Cagle | Ruggiero

Words by Eric Houppert | Photos by Mike Martinez


FARMER

James Cagel 1.jpg

JAMES CAGLE IS CURRENTLY IN HIS SECOND SEASON OF OPERATING BUZZ'S GARDEN IN HONEOYE FALLS.

Their growing practices stem from the flourishing organic movement: they believe in treating the farm as a living ecosystem, using sustainable controls to prevent pest damage and soil depletion instead of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides that will negatively affect the farm.

BTT: Tell me a little bit about Buzz’s Garden.

JC: The name is in dedication to my grandfather who passed away when I was young. Spending time with him in his garden gave me my first vision of where food comes from, my first connection to food. A small inheritance he left for my sisters and I provided me with enough to buy my first truck. After I bought it, I felt like ‘Alright, I can do this now, I have a truck.’

Buzz’s Garden is a diversified vegetable farm focusing on everything from leafy greens to roots. I don’t have any animals yet, but hope to add eggs, meat chickens and pigs in the future and who knows after that. I currently farm on three acres between two locations in Honeoye Falls and will potentially be picking up 10 more acres at a third location next year. Since it is such a young farm, I lease all of my land, which helps keep costs low. This past year, I sold produce at the Brighton, South Wedge and University of Rochester farmers markets. I also operate a CSA, where customers sign up for a share of the farm’s produce before the season begins and then come each week for 20 weeks to pick up their vegetables. In addition to those direct-to-consumer relationships, I have a few wholesale accounts with area restaurants and I have begin working a little bit the local school district, a relationship that I hope to increase next year.

BTT: How long have you been farming?

JC: I have been farming on my own for two years, and before that I worked on three different diversified vegetable farms over two seasons, including Lakestone Family Farm in Farmington and Lighthouse Gardens in Honeoye Falls so four years total. After working seven days a week between these farms, I eventually figured I may as well work seven days a week for myself.

BTT: What time do you start your day?

JC: It depends on whether it’s April or November. In the summer I’m cranking with markets and my CSA, so ideally I'm out there with the sunrise. Now I can  sleep in a little bit, so eight o’clock feels pretty good.

BTT: What’s the first thing you do when you get to work? Do you have a specific ritual or schedule you stick to?

JC: Again, that depends on the season. In the spring most days start in the greenhouse (after my eggs and greens for breakfast, of course). Because my operation is so spread out, each day really depends on the needs of each garden. The fun part about farming is that it always changes; there is always something different to do.

BTT: What’s on your playlist right now?

JC: Oh man… I’ve been going through a lot of my old CDs lately, some folk music, String Cheese Incident, State Radio, Guster, etc. Winter is a good time to go through all my old music; it’s been fun.

BTT: Why food? What compelled you to get into farming?

JC: Growing up as a runner, I’ve always focused on my diet and eating good, healthy food. I love food. I’ve always loved eating, cooking and my time working in restaurants. As I was working in some restaurants, though, I started to see where large volumes of mass-produced, pre-cooked, and processed food were coming from and it was just no good. I got ahold of Folks This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin and that really opened my eyes.

Really, what matters more than food? 

BTT: What are some of the biggest challenges facing farming, both nationally and regionally?

JC: As a farmer, I’m not looking for handouts. I don’t know any farmers who are looking for handouts. We do this because we love to work hard and produce something for ourselves. However, I think so many young people get sucked into college without knowing what they want and by the time they graduate they are so deep in debt they don’t know where to start. Farming like any business, I imagine is really tough to get going. You’re out there busting your ass to get to markets and harvest for your CSA and it’s tough work and hard to make money in the beginning. I don’t think farmers need subsidies; in fact, I think subsidies have been the demise of farming. I just think young farmers need some type of debt relief, some relief to help them get off the ground. I don’t have any college debt, but I think this is an important issue.

Regionally, I think there is more potential for support. We already have a great community around us and it’s so encouraging, but I think we need to get more people out to the markets. Imagine if each farmers market doubled its consumer base in our area, it would represent such a small percentage of overall consumers but so many small farmers in the region would be thriving. I can just imagine that think of the room we could make for more farmers to come in and enter the marketplace.  

BTT:  How do you balance work and personal life?

JC: It’s really one and the same for me. My girlfriend is very involved at the farm as well and it’s really becoming a joint venture so that’s where I find my balance. This time of year I have more time to be at home and read and gain more knowledge so that’s good. Really though, what I do for work is my personal life.

BTT: What are you reading right now?

JC: I’m currently going back and forth between The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman and The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier.

BTT: What’s your favorite meal to make at home?

JC: Scrambled eggs over Swiss Chard is always my favorite way to start the day.

BTT: What does Rochester need more of?

JC: That’s a tough one. I have been lucky, but if you’re just getting into farming land access can be difficult. Resources like water can be difficult as well. I think it would be really cool if small farms could get a grant to put a well in on their property or something. Small farmers always need more awareness to grow our consumer base, too. Overall though, the people in this region are amazing and supportive.

Farming here is pretty great.

Learn more about Buzz’s Garden here.


CHEF

CHEF GINO RUGGIERO OPENED RESTAURANT FIORELLA IN THE PUBLIC MARKET IN AUGUST 2015.

Ruggiero is pursuing his passion for traditional farm-to-table Italian cuisine that is simple and honest. He is deeply committed to sourcing local and direct; building relationships with farmers that are reflected in the care and quality of his food.

BTT: Tell me a little bit about Fiorella.

