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2010 NOFA-NY Conference Enthuses Young Aspiring Farmer

In Community Supported Agriculture, Edible Events, Feeding the Community, From the Land on January 30, 2010 at 10:09 am

This past weekend, January 22-24, was a whirlwind of learning, networking, and celebrating for me. A young aspiring organic farmer, I attended the NOFA-NY Winter Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. The conference title, Circles of Caring, was a fitting description of the atmosphere there. The farmers attending were the type of people who care about their neighbors and the community. They realize that the quality of their product (whether vegetables, dairy, meat, maple syrup, or something else) affects the wellbeing and health of their customers. They are aware of the daunting forces of the industrial food system, and they work hard to bring an alternative to their community. It was a pleasure to meet, listen to, and talk with many of them.
I left my house in Tonawanda at 4am on Friday, making it just in time for the start of an all day workshop tailored for beginning farmers. Walking in I was curious to see who these beginning farmers would be. It turned out that many people in the room had similar stories to share. There were those with no prior agricultural experience, who had decided that it was time for a career change. There were many who had grown up on a family farm, and were now feeling drawn back to help or reinvent their family’s operations. There were a good number of people who had been apprenticing on farms for a number of years, and felt it was time to start something of their own. These farmers were from all walks of life; some young, middle-aged, with land, money, without land, experienced, inexperienced, single, or with families. Discontent with the industrial food system, and eager to make a better life in a nurturing community, we attended this conference. For me in particular it was great to be back around like-minded young people pursing sustainable farming.

In the beginning farmers workshop we met four different farming couples and spent the day talking about their successes, failures, ideas, and wisdom to share. That evening I heard Sandra Steingraber, author of Living Downstream, give a keynote address. She spoke of organic farming as the solution to a history of abuse from agricultural chemicals. Sandra and many of the people in her community have felt the direct impacts of toxins in their environment though various cancers and birth defects. She spoke against the idea that the “dose makes the poison”. There is no safe threshold for a toxic chemical. It may not out rightly kill you at low levels, but that does not mean it isn’t damaging your body. Furthermore a chemical, such as an insecticide, will alter in the environment, mix with other chemicals, and cause unforeseen damage. Certain people are genetically predisposed to be more responsive to toxins than others, and will be affected more often. Sandra talked of the importance of the timing of chemical exposure. Humans are especially vulnerable before and right after birth. Many children are born prematurely or with defects due to agricultural chemicals in their blood. Besides the environmental costs, the health care costs of agricultural toxin exposure are enormous. Sandra prompted that we can reclaim safe living environments, and cease using those chemicals by farming organically.

The workshops that I attended on Saturday were eye opening for me. At 8am I attended a workshop on permaculture that was geared toward farmers. I have to admit that permaculture tends to get me rather excited. For those of you who haven’t heard of permaculture, unfortunately it is rather challenging to define. I like to think of it as a way of using the landscape to meet human needs while at the same time increasing ecosystem health. In permaculture you look at and analyze the systems on your land (such as vegetation patterns, water systems, and soil), and look to see how they can better meet your needs, and improve the overall functioning of the entire landscape. Ethan Roland, of Appleseed Permaculture, spoke about various ways that farmers can utilize permaculture principles. Ethan spoke of increasing soil organic matter through rotational grazing. He explained a method to restore functioning in compacted soils through keyline plowing. The keyline plow tears a slit a couple feet into the ground allowing for water penetration, and root growth into the soil and subsoil. With the aid of oxygen this process jumpstarts microbial activity.  Ethan talked of managing water systems in ways that maximize groundwater retention through ponds, wetlands, and rainwater catchments. One thing that I really appreciate is that permaculture principles are mindful of climate instability, and potential crop failure. Relying on a few types of crops leaves you more vulnerable to scarcity if one crop fails.  You can plan for increased food security by planting a myriad of crops, trees, berries, annuals, shrubs, fiber crops, fuel crops, and grains. I came away from the talk having made an incredible new friend, Emma Brinkman (fellow aspiring farmer and permaculture enthusiast), and excited to put some of these ideas into action.

