In the Field: Daniel & Jane Oles of Promised Land CSA
Daniel Oles owns and operates Oles Family Farm with his wife, Jane, and their children. Growing up on his father’s farm, Daniel always knew he someday wanted to take over the day-to-day farm operations. Armed with a degree in Farm Business Management from Cornell University, he got his wish, while his father continues to help around the farm at age eighty-three.
As manager of the farm, Oles has overseen several shifts in philosophy and business models. Fresh out of Cornell in 1979, he implemented what he had learned—commodity farming focusing on just one or two cash crops. In the mid-1980s the Oles family came to realize that the commodity farming model they were using was not sustainable and so they began to diversify their crops and growing practices, and emphasize sales at their roadside farm stand. By 2000 they were growing organically and shifted their paradigm once again, adopting a community-supported agriculture model and launching Promised Land CSA in 2007.
During summer 2008, Feed Your Soul, a Buffalo-based production company with a focus on promoting local food, brought a busload of local restaurant owners and chefs to the Oles’s farm. After a thorough walking tour, each chef and owner was given a gift bag of in-season produce. The result? Three restaurants immediately signed on for weekly deliveries. A few years later and the roster has grown to nearly ten restaurants with one, Trattoria Aroma, enlisting the Oles to provide as close to their complete vegetable supply as possible.
Each Tuesday Oles calls the chefs he works with in order to discuss what items are available and what the restaurants’ needs are for the week. The produce is harvested Wednesday or Thursday morning and delivered Thursday afternoon. With a traditional wholesale model, a farmer would harvest and then hope it all sells. With this direct-marketing approach Oles is able to harvest only what is already sold.
One of the initial challenges of this direct-to-restaurant system was speaking the same language. Many chefs and restaurant managers were used to ordering quantities in cases, where Oles, like most farmers, was accustomed to bushels and weights. Furthermore, Oles found that he needed to educate restaurant representatives about which vegetables thrive in WNY’s climate and what produce is available during certain seasons.
Direct marketing to restaurants or businesses is not a new concept. This was common practice back in the day when milkmen, bakers, and poultry farmers arrived regularly at every restaurant’s kitchen door. All of this became lost in the transition to our current convenience-driven system. Some may consider Oles traditional in harkening back to former customs, but in most people’s eyes, he is setting the trend for Western New York growers and restaurants.
Oles Family Farm
2112 County Line, Alden, 585-599-3462
A Buffalo native, Courtney Bajdas is an avid traveler who is always looking for new cultural experiences—especially of the culinary sort.