Oechsner Farms has been a lifetime in the making. The grandson of a German baker, Thor Oechsner credits spending time on his uncle’s dairy farm as his first foray into the world of farming. As a teenager, Oechsner was able to convince his parents to allow him to turn their suburban yard into his first corn field. Oechsner now farms approximately 1,000 acres of certified organic grains on rented land throughout the Finger Lakes region of New York.
Oechsner graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Cornell and by 1991 had started a three-acre vegetable farm while also running a Volkswagen and Audi repair business. The auto repair business helped fund his farming passion and also satisfied his passion for diesel engines. By 1997 he was able to sell his VW/Audi repair business and start spending more time farming while teaching diesel mechanics at a local vocational college. Finally, in 2003 he was financially able to start farming organic grains full-time on 500 rented acres.
Although Oechsner has settled into successful crop rotations and management practices, he stated that attempting to build markets is a totally different, and more difficult experience. This is where the value-added part of his business comes into play: Farmer Ground Flour and Wide Awake Bakery. Farmer Ground Flour is a milling venture offering a value-added product line that Oechsner can quality control. Wide Awake Bakery allows him to direct-market products to consumers while building a recognizable brand and diversifying markets and income streams.
While Wide Awake Bakery does happen to operate a year-round 700-member bread CSA, Oechsner is more interested in the role that the bakery serves as the “ultimate marketing tool” for the unique and heritage grain varieties that he produces. Instead of leaving someone a bag of flour and asking him or her to try it out, it is much easier to sell someone on the product when he can bring a loaf of freshly baked bread made of that very same flour.
Darra is the Willcox and Harriet Adsit Professor of Russian at Williams College and Founding Editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, named the 2012 Publication of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. She has published numerous books and articles on literature, culture, art, and cuisine, and has organized several exhibitions, including Graphic Design in the Mechanical Age and Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005, both at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
She is also the author of four cookbooks: A Taste of Russia (nominated for a Tastemaker Award), The Georgian Feast (winner of the 1994 IACP Julia Child Award for Cookbook of the Year), The Winter Vegetarian, and Baking Boot Camp at the CIA (IACP award finalist). Goldstein has consulted for the Council of Europe as part of an international group exploring ways in which food can be used to promote tolerance and diversity, and under her editorship the volume Culinary Cultures of Europe: Identity, Diversity and Dialogue was published in 2005.
Goldstein has also consulted for the Russian Tea Room and Firebird restaurants in New York and served on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She is currently Food Editor of Russian Life magazine and the series editor of California Studies in Food and Culture (University of California Press), a book series that seeks to broaden the audience for serious scholarship in food studies.