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WNY Maple School – Maple Syrup 101

In Cooking Fresh, Edible Confections, From the Land, Liquid Assets on January 20, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Although I have no previous maple syrup making experience, I am keen to try it out this winter. The thought of having access to a natural sweetener produced feet from my house is really appealing. I am drawn in by the fact that for a few weeks out of the year, the trees in my backyard, which I normally don’t consider a food source, are able to provide me with free flowing sugar. With this in mind, I was looking forward to attending a day long series of workshops about maple syrup making.

This past Saturday a group of maple enthusiasts gathered at the Western New York Maple School and Trade Show in Gainesville, NY. The gathering was geared towards both experienced maple producers and beginners. It included three hour long workshops, a keynote address from Patrick Hooker, the NYS Agriculture Commissioner, and a tradeshow of maple products and sugaring supplies. I was encouraged to see when I arrived at 10am, that there was a large turnout of over 100 people. Many of them seemed to have been in the maple business for a while. A few of them, like me, were maple novices.

I attended the first morning session geared toward beginners and hobbyists. The presentation was given by Steve Childs, an experienced maple producer, who works for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County. He clearly guided me through what anyone with some maple trees would need to know to make maple syrup this season.

The first thing to do is identify your maple trees. Any mature maple tree over 10 inches diameter can be tapped. Although hard maples (sugar maple and black maple) are generally associated with making syrup, all types of maple trees (including the soft maples: silver maple, Norway maple, and red maple) run sap and make fine syrup according to Steve. You may need some help identifying your maple trees, since even experienced foresters have a hard time identifying trees in the winter. The major differences between a soft and hard maple can be told by looking at the buds and leaves. Soft maple buds are round and red, and their leaves have saw-toothed edges. They are generally thought to have lower sugar content, but their sap runs earlier in the maple season. Hard maples have reddish brown buds with sharp points, and the leaves have rounded edges. Hard maples are thought to have sweeter sap, and run sap later in the season. However, the sugar content of the sap is quite variable, changing from year to year and tree to tree.

Once you have identified your maple trees, you must now wait until the weather is right for the sap to run. Sap runs when the winter days are warm while the nights still hit freezing temperatures. Generally this happens between February 10 and March 10. When the weather is right, drill a hole 7/16” in diameter, about 1.5” deep. Drill the hole at about chest height, or at a height convenient to lifting the collecting buckets. Depending on the tree diameter, you may drill more than one hole to tap. Make sure to never tap the same hole twice. (Tapping a recently tapped hole will cause yellow sap, which has an off flavor, to run.)

Once the hole has been made, gently tap a spile (or spout) into the hole. This will allow you to collect the sap. Then place a food grade container under the spout, keeping it covered so that debris doesn’t fall into the collection bucket. Once your bucket has filled with sap, remove it from the tree, and bring it back to be processed. Since maple sap is the perfect media (sugar and water) for microorganism growth, it is best to process it soon after collection. Filter the sap through a clean cloth or filter paper to remove debris. Since about 40 gallons of sap are needed to produce one gallon of syrup, most of your time will be spent boiling down the sap. A number of methods can be used to evaporate the water, and large scale syrup making operations use evaporators. In general you will fill a boiling pan with several inches of sap, making sure to watch that there is enough sap to keep it from scorching. Then put it over a heat source and let it evaporate until the sugar content hits 66% (this can be measured with a devise called a hydrometer). Alternatively, if the syrup is boiling at 219 degrees F, it is considered done. Once the syrup is finished it should be filtered one more time, and placed into clean containers while it is 180 degrees. Once sealed maple syrup can store for a long time without spoiling.

NYS Governor Paterson and Ag Commissioner Patrick Hooker

Another highlight of the maple school was a keynote presentation by Patrick Hooker. Patrick had grown up making maple syrup on his family’s dairy farm, expressing fond memories of it. He continues to tap some maple trees on his land today. Patrick talked affectionately of the maple syrup industry, pointing out that it receives little criticism. There are few negative environmental and health impacts from making maple syrup, and it is a tasty product in high demand. Patrick discussed New York State’s potential in the maple industry. New York has more maple trees than any state, while only less than 1% of the trees are being tapped. Currently NY ranks third in maple production behind Canada, and Vermont. Maple syrup is one of the few agricultural products where prices remain good, and demand is high. Larger corporations like Wegmans have interest in supporting local syrup. However, the number of maple producers in NY currently couldn’t meet that demand.

