EAT Brings Farm-Fresh Food to Downtown Catskill

Adobe Stock / Jacob Lund

Co-founded by Claudia Nagy and Gabriel Kristal, this grocery store, kitchen, and café brings farm-fresh food to Greene County.

In an effort to address the glaring issue of food access in the village of Catskill, Claudia Nagy founded EAT, a co-op with the aim of “nurturing networks of food resilience in Greene County,” along with union activist Gabriel Kristal. A native Hudson Valleyite and environmental activist, Nagy hopes to address a frustrating irony that afflicts the locale: It’s surrounded by thousands of acres of farmland, yet Catskill’s downtown area has no grocery store, nor “a single establishment [that] sells fresh produce.” As EAT prepares for its grand opening on April 22, we sat down with Nagy to talk about this exciting new initiative in Greene County as well as the predicament that prompted it.

First and foremost: What is EAT?

EAT is a worker-owned cooperative grocery, kitchen, and café providing fresh, local, or organic foods to downtown Catskill. We also offer farmers access to our commercial kitchen and dining spaces, [allowing them] to better amplify their work and showcase their produce. Finally, we are committing all profits to regenerative land projects which prioritize BIPOC farm and nature experiences. We will have our grand opening on Earth Day and will celebrate from 1-8 p.m. at 23 Church Street. Join us!

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How does EAT differ from your garden-variety grocery store?

Most grocery stores purchase products from farmers at a wholesale price, undercutting the real value of the work put into food production. We are encouraging a direct-to-consumer model by offering a consignment agreement to farmers who join our membership, which essentially functions as a seller’s club. This way, farmers can set their shelf prices and decide the real value of their goods while reaching customers outside of typical market, restaurant, or wholesale settings.

With this model, farmers can leave their produce in the shop knowing that they will get the highest price for their efforts—which leaves them more time to farm! EAT asks for a sliding scale commission per sale to cover overhead costs, but also offers farmer members professional development services, such as branding and marketing strategies for increasing their reach long-term. We want this to be a win-win for everyone!

Why Greene County? Tell us about the predicament this area faces in terms of local produce.

In truth, access to nutritious local foods is a global issue, and New York is not exempt. A hundred years ago, Main Street in Catskill had more than a dozen grocers and butchers. Today, downtown has no grocery store, and not a single establishment specializes in fresh or local produce. Though many new businesses are moving to capitalize on the revitalization of upstate New York, few are addressing the striking realities of generational de-industrialization, gentrification, economic struggle, and lack of food access.

In upstate New York, where organic farms surround small towns, it is somehow nearly impossible to find markets which actually sell local groceries to local consumers. Prioritizing New York City’s demand for organic produce, the communities in between these large agricultural spaces are often neglected. Today, Catskill’s grocers are Price Chopper, Walmart, or the local Stewart’s gas station, none of which stock local, organic foods.

Additionally, though there are plenty of organic farms in upstate New York, there are few options for aggregating all those farmers’ goods in a single space, making seasonal farmers’ markets one of the few outlets for direct-to-consumer retail that farmers have (besides the traditional farm stand or CSA models). However, these models often don’t work for the entire year, leaving farmers without retail options for long stretches. At EAT, we are hoping to alleviate some of these issues by creating a space for farmers to collectively sell their wares in a mutually supportive environment geared directly towards serving farmers and consumers first.

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How can folks in the Hudson Valley support this initiative?

Anyone interested in supporting these efforts is invited to help spread the word, visit the shop in person, or join as a consumer or kitchen member. Consumer members receive five percent off all purchases, have the right to vote in co-op decision making processes, and receive discounts on workshops, gatherings, and events in addition to other fun perks like monthly raffles or voting on which ice cream flavors to stock. Because we are currently in a fundraising incubation period, any memberships purchased now will be honored per household for life, and we will not ask members for volunteer hours—a policy which may be subject to change in the future depending on member votes. Kitchen members are invited to rent the kitchen at a sliding rate so that caterers, bakers, and chefs may scale their production or host pop-ups to serve their community directly and access local ingredients.

Can you tell us about the team behind EAT?

EAT has two worker-owners, co-founders Gabriel Kristal and Claudia Nagy. Gabe is a union activist with over 20 years of experience directly representing teachers, nurses, and other members of the labor class. [I am] an environmental activist, artist, and herbalist who grew up in the Hudson Valley. [I] received an undergrad and master’s degree in environmental science and policy from Columbia University and founded Earth Arts, an environmental arts and wellness space for ecological education, in 2017.

In July 2022, Gabe reached out to Earth Arts for feedback on creating a four-season community farmers’ market, and the concept for EAT was born. To date, we have to thank all of our lovely members for their support and recognize our amazing farmer members for their faith in an unusual model! This includes Sleeping Lion Farm, which offers grass fed-beef; Rolling Hills Organic Farm, which offers market produce and eggs; Sky Ridge Farm & Kitchen, which offers sprouts and other market vegetables; End of the Lane Farm, which offers milk and dairy; CrannMor Forest Farm, which offers pastured chickens; and Good Witch, which creates unique herbal remedies—in addition to others joining daily.

Adobe Stock / Hacohob

Is it always more expensive to purchase local, fresh produce?

Because industrial agriculture is so heavily subsidized, it may seem less expensive to get a bag of celery from Walmart, despite the fact that it may have traveled thousands of miles to get to your plate. However, the reality is that the ecological, social, and ethical costs of industrial agriculture are all contributing to the climate emergency we have today. The true “cost” of these practices has immeasurable generational effects on our communities, economies, and personal health.

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Supporting local farms means that you are directly contributing to building networks of food resiliency in your area. From supporting the adaptation of bioregion-specific crops to lowering the carbon footprint of your meals, local farms offer the priceless service of ensuring a more sustainable future. Despite this, our farmers know the value of their work and the competitive prices for their products, so ultimately, shopping local may actually be more affordable for consumers in the long run, especially at EAT.

For more information about EAT, head to the co-op’s website or follow its Instagram page.

Related: Hudson Valley Farmers’ Markets to Visit for Local Fruits and Veggies

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