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It Comes Naturally | From Back Porch to Bridge Street

It is no secret that the Adirondack Coast is home to some of the best historical attractions, photography and skiing in the northeast. But recently a new facet of the area has grown in popularity: the rich mosaic of organic farms, food producers and vendors cascading from the High Peaks down to the Champlain shore.

(DoNorth/MikeHerring)

It is no secret that the Adirondack Coast is home to some of the best historical attractions, photography and skiing in the northeast. But recently a new facet of the area has grown in popularity: the rich mosaic of organic farms, food producers and vendors cascading from the High Peaks down to the Champlain shore.

The region’s passion for local food has germinated many beloved farms. Nestled between the 46 High Peaks and Lake Champlain you’ll find vegetable operations ranging from the 1,100-acre Essex Farm and the 45-acre Fledging Crow in Keeseville, right down to Rehoboth Homestead’s 3 acres in Peru. Wherever there are maple trees, there are almost sure to be syrup taps, as at Parker Family Maple Farm in Chazy. Dairy farms, such as the North Country Creamery of Keeseville, pepper the region. Orchards have taken root up and down the valley, from Keeseville’s Pray’s Farm and Peru’s Rulfs Orchard to the eponymous Chazy Orchard.

Businesses that locally source their food have grown hand-in-hand with the colorful community of farmers and food producers. These businesses range from restaurants, such as Plattsburgh’s Blue Collar Bistro and Peru’s Livingoods, to food processors like Essex’s Hub on the Hill.These businesses are where the rubber of organic agriculture meets the road of community. The first of these intersections established in the region was the North Country Food Co-op (NCFC) of downtown Plattsburgh.

General Manager Ryan Demers relates the history of how the co-op grew from humble beginnings to the community center it is today. “We are a community store,” Demers says. “Local has always been our passion.” He recounts the story from a timeline printed on two standard pieces of paper, each slightly peeling at the corners and pasted to a poster made for the store’s 40th anniversary.

In 1974, the co-op functioned off a back porch as a six-member buying club. The co-op has come a long way. What was originally seeded as a way for six friends to get bulk buying power for local produce quickly grew. By 1976, the buying club membership outgrew the porch, taking root in a residential basement on the corner of Champlain Street and Cornelia Street. However, member involvement and interest continued to grow so rapidly that the next year the co-op moved to a proper storefront. With their relocation to 13 City Hall Place in 1977, currently home to The Pepper, NCFC shifted from an organization of friends operating on a self-serve honors system to the public produce store it is today.

After almost two decades of continued growth, the co-op moved again in 1995. On a bitterly cold January day, co-op members formed a conga line to move the store’s goods and equipment a block and half from City Hall Place to its current location at 25 Bridge Street. The co-op’s growth has shown no signs of slowing. In 2014, on the co-op’s 40th anniversary, they were able to bust down a wall in the way of growth. With $75,000 in Co-op member loans, the store acquired and renovated the neighboring property, 21 Bridge St. These renovations almost doubled the store’s floor space, which allowed them to expand their selection. After completing the renovations, the co-op had a grand re-opening on May 21.

The co-op is “trying to ride the wave and keep interest” after the grand re-opening. He is a man with plans and knows how to best ride that wave.

“Generally speaking,” Demers says, “you are making a better choice here.”

He wants to keep it that way. Within the next year he plans to obtain the necessary licenses and equipment to have a variety of local beers on tap at a refill station. He broadly gestures to a brick wall where he can already see the gleaming chrome taps and amber growlers. As Demers marches across the lobby, he explains another plan to renovate an add-on building to host a juicer and smoothie cafe within the next two years. His plans for the co-op are all geared to “make it more opening and welcome to people in the community.”

His longterm grand scheme is to create a commercially licensed community kitchen. Food producers and community members will be able to rent space and equipment at the kitchen to prepare food for retail sale. The commercial license will ensure that the processed food will be in compliance with New York’s stringent guidelines. Demers points down Durkee Street, toward the site where he hopes to build the kitchen. The kitchen will be “under the co-op’s umbrella” and food preparers will have the option to sell their products to the co-op. By pouring money back into the co-op, it will create a cycle of local monetary investment supporting locally sourced food. For Demers, that local reinvestment is what the Co-op is all about. “It’s not for some dude or dudes at the top,” Demers says. “It’s for the community.”

Issue 10: Winter/Spring 2018

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