Patrick noted that one important way to encourage entrants into the maple industry is by demystifying the process. Those who have never made maple syrup, often think it is more challenging than it actually is. With events like today’s maple school, we can educate more people about how to make maple syrup. Another important step is to increase rights to tap maple trees. Instead of buying all the land that the maple trees are on, it could be possible to rent maple sap rights on other people’s land. One popular idea is to allow the tapping of maple trees on state land.

Wyoming County is home to a number of established maple producers who take pride in their business. I got to talk with Dottie of Merle Maple, whose family maple business has been going strong for 4 generations. They have 16,000 taps and make a number of products including cinnamon maple cream (which I sampled and loved), maple syrup, maple sugar, maple mustard, and many more. Merle Maple, along with many other maple producers will be part of the upcoming Maple Weekend. This two weekend event occurs March 20-21 and March 27-28, 2010. Maple producers will be open to the public with farm tours showcasing maple production, and other farm events. For more information about the Maple Weekend, visit

posted by Caitlin Henzler, aspiring farmer

Just went to Market for My Shiitake Fix…

In Cooking Fresh, From the Land on September 12, 2009 at 10:12 am


So I just got back from visiting my friends, Julie & Steve Rockcastle of Green Heron Growers, at the Williamsville Farmers Market. While I was there getting my shiitake mushroom fix, I ran into my friend and Edible Buffalo contributor Lauren Maynard (and fellow shiitake lover) who happened to be picking up her 3lbs. of shiitake (for only $40).

As mentioned in the previous post, Green Heron Growers has just started coming to market as their shiitakes are in full bloom and ready for picking. Below is a pic of what a log looks like right before harvest time.  Isn’t it beautiful?


Shiitakes are an incredibly flavorful mushroom and have a rich, earthy, almost smoky flavor. I urge you to try the Shiitake Pate recipe I posted previously (and if you aren’t that industrious you can always purchase the pate right from Green Heron Growers). Julie shared with me their Recipe of the Week, Killer Baked Shiitake, which sounds equally as delicious.

Killer Baked Shiitake

1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
2-3 Tbsp. white wine
Pinch of black pepper
1-2 Cloves of crushed garlic
1 lb. whole, fresh shiitake mushrooms

Mix oil, tamari (or soy sauce), wine, garlic and spices in a small bowl. Stir vigorously as the ingredients tend to separate. Set aside.

Cut the mushroom stems from the caps. Place gills face up. Do not slice mushrooms. (Stems can be dried and used for soup base or discarded). Baste the sauce onto the gills of the mushrooms, make sure the gills become saturated with the sauce.

In a 350 degree oven, bake mushrooms uncovered for 30-40 minutes.  Or you can barbecue on an open grill. Serve hot.  Unbelievable good!! Serves 2-4.  (from Paul Stamets Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms)

I urge all you mushroom lovers to go to the Williamsville Farmers Market and purchase some organically grown shiitake mushrooms.  While you are there you should also pick up a jar of dried ones too!!!

Shiitakes Galore! Green Heron Brings their Tasty Fungi to the Williamsville Farmers Market

In Cooking Fresh, From the Land on September 11, 2009 at 10:36 am

I’m excited about having just received word Green Heron Growers harvested over 30lbs of shiitake mushrooms from their farm and will be bringing them to the Farmers Market at the Williamsville Mill this weekend! The price is $40/3lbs.  Why this may sound like a lot of mushrooms, the beauty of shiitakes (aside from their yummy, smoky flavor) is that they freeze well.  So I recommend buying them in large quantities so you have them throughout the year.

Below is a great Shiitake pate recipe that Julie Rockcastle, owner of Green Heron Growers, shared with me, which is also published in our summer issue.  This also freezes well if you want to make it in advance for a party or to have on hand as a yummy snack.

