by Courtney Llewellyn
Last summer, Michelle Piacente and her fiancé Erich Smith were struck with the inspiration to open a new coffee shop/farmers market inside Copia Home and Garden, serving Westchester and Fairfield counties in downstate New York. They had had plans to open on March 19 since January. “The day we opened was the day everything else shut down,” Piacente said.
That didn’t deter the Farmer’s Grind in South Salem, NY, from forging ahead. “I made promises to local vendors – I couldn’t imagine going against them,” Piacente said. She and Smith used to run a lacrosse training business, so they understand the power of teamwork. And her brother is in the food industry, working as a chef. His input helped her learn about the seasonality of produce.
“I wish I had experience in farming because I love it, but I’m learning a lot about it as I go,” she admitted.
A coffee fanatic, Piacente found her coffee vendors first, then those who supply the shop’s baked goods. They’re currently on the prowl for local farmers to supply produce when it’s ready. “It’s a crazy circle – we’re always finding new people, new sources,” she said. “We’re constantly looking for new things, especially with farming and vegetables. We’re setting up for the future by experimenting with different items now.”
Parts of that circle include Beth’s Farm Kitchen (a collection of four farms in the Hudson Valley who grow and produce value-added products), BumbleBerry Farms in Pennsylvania and Little Spring Farm in Connecticut. “All of my vendors are a text away, and I pick up a lot of my stuff,” Piacente said.
She added that she “100% recommends” reaching out for partnerships like these, because everyone benefits. “Once I’ve been open a little longer, this is a great way for farmers to move their produce,” she said. “It’s important for consumers to know where their food comes from.”
The Farmer’s Grind is an interesting blend of coffee shop and farm stand, and could be a model for other similar one-stop businesses in the future. And while social distancing means customers can’t gather there now, Piacente is keeping everyone connected in other ways.
“Instagram is the biggest thing,” she said. “Constantly posting pics helps us sell out. Social media is the best way to communicate with somebody in age of COVID.”