many businesses offer a product that makes people feel really, really good? That’s the only thing that overcomes price in the digital age. “We’re not just getting by. We’re profitable,” Five Points Bakery has paid out $30,000 in bonuses to their employees over the last four years.

Five Points wasn’t somehow exempt from the uncertainty that all businesses face.”You never really know. There’s always an element of risk,”

But the Gardners recognized that being remarkable, and doing a few things very well, is the only way to be sustainable in all areas. As a digital marketer I spend my career trying to persuade businesses to step into this space. I asked Kevin if there’s any way to expedite the process.

“I really don’t think there is a way to rush it. What gets people to change their mind is when they see it on their news feed and think, ‘what am I missing?'”Kevin added that pioneers are always needed to set an example for the majority. “Present a model. Live well. Show people you can be successful,”

Thank you for figuring out a way to go first, Melissa and Kevin. Now we have a different, for me a more desirable, image of what successful looks like.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept

By Griffin Jones

I’ve come to suspect that the most fulfilled people are those who acknowledge that a problem is not their responsibility, and then claim responsibility for it.

You didn’t sabotage the public education system. You didn’t pollute the water. You didn’t move business out of town. You didn’t discriminate against anyone. People may try to sentence you with those that did, but usually they’re projecting on to you, so they don’t feel implicated themselves.

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Forget that. You didn’t do anything. You are not responsible.

Yet…the schools are  failing, the water is contaminated, business has left, and some groups are left out.

Buffalo is unmistakably a better place today than it was twenty years ago, because some people decided to claim responsibility for that which they were not accountable.

Is it only important to solve major problems if the resources and support are available? Or is it more important when they’re not? It takes sacrifice, pain, and energy to overcome them. Resources ease the burden but tenacity is prerequisite.

Who’s responsibility is it? Corporations? Government? These are words to describe “other people”. And we know they only take responsibility after we do. How important are any of the solutions to you?

Start with the measure of your own contentment. My friend Tony Diina,  a business owner and community volunteer, told me, “Often times, the service benefits the donor more than the recipient,”

That’s okay. In fact, that’s precisely how to take ownership of a problem of which you’re not at fault. It reconciles the catch-22 of not being involved because there’s no hope, and no support because not enough people care.

Doesn’t that have to be the bedrock for commitment? Especially, because we never actually win. The question, “what’s next?” follows every gain like a shadow. Each time, someone has to decide, “do I want to accept responsibility for that?”

As Jay Schwinger of SILO City Rocks says, “I do it for my own sanity,”

Ironically, self-motivation is the fallback for self-sacrifice. it’s only when we take responsibility for something, that we truly aren’t responsible for it.

Buffalo, It’s Not For Everyone

By Griffin Jones

In marketing, it’s sometimes better to say what your product is not, rather than what it is. Horseless carriage, lead-free gasoline, off-track betting. Buffalo is not a prefab city. We got problems.

If you’re looking for a city with a generous job market, popular status, a bustling city center, and an overflow of young people, you’re not in the market for Buffalo.

Buffalo is not the victor of struggles against crime, poverty, environmental degradation, and inequality. It is the front.

Buffalo is a product for the people who want to be on the front. For them, the excitement is holding the line, and finally, forcing the turning point. It is for those whose emotional and social needs are met by actively contributing to change.

Buffalo is not an incubator for entrepreneurship. It is for those who can create opportunity from these disadvantages. That’s an extremely rare person, and therefore extremely important.

Buffalo is not for parents who want to send their children to the best public schools, which is a high stake. What could be more responsible than wanting to secure the best possible future for your children? Buffalo is for people who want to make public schools better by sending their kids there.

Buffalo is not for those who want a finished product. Buffalo is for pioneers and those who reinforce them.

For those not in the market for Buffalo, no offense taken. There are many amazing cities that can meet needs that Buffalo cannot. There are many other (perhaps greater) causes to be championed elsewhere.

Just please don’t tell the people on the front that their product isn’t good enough . They know. That’s exactly why they’re there.

Swim, Drink, Fish, Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

The relevance of Buffalo’s revitalization to the world, is its impact on the environment. If we rehabilitate urban spaces like Buffalo, we reuse existing infrastructure and consume less of the planet. Since this is a cardinal position for Buffalo, it’s important to represent that position in some kind of event.

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The Conference on the Environment, which rotates throughout New York State, finished Saturday with 192 attendees and 35 presenters.

The keynote speaker was Tragically Hip front man, Gord Downie. I was skeptical of the theme, which was an evening of conversation and song. I thought that it would either fall short in substance of the topic, or entertainment of the music. No way. It was perfect.

As conference coordinator, Peter Rizzo, put it, “The weaving together of song and anecdote gave way to an experience that appealed to all in the audience. We received the same rave reviews from both Gord fans and those who had never heard of him before,”

Downie’s passion for Lake Ontario was amplified through his music and backed up by his rigorous understanding of the politics and the science involving the fresh water of the lakes. Downie describes himself as a Lake Ontarian. He reminds Buffalonians that we are citizens of the Great Lakes.

The swimability, drinkability, and fishability, of Lake Erie, and subsequently all of the Great Lakes, are directly tied to Buffalo’s marketability . Quality of life is currency in the Digital Age, and Downie’s mantra of “Swim, Drink, Fish,” is the benchmark for that currency. The rehabilitation of Buffalo is at least in part dependent on the health of the Great Lakes. People will move to areas where fresh water is more readily available.

As water supplies across the world become more stressed, more attention will be paid to Lake Erie. If Lake Erie is rehabilitated to the “swim, drink, fish” standard, Buffalo’s economy is poised to benefit. If waste and chemicals from Canada and the United States continue to contaminate our fresh water, Buffalo’s rebirth will be limited.