Shiitake Hazelnut Pate

4 oz. Shiitake Mushrooms
3 tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts
3 oz. Neufchatel cheese
1/8 tsp. thyme
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. dry sherry
1 tsp. fresh parsley leaves

Trim and discard woody ends from the mushroom stems.  In a food processor, finely chop mushroom caps and stems.  In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the mushrooms and garlic, sauté for 5 minutes.  Stir in thyme, pepper and salt.  In a food processor, chop parsley.  Add the hazelnuts and process.  Add Neufchatel cheese and process until smooth.  Add sherry and mushroom mixture.  Process until well mixed.  Spread or mold in a serving dish.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  Serve with crackers.  Yield 1 cup.

As certified organic growers, Green Heron also sells processed whole organic chickens, eggs and a variety of vegetables.  Check them out at the market and tell them edible Buffalo sent you!

Field Trip – Journey through Niagara County’s local food & farms

In Field Trip, From the Land on August 2, 2009 at 10:02 am
The 'not so nice' rooster at T-Meadow Farm

The 'not so nice' rooster at T-Meadow Farm

A couple weeks ago, Publisher & Editor Lisa Tucker and I visited a few local farms and one local grocer in Niagara County. Although many stops were supplemented by a magazine drop-off, each stop was educational.

Our first destination was Niagara County Produce, a small grocery store in the city of Lockport. A larger open air version of the market exists in East Amherst on Transit Road; however the location in Lockport is the only grocery store in the downtown area. The store is filled with local products, including cheese from Yancey’s Fancy, fresh produce, jams from Joe’s Jammin’ Spread and much more. There are boxed and canned items, a meat/deli counter, a dairy section, and chocolates–sponge candy and an assortment of chocolate-covered nuts made locally.


Our second stop landed us at a pig farm. When we first walked onto T-Meadow farm we were greeted by the crows of a rooster and a flock of chickens. The rooster actually posed for a few pictures, but we later learned that he was quite a vicious fellow! We heard stories of how he bit through a pair of boots and attacks things that are red—including a food dish. They lived in a small house, with a door that I absolutely loved—a “No Standing Any Time” sign. On the farm there were many newborn and baby pigs, and a few sows that were due to have their litter soon. Most of the pigs on the farm go directly to chefs, but there are four that are permanent residents. These are the only pigs that have names, one of them being Cosmo, described as the “laziest pig on the farm.” He certainly played the part, sprawled out in the mud. Completing the spectrum was a boar with a temper, quite easily the most active pig on the farm. The breeds of pigs are older heritage breeds; Tamworth and Gloucestershire Old Spot (GOS) which are best raised on pasture and do not need a diet supplemented by antibiotics. 

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Field Trip – Mrowka’s Farm in Lockport, NY

In Field Trip, From the Land on July 26, 2009 at 7:34 pm


The farm tractor in the distance was rumbling slowly towards us as we stood overlooking the 114 acres known as Mrowka Farm on a crisp, sunny April day on Lower Mountain Road in Lockport.  Getting off his tractor, third generation farmer Frank Mrowka greeted my husband Phil and I with a hearty handshake before leading us on a walking tour through deep tractor ruts woven over time throughout his farmland.  Dressed in heavy clothing, Frank’s wife Linda was working in the vineyard.  She described the chilly spring morning ritual of vine tying but noted that by afternoon there’d be a trail of hats and coats hanging in the rows as the temperature rises.  Unlike this brisk spring day, Linda and Frank spend the harshest days of winter outside with their backs to the wind, pruning countless rows of dormant grape vines while studying new growth to determine which vine “arms” are the strongest, for they’re the survivors, or “chosen ones”, that will be the foundation of the upcoming growing season.  Linda said, “Sometimes the wind will catch the vine just right and slap you in the face, and when your face is frozen from the cold it really stings!”  But when the sting subsides they’re left with the serenity of a winter’s day in the stillness of their vineyard.   

With their yellow farm house and red barn standing sentinel behind us, Frank led us through the seemingly endless rows of grape vines tied to poles in perfect symmetry.  We continued on through their cherry, apple, pear and plumb orchards, while Frank told the story of how their fruit trees were grouped together over the course of three generations of family farming; and how for one weekend every July Mrowka Farm is open to visitors for “U-Pick” cherries sold by the pound.  

