“The way to change the world,” actor Jeff Bridges once said, “is through individual responsibility and taking local action in your own community.”
Who knew The Dude would be so spot-on about social progress?
Because he’s right: Good things happen when forward-thinking people make connections with each other and their community. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit in action – and sometimes it can even turn a profit.
Case in point: “social entrepreneurs” who combine commerce with activism and community building. You can find them all summer long at the North Buffalo Farmers Market, which this past summer completed its fifth season under the sponsorship of the North Buffalo Organization. Though the market is non-profit, its vendors – offering everything from vegetables to candles to local honey – are of course looking to make a living. In the process, they’re building relationships with each other and their customers, strengthening the economic and social ecosystem that is the lifeblood of thriving cities.
Samaria Turner is a prime example. Through her business, SunniBlu Health & Wellness, she works with customers to achieve their wellness goals with customized meal planning and, coming in the spring, all-in-one meal preparation kits. SunniBlu is also at the market selling healthful SunniSnacks – low-sugar, vegan baked goods packed with fiber and protein. Regular and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, apple crisp, pumperdoodles – how can you go wrong?
“We understand that everyone is on a very different journey, and we would like to meet them where they are to guide them to where they want to be,” Turner says. “We look at each client as an individual with a clean canvas.”
That clean-living philosophy extends as well to matters like packaging. “Our snacks are packaged in glass jars,” Turner says, “which allows our customers to return them for a discount, and we reuse the jars for future orders.” Likewise, their SunniBags meal-prep kits are built with locally sourced ingredients, even the reusable cloth bags they come in.
For Turner and other social entrepreneurs, the North Buffalo Farmers Market has been a place to grow into the role of small-business tycoon.
“On opening day I sold out in the first 45 minutes, and I continued to sell out almost every week for the duration of the market, even after doubling and tripling the amount of product I was bringing,” she says. “I also made connections with a number of other vendors who were able to work on other projects with me. I was surprised by the level of community that was shown between the vendors and customers. Everyone was extremely helpful and encouraging.”
That’s music to the ears of Patricia Banning, vice president of the North Buffalo Organization and the market’s founder and manager.
“Farmers markets are essential to the well-being of our communities,” Banning says. “The North Buffalo Farmers Market is a vibrant outlet for fresh, nutritious food and business incubators. It has become a wonderful place for people to gather.”
In building bridges to the thriving North Buffalo neighborhood, the market’s move in 2018 from Holy Spirit Church to the North Park Community School, at 780 Parkside Ave., has been key. Banning points out that the Buffalo Public Schools, which is sponsoring the market through Say Yes to Education, are implementing a community school model that envisions transforming neighborhood schools into community hubs. Now the farmers market has found its niche on the school’s wide green lawn, serving almost 10,000 shoppers this summer.
That’s social entrepreneurism at work. And the market, which runs every Thursday afternoon from June to October, has spawned some notable successes.
One is Jay Langfelder, whose O.G Wood Fire Pizza food truck drew crowds for two years at the market, building a future clientele for his wildly popular new venture, Jay’s Artisan Pizza in Kenmore.
Another is Adam Goetz, whose CRAVing Restaurant is a Hertel Avenue mainstay built on fresh, locally sourced foods. One of the first customers of the market, Goetz developed relationships with some of the farmers who came to sell their wares, and continues to buy from them directly. (He was also the first chef at the market’s Culinary Table, whipping up come-and-taste treats on the spot from that day’s market wares. That high-wire creative effort is now the purview of Joe’s Deli head chef Don Keating.)
So it’s all good – entrepreneurs find their sea legs, friendships are born, and lots of people go home with great food and a good feeling. “We measure success more by social values such as building community than by profitability,” Banning says. “Our vendors work together as a family unit. We support each other, share ideas, and purchase products and supplies from one another. There’s no competition here, only complement.”