GR: I was at Restaurant 2 Vine for more than a decade and when I left I came to a crossroads. A lot of chefs, when they get to my age they either kind of “go out to pasture” and find some more institutional work like a university or country club, or they go out on their own. There’s nothing wrong with those first jobs, you work a 9-to-5, you’re home on the weekends, you’ve got full benefits, vacations. I have always wanted to do this, though. A place like this has always been in the back of my mind and I figured if I didn’t take the plunge now it was never going to happen. Fiorella is a small, 50-seat, highly seasonal and honest Italian place. Italian like you are used to but with a fresher, more seasonal approach. We wanted to put our own campy, farm to table twist on the small, family run red sauce and pasta joint.  

BTT: How long have you been in the kitchen?

GR: I’ve been working in restaurants for more than 20 years. I’ve done everything from washing dishes to running food and eventually worked my way up through line cook, garde manger, sous chef, and head chef. But it goes back way before that with growing up in an Italian family … you’re going to hear a lot about my Italian upbringing. I’ve always been in the kitchen with my aunts, and grandparents, and parents. Every holiday and family event seemed to revolve around the kitchen. I was always peeking over the counter to see what was going on. I remember one Christmas when I was really little, we had a live eel in the sink; things like that just pulled me in, it took my curiosity and from there it just seemed endless.

When I started working in restaurants I just loved the chaos, being on my feet, every night was a new adventure, you know. At the end of the night, you're so tired but so full of energy. After high school, I was living off of Monroe Avenue with a buddy and we started getting college brochures addressed to the previous owner's daughter. One time she got a packet from Johnson and Whales Culinary Institute so we decided to check it out. The next thing you know we were moving to Rhode Island and going to culinary school. We didn’t have a place to stay and didn't have jobs, but we figured if we were going to do it -- we may as well do it. Here we are.  

BTT: What time do you start your day?

GR: Well, the pizza oven controls my life right now, so to get that thing fired up and ready for service I have to get here at least three or four hours before we open. We open for lunch around 10 a.m. so I am usually walking in the door between 6 and 7 in the morning and I’m here until service ends around 11 at night.

BTT: What’s the first thing you do when you get to work? Do you have a specific ritual or schedule you stick to?

GR: I mean, coffee. Everything centers around that, so I usually start with a French press or an aeropress to get my brain turned on, then it’s on to the pizza oven. That thing is my savior and my anchor right now. Some days it’s just clicking and humming along and other days it’s really temperamental. I feel like in the morning my hands are constantly in dough -- I’m either scaling it or weighing it; it’s a very big part of my mornings.

BTT: What’s on your playlist right now?

GR: We’re kind of all over the place right now. My wife and I have been watching Aziz Ansari’s new show Master of None and the music on that is amazing. We’ve found a playlist from the show on Spotify and it's awesome. It’s a great mix of obscure Indian music, hip hop and weird 90s songs you forgot even existed.

BTT: Why food? What compelled you to get into cooking?

GR: The short answer is my upbringing. Being a first generation Italian in America I grew up with a very European approach to food. We’d go to the market every day with my mom to pick up the fresh food we’d be eating that day. It wasn’t the big box, superstore-style of filling up your cart for three weeks of meals. It was fresh bread, fresh greens -- every day.  

Coming from 2 Vine, the whole farm-to-table scene in restaurants had been instilled in me early on. We were doing the farm direct thing 10-12 years ago, before it became a cliché, overused phrase. We had farmers coming to the back door to drop off produce all the time. There are kids of some of our farmers in their twenties now and I’ve known them since they were 12 years old and carrying vegetables into the kitchen. When we opened this place, I said,

"I don't care how much money is in the register, it's not about getting rich. It’s about being able to look out from the kitchen and just see new (and) smiling faces eating good, honest food."

BTT: What are some of the biggest challenges facing food, both nationally and regionally?

GR: I think that on a national level one of the main challenges in food is the government's continued support of big farms mass-producing foods and the consumer not knowing what is in the food we’re eating.

Locally, where we are regionally in Western New York can be a challenge when you’re trying to be highly seasonal. We’re getting into a lot of root vegetables and potatoes these days. But that’s part of the challenge in a good way, too. As an Italian spot we do need to have tomatoes on hand, we need to have fresh basil. So for the produce we do import, we try to get the highest quality. There are some greenhouses still doing fresh basil and organic greens, but that can be tough to get all the time.

BTT:  How do you balance work and personal life?

GR: We’re lucky because we are only open four days a week so we have three days each week to spend with the family and get some down time to kiss the baby and hang out with her. I still feel like I’m always doing something but those days are nice.

BTT: What are you reading right now?

GR: Mostly stuff online, because it is easier than picking up a book right now. A lot of Katie Parla, she’s an American who lives in Rome and writes as a food and beverage journalist. Anything by Gabriele Bonci, he’s basically one of the masters of pizza right now in Italy.

BTT: What’s your favorite meal to make at home?

GR: The theme for this place is simple, honest Italian and that tends to carry over at home. I mean, we have our nights where we do some Indian Dal or Mexican; sometimes we have to do a 180° and get away from Italian.

BTT: What does Rochester need more of?

GR: As far as the scene itself, I think restaurants are headed in a great direction around here. You see a lot more places being conscious about sustainability and locally sourced food. I don’t know how to say this without sounding offensive, but I think the consumer base can be stuck sometimes still, expecting giant portions for dinner with enough for lunch tomorrow. I think the "big box industry" conditions those expectations and wants to turn every place into the same thing. We’re trying to do a simple menu with a few well-executed things, so for dessert we offer housemade gelato, but we have people asking where the chocolate cake is. Not everyone has chocolate cake. In bigger cities, it's easier (to have) more specialized places with people really focusing on something specific. In a city this size, we walk that line of pressing into that scene but still combating previously set expectations. People are starting to get it, though, and it’s great to see the support we are getting to give people fresh, simple, delicious food.

See Fiorella's menu here.