While eating a consistent diet of organic, ethically produced food is ideal, it simply isn’t economically feasible for many families. A group of very motivated women in Buffalo are on a mission to change that norm by opening Buffalo’s very first seasonal, organic, local, ethical and non-religious soup kitchen and pantry: the Dharma Kitchen and Prana Pantry – Facebook.
The organization, SOLE of Buffalo, centers its mission on the principles of food ethics and justice, and making sustainable, nutritious food a universal right. Founded in 2011, SOLE encompasses anything that falls under the categories of Seasonal, Organic, Local, and Ethical. Though it is still in it’s early stages, the organization has already offered international dinners, food classes and an urban agriculture series. Now with an official board of directors and working toward establishing 501c3 non-profit status, the women of SOLE want to establish a food kitchen and pantry that operates on those guiding principles.
The story begins with Annie Levay-Krause, a West Side resident, teacher, and founder of SOLE who has a long and somewhat turbulent history with food herself. “I was adopted when I was 10 years old. Prior to that, I lived in multiple households and all that shifting around—besides being really difficult mentally and physically—led to severe starvation,” she said. “I was severely malnourished and I hadn’t seen a physician or dentist, so I went through the illnesses you’re not supposed to get like scarlet fever and whopping cough. The pediatrician told my adopted parents not to deny me anything, so I went to the opposite end and gained a ton of weight.”
Annie’s struggle continued later in life when she was pregnant and found herself gaining a tremendous amount of weight. “Part of that was lack of access to a dietician/nutritionist because my insurance didn’t cover that,” she said. “The food I was picking up from WIC was high-fat, fibrous food – milk, cheese, peanut butter. Many of the foods I was accustomed to purchasing with foods stamps were highly processed.”
She decided to pay out of pocket to see a dietician and began reading books on proper health and nutrition. “I was changing my perspective and relationship with food. I was no longer going to allow other people to dictate my food habits,” she said.
Since founding SOLE, Annie has kept a strong focus on education, community and cultural diversity. She has offered classes where she teaches basic cooking skills. For many years, she hosted International Dinners where friends would come to her home to enjoy a meal focusing on a particular culture. The only requirement was to bring a healthy food donation for a local food pantry. “The donations were enormous, which was really gratifying for me,” Annie said.
Annie plans to carry on that multi-cultural focus as she turns her attention toward getting the Dharma Kitchen and Prana Pantry off and running in the West Side. “I want it to be in the 14213 specifically, which is prime for so many reasons,” she said. “It’s a transitional neighborhood for so many refugees, so you have people from multiple ethnic and racial backgrounds and lots of blended families. I can walk down my street and hear 15 different languages being spoken. It’s also a blended community with people from all over the spectrum of financial need and ability.”
Annie and her organization have found a building near Herkimer and West Ferry Streets, which is located on two bus lines and in a walkable area of the community. They intend to do a “green” renovation of the building to make it ready for the many activities, classes and services they have planned.
“We’re going to hoop-house or round modular grow our vegetation on the roof to supply fresh fruits, herbs and vegetation. We’ll have an apiary hive to help with pollination of plants and for pulling some honeycomb. We’ll have a double aquaponic pond with bass and tilapia,” Annie said. “We’ll also have volunteers and part-time educators to teach hands-on skill sets like using tools, sewing clothes and growing food. These skills have lost their meaning in my generation and I want to give space and opportunity to my kids and their generation.” SOLE will also offer reduced cost services at their location so that clients can get access to dieticians, nutritionists, yoga classes, and holistic services.
Most importantly, Annie intends to make the Dharma Kitchen and Prana Pantry a place where clients from every walk of life can get nutrition and services without feeling marginalized. “When my daughters were very young I had to access a food pantry, and the experience was very dehumanizing. You were assigned a number and told to sit and wait. I would inspect cans because I had a food allergy and get very nasty stares. There was this attitude that if you spoke up, you’d lose your services. It was not acceptable to me—food is a human rights issue, not an issue of elitism. Nor is asking for high quality food an elitism.”
“We place third in the world for childhood poverty and hunger,” Annie continued. “I want to do what I can in my corner, in my neighborhood, to break that statistic. It’s not about me anymore, it’s about connecting with my community and all the people in it.”
To start, the Dharma Kitchen will serve meals three days a week in the early afternoon and evening, working together with the Big Big Table, a non-profit community café that will serve breakfast and lunch. Clients will be able to access the Prana Pantry once every thirty days for supplies, and if they need extra help, SOLE will help them find another agency that can fill in the gaps.
“It will be run the same way as any other pantry except in the way you’re greeted, treated and the cross services you can get—whether you’re a victim of domestic violence or a gay teenager who needs a safe place to go. We’ll be a drop location for children being released by their parents and have a community support advocate who will make calls for social services on your behalf. If we can’t help you ourselves, we will find someone who will meet your needs and we will never turn anyone away. All of those services will be implemented over time,” she said.
SOLE is in the process of planning fundraisers and an indiegogo campaign to make their Dharma Kitchen and Prana Pantry a reality by purchasing their future headquarters. Stay tuned to their Facebook page for updates and if you’re interested in learning more about SOLE and volunteering with the effort, visit their website or send an email to email@example.com.