We must not only halt the current destruction to the lakes, we have to shift the baseline of health back to where it was before a century of industrialization.  Cities that can best preserve their natural surroundings will be the most marketable in the decades to come. As Portland is seen as an access point for the woodland of the Pacific Northwest, so too must Buffalo be for the Great Lakes.

We are very late to the game. The science is daunting. The politics more so. But all of my optimism for the world comes from trying to improve Buffalo as much as I can by helping a few unrelenting people. I looked for a glimmer of hope. I asked Rizzo if it was fair to call the conference the most successful in a decade, when it was last in Buffalo.

“It’s fair to describe it as the most successful CoE, ever,” he replied.

To get involved with any of the following waterkeepers, visit:

http://www.waterkeeper.ca/whoweare/

http://www.lakeeriewaterkeeper.org/

http://bnriverkeeper.org/

 

Improving Buffalo: How To See The Difference

By Griffin Jones

In 2010, Visit Buffalo Niagara released a very popular video called This Place Matters. I can’t back pedal now; I hated it. It drove me nuts.

Three years later, VBN co-sponsored another film, this time by Paget Films called Buffalo: America’s Best Designed City. John Paget’s film was beautifully shot, visionary, and masterfully edited. All things I had initially hated about “This Place Matters”. Yet, I allowed myself to enjoy John’s film the way everyone else does. I could articulate the difference immediately.

The Premier of "Buffalo: America's Best Designed City" at Larkin Square

The Premier of “Buffalo: America’s Best Designed City” at Larkin Square

At a recent event, I heard Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, President of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership make reference to Buffalo’s anonymous malcontents on the internet. I think the phrase she used was “basement people”.

In 2010 I was a basement person.  I resented Buffalo for everything it wasn’t. It’s low skyline, poverty, and lack of professional opportunities deeply aggravated me.  I was missing “the moment of our time” by living in Buffalo. My “basement” attitude was compounded by my first exposure to the This Place Matters video.

I watched it from link after link on Facebook and Twitter from Buffalo expatriates living in New York, Chicago, and Boston. I felt patronized. They were allowed to live “the moment of our time” in these incredible places, yet idealize Buffalo however they pleased. I projected that indignation toward “This Place Matters”, to VBN, and to just about every optimist in town.

The new film was released two days ago. For me, the difference was palpable.  The environment in which I watched the film captured the way my habits have transformed my attitude toward Buffalo.  This time, I didn’t learn about it from people who will never have a role in this community. I didn’t watch it alone on a lap top in my apartment. I was among an audience of people who have invested their lives into making Buffalo a better place to live.

My friend Charlie Fashana said, Buffalo “is what it is, is for the people who stay,”

After the last year or so, I am honored to call many of these people my friends. As I watched helicopter shots of cloudless sky, and flattering redevelopments, similar to the shots that had infuriated me years ago, I looked around.  I stood next to people who’ve helped me push at-risk-youth on a tire swing, through Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I stood behind people who taught me how to plant chard in urban gardens. I was surrounded by the people from B Team Buffalo who cram their schedules with volunteering  until they have no more spare time. All… in a beautifully redeveloped area…under a cloudless sky.

Contributing to Buffalo is a life-long cause. We’ll never get to celebrate and say we’re done. So for those that stayed, and for those that come from elsewhere to take ownership of our city, it’s nice to let the world know we feel good about that. “America’s Best Designed City” does that perfectly.

Now back to work we go…

Martin Cooks a Case Study for Buffalo’s Success in the Digital Age

By Griffin Jones

A great many local restaurants have struggled in the digital age. For decades, national chains have been able to cut their margins so low, local eateries have been engaged in a price war they can’t win. Many are still trying to fight that battle. Most lose.

Trying to produce as much food for as cheaply as possible is a tactic of the Industrial Age. It ignores the benefits that small businesses have in the Digital Age. People’s interest is only captured when they find something remarkable, litterally something that causes them to make a remark. When they do, they can share it with more people than ever before.

Photo from martincooks.com.

Photo from martincooks.com.

Martin Cooks fits that definition. They don’t sell $6 meals because Chili’s sells $7 meals. They don’t do breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner buffet, seven days a week. They sell $60 dinners, twice a day, four days a week. They also serve lunch five days a week. The result? They have been packed since their Grand Opening in May 2013.

“I knew it could work,’ chef Martin Danilowicz said of the prix fixe menu and open kitchen environment. He thought of the idea a few years ago. When he saw the concept work in Brooklyn, with Brooklyn Fare, and a few other restaurants, he was eager to try something new in Buffalo.

The menu, which is 90% vegetarian, changes weekly. Food critics have acclaimed Martin Cooks since Day 1. “We have a twist on just about everything,”

The food is part of the unique experience required for success in the digital age. The social experience is another. So Danilowicz gets everyone’s name on the reservation and introduces dinner parties to each other. Of the open space kitchen, he says “it’s like a big think tank. We have an idea and it grows. We just keep talking about it until the dish goes from a 1 to a 10,”

The third reason to remark about Martin Cooks is it’s location in the up-and-coming, lower west side, and the impact new businesses have there.

Danilowicz would like to see the area attract clothing stores, shoe stores, art galleries, and even more restaurants. “Competition is a good thing,” he says. But why?

“Restaurants make neighborhoods” he replied. “If you bring a good quality restaurant into a neighborhood, you can draw people in that aren’t from there,” Danilowicz says that’s why he pays for the landscaping at the apartments directly across from the store and his employees pick up around the neighborhood after the weekend.

You must be different enough that people will remark about you. The proof? Martin Cooks is already expanding in the Horsefeathers building after only five months in business. Most restaurants go out of business within their first six months. The more places like Martin Cooks, the more we have to remark about Buffalo.