We were then delighted when we came upon the “heart” of their honey-making process- the beehives tucked into their own special nook of the farm.  It was captivating to hear Frank describe how the bees bunch together by the thousands in their hives over the winter, constantly in motion, like a rotating ball to stay warm and survive; and how new “queens” are brought in each spring to start the cycle over again.  Linda said during fall grape harvesting, bees will sometimes hide in bunches of grapes overnight.  A surprise sting can wake you up quickly as you’re reaching in to cut a vine! 

Linda and Frank- husband and wife team, take great pride in growing the food they sell at various farmers markets across WNY.  With weather a factor in the success of their family farm business, their income can be affected by a two minute hail storm damaging a season’s worth of growth; or a lack of rain altogether that can yield an unfruitful crop.  They’re also aware that farmers markets are educating our communities about the connection between local farms and the food that graces our tables.  Linda expressed her fondness for the human interactions between farmer and customer when she said, “It’s enjoyable to know that our farm has a role in feeding people and many customers that I have come to know greet me with a hug!”  Our Farmers Market at the Williamsville Mill’s success is a testament to their commitment in helping to create locally grown sustainable food choices.          

Posted by Lynn Schwab, co-founder and manager of the Farmers Market at the Williamsville Mill, is delighted to bring local farmers and food producers to her Village of Williamsville community. Nothing makes Lynn happier than gathering with family and friends over a home cooked meal with food provided by the market of course!

Strawberries! – ’tis the season….

In Cooking Fresh, From the Land on June 26, 2009 at 8:56 pm


It’s that time of year—the berries ripe for picking, as well as many other fruits and vegetables here in WNY. Fortunately, there are many U-Pick farms in the area, to allow you to be out in the field, savoring the sweet scent as you scavenge for the perfect fruit. Although strawberry and apple picking (in the fall) seem to be the most well-known, many farms have other fruits you can pick yourself, including raspberries, blueberries and cherries. is a great tool for finding local farms in the area. Most entries have hours and phones numbers listed, as well as a guide to what the farm grows. Of course, you should always call the farm before making the trip out there—that way you are certain the farm is open and the fruit or vegetable is ready for picking.         

Last week I visited Thorpe’s in East Aurora, a certified organic farm, to pick strawberries. They do not use any chemicals on or near the plants, and they even have a sign asking pickers not to smoke around the farm. Picking your own fruit is a great way to meet people in the field and learn what they make with the quarts of strawberries they are picking and possibly even swap recipes. A favorite response I came across was “jam.” I did find out that there are many different things to make with strawberries, and our four quarts (only $10 at $2.50 a quart!) left us with two log cakes, two pies (see recipes below), chocolate covered strawberries and some left over.         

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Field Trip – Gong Garden CSA

In Community Supported Agriculture, Cooking Fresh, From the Land on June 13, 2009 at 7:22 am
Gong Garden1

Peter, owner of Gong Garden, speaks to SUNY Fredonia students


Field trips and college are two things that are not normally associated with each other. However, before the semester ended in May I was given the unique opportunity to visit Gong Garden with my Sustainability in America class at SUNY Fredonia.

There were too many of us to fit into the school van, so a few students volunteered to drive the remaining students. Luckily, directions to the farm were very easy. It was less than ten minutes from the campus! I knew there were farms in the area, but had no idea that one was an easy bike ride away!

At the farm we were greeted by Peter, owner of the farm. The family dog and Peter introduced themselves to each one of us, and he asked if any of us had ever worked or been on a farm before. Only one of our group of twenty-odd people raised his hand, a grim emphasis on the distance people have with their food. As we were walking up the drive we noticed we were being stalked. Gong garden is truly a family farm, and a young boy was hiding in trees and dodging behind various objects until we reached the farm.

Gong Garden represents the epitome of sustainability. On site there is a large solar panel, looking as if it came straight out of a science fiction movie. The panel powers one of the buildings, in which the plants that require a longer, warmer season are housed. We were allowed to take a look inside, but we had to do so in small groups due to the small size of the room. Crowded with eggplant, tomatoes and other plants beginning to sprout, wires and heating panels all in front of a large window it felt as if we were, as a fellow classmate commented, in a spaceship. There are also places to collect rainwater on the farm, quite useful in washing the food they harvest. The farm is self-sustaining–they grow a large variety of fruits and vegetables as well as herbs which the family lives on.

