Congratulations to our 2018 Local Hero Winners!
FARM/FARMER: Tess Brown-Lavoie, Laura Brown-Lavoie and Sarah Turkus / Sidewalk Ends Farm
Two sisters and a best friend in their 20s (Sarah Turkus, above left, Laura Brown-Lavoie, middle, and Tess Brown-Lavoie)—who were “eager to put their bodies in action”—also shared a love for growing their own food and an enthusiasm for continuing education. So they started a farm in the Armory District of Providence in 2011 and another in Seekonk, MA, in 2014. The urban Armory setting led naturally to calling it Sidewalk Ends Farm. Though they scraped through the first couple years, with each of them having additional jobs, they were careful to run the farm as a business. “We let our personal needs and the community’s needs dictate how we grew and evolved,” says Laura, “but we were honest about what we could handle.” In addition to an onsite summer farmers market, they ran a community-supported agriculture (CSA) harvest subscription program and therefore produced a wide variety of crops, with a signature mix of lettuces and mustards that they sold to restaurants. In the coming 2018 season they will work with a new farmer, who will slowly be taking over the farm. They intend to use the lessons from Sidewalk Ends in the next phase of their lives and to keep growing food. SidewalkEndsFarm.com
CHEF/RESTAURANT: Jeanie Roland / Ella’s Fine Food & Drink
Although she’s been cooking professionally for more than 25 years and now owns two successful restaurants (the Perfect Caper in Florida since 2002; Ella’s in Westerly since 2012), Jeanie Roland cheerfully proclaims: “My best is yet to come.” That statement reflects her enthusiasm and her energy for the work she has done since she first signed on (post-college and CIA training) to a company that sent her to Hong Kong and Shanghai. Combine those influences with Roland’s Lithuanian, Irish and Italian heritage, mix in her own buzzing imagination and you come up with dishes like Chinese pork buns or salsiccia rigatoncini (with house-made sausage and ricotta) or buttermilk fried chicken. In a field dominated by men, Jeanie beat Bobby Flay in a 2015 Food Network show with her curried mussels with frites. She shares kitchen tasks (and restaurant ownership) with husband, James, and she prides herself on the disciplined corps of employees she has built at both restaurants. New projects in the works for Jeanie include a cookbook to be released this summer (“my old-school favorites and some brand new recipes”); a “burger bar” menu at Ella’s; and spring pasta dishes with fava beans, peas and fresh herbs. EllasFineFoodAndDrink.com
Every autumn, readers of Edible Rhody are invited to vote for their local food heroes, as a way to honor the people who bring us our food and drink. We’d like to extend our thanks to all of you who voted for the chefs who feed us; the artisans who tempt us; the farmers who produce flavorful foods; the food, wine and retail stores that inspire us; and the nonprofits that effect change in our food community.
FOOD ARTISAN: Ziggy Goldfarb / Fox Point Pickling Co.
What started with a homemade pickle kit for Ziggy Goldfarb has become a homegrown cottage industry. When he and his wife, Danielle, a neurologist and psychiatrist, first moved to Fox Point in Providence (from Phoenix, AZ), they realized they ate like “old Eastern European men: herring, pickles and dark bread,” and Ziggy thought it would be fun to try his hand at pickles. So he made them for their wedding; he made them for friends and family; and he sold his first jar in November 2014. Eventually, the Fox Point Pickling Co. became his full-time job. The company now turns out garlic dill and spicy dill pickles, pickled carrots and Moroccan pickled green beans (with cumin, coriander and caraway). Head pickleteer Ziggy, along with two to five employees (more in the summer months), use local produce whenever possible and they add no sugar, fat or any other additives. Last year, the company was a finalist in the Good Food Awards, which are the Oscars of the artisan food world. They doubled their production the first year and now turn out more than 20,000 jars a year. They are in more than 200 stores around the Northeast and hope to go nationwide in the near future. The logo on their jars says it all: “Small State. Big Flavor.” FoxPointPickles.com
BEVERAGE ARTISAN: Mike Reppucci / Sons of Liberty
When Mike Reppucci (on right with fellow distiller Chris Guillette on left) opened Sons of Liberty in December 2011 and introduced his “beer-forward” single malt whiskey, Uprising, he knew he was onto something. Fermenting a stout beer mash, then doing a double distillation and aging in oak barrels, Mike wanted a very smooth and very light whiskey, “to finish like a Guinness stout.” Since that time, he’s tried out different flavors and genres of spirits, and in 2016 he added a brewery to his distillery. He uses the starter mash to create five different products, including a high-gravity beer (10% alcohol), the single-malt whiskey, a barrel-aged beer, a beer-finished whiskey and finally a lambent or sour beer, that is fermented from the natural yeasts in the air. “We’re using every ounce, from ‘snout to tail,’” Mike says. “We’ve created a family tree [on the website] to show this, and a consumer can come in and have a flight of every one of the things made from that initial batch of grains.” Since 2011, Sons of Liberty has racked up 81 awards in international tastings and last year, Whisky Magazine voted them “Craft Producer of the Year.” “They recognized the total thing,” Mike says with great pride. SOLSpirits.com
FOOD, WINE OR RETAIL SHOP: Sweet Berry Farm
Jan and Michelle Eckhart have been farming full-time since 1996, but in 2002 they built an expansive farm stand with a commercial kitchen (Steve Cory as chef ) and began to serve quiches, soups and muffins. “Then we just kept adding to our list of products,” Michelle says. In 2012, they built on a barn to increase the lunch business (90 people fit in the barn and café) but customers were still asking for “more,” including certain sausages or cheeses. As they searched those out, they also added meals-to-go, set up rentals of the barn for evening events and began a Tuesday concert series. When Chef Cory left two years ago, they added chefs Brian Henrique, Scott Amaral and Tim Emery, with Brian in charge. And they haven’t abandoned the fruits and berries that first gave the name to the 100 acres of Sweet Berry Farm. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, plus apples and pumpkins are always available in the pick-your-own fields or at the farm stand …or even in the home-baked goodies on the menu. Open April 20 through December. SweetBerryFarmRI.com
FOOD-RELATED NONPROFIT: The Jonnycake Center in Peace Dale
When the Jonnycake Center started in 1974, originally founded as a thrift store and food pantry on Wakefield’s Main Street, resources went toward providing food for needy citizens and the thrift store provided affordable clothing and household items. Its long history in Peace Dale now includes a food pantry that is a separate building across the bike path from the thrift store. The emphasis has been on providing healthier food to pantry visitors, and the amount of fresh produce more than doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 35,000 pounds per year to 75,000 pounds. The Center offers a regular cooking class on using more vegetables and olive oil; provides home deliveries to senior citizens; and, last year, provided 22,000 school vacation meals. It has added an emergency assistance program and a Fresh Start project with motivational coaching to reach goals for economic security. “We’ve looked at the need and understand that hunger is a deep issue, related to underemployment and poverty,” says Executive Director Kate Brewster (on right), “and that’s why we’ve begun to offer more than just food.” JonnycakeCenter.org