Our tour of the farm ended with visiting a strange wooden and round object, complete with a dome bubble on top. This he explained, was a yurt, one of the oldest shelter designs. For a few years while he attended SUNY Fredonia he had lived in this yurt, surprising the entire group. The shelter does not have any electricity or accommodations inside–it is quite simply an open space with a wood stove off to the side. This summer the yurt will be inhabited again by an intern.

As a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Gong Garden usually takes orders for shares in the beginning of the year. However, they still have room for more orders as the season progresses. They have special accommodations for college students, who only return to the area in August, missing the majority of the season. I took advantage of this offer, and when I return to Fredonia in August I will join the rest of the shareholders and pick up a basket of fresh produce every Thursday. I wish I had found out about this years ago–it would have saved me a good deal of money and I will regularly have good food to eat for as little as $10 a week!

As we were leaving the farm, Peter’s generous wife offered us some freshly picked leeks and scallions. Although not as big as the produce offered in a grocery store they had so much more taste and we couldn’t get enough of the delicious smell. While saying our goodbyes at the farm we stood there smelling the leeks, and when I got back to my room on campus I presented them to each of my suitemates for their pleasure. The farm certainly has its place and it is quite obvious that they have a relationship based on mutual support with the community. For recipes or information on joining the CSA, visit Gong Garden.

posted by Ashley Zengerski

Becker Farms Introduces 100 Mile Radius Dinners

In Cooking Fresh, Edible Events, From the Land on June 7, 2009 at 10:38 am

Becker Farrms

Becker Farms and Vizcarra Vineyards, located in Gasport, hosted the first of many dinners this past Thursday. In the midst of a moderate gathering, the farm introduced the new concept of 100 Mile Radius Meals, a bold attempt to bridge the gap between farm and table. Under this idea, Becker Farms will prepare and serve meals on a series of dates throughout the summer with food produced from the farm itself, or other local producers from within 100 miles. Thursday’s meal highlighted foods from local vendors such as Yancey’s Fancy, Snyder Farms, Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Apple Blossom Florist (they provided the centerpieces for the tables) and much more.

Each dinner will be served outside on the patio, and yes, protected from the elements of nature. I was able to enjoy the picturesque view while feasting on the delicious foods. Everything I tried was exquisite–and I heard small exclamations of delight over the homemade meatballs and comments of awe about how much effort must have been put into the small but intricately stuffed potatoes.

becker farms 006

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Local Hero Spotlight – Patrick Lango of White Cow Dairy

In From the Land on April 17, 2009 at 4:32 pm
Patrick Lango

Patrick Lango

This version of Christa Glennie Seychew’s piece on Patrick Lango didn’t make it into the latest issue of edible Buffalo due to space.  Please enjoy this extended version of the delicious tale of one WNY’s local heroes and why his yogurt may be the best yogurt on the planet….

Tall, lanky, and dressed like your favorite literature professor, Patrick Lango, farmer, maker of artisanal dairy products and enthusiastic food radical, stands huddled over his wares.  Snowflakes land on the shoulders of his tweed suit coat and bounce from the lenses of his tortoiseshell rimmed glasses.  The Elmwood Bidwell Farmer’s Market (where he sells his artfully-crafted yogurts, custards and dairy drinks) is open until Christmas, but none of the other regular vendors are braving the bracing December wind and below average temperatures.  “No ice,” he says, referring to why it is “a no-brainer” for him to be standing on a barren snow covered urban parkway selling glass jars of ultra-thick yogurt, “in the winter I don’t have to haul all of that ice to keep my stuff cold; this is nature’s refrigerator.”  Plus, his customers are counting on him.


What many locals don’t realize as they pull quaint little jars of White Cow Dairy’s yogurt from the coolers of local supermarkets, is that these vessels of luscious, perfectly tangy, dairy goodness are treasures that people–especially foodies–across our great nation would gladly give an arm for.  It seems that every month one of Lango’s fine products springs up from the pages of a glossy food magazine, respected newspaper or website.  What is so special about this yogurt, after all?  And, how is it that this man (along with his family and a handful of happy cows) has put East Otto, NY on the map?  Let me tell you.  Quality.  Simplicity.  Integrity.  These are the three ingredients that make Patrick Lango a Local Hero.


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