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Nate Schirmer, of Athens, Ohio, working at Catalyst Cafe, located on W Union Street.

Locally sourced cafés contribute to area sustainability

The Village Bakery & Cafe is a sleepy cafe nestled in residential Athens. 

With a welcoming atmosphere, colorful decor and friendly service, the Village Bakery & Cafe, located at 268 E. State St., makes for a perfect afternoon coffee or study spot. 

The Bakery also has character. It sells local products, such as soap, made by local businesses. Bulletin boards are covered in flyers for local businesses, retreats, yoga classes, plant sales and activism. The Village Bakery has a voice that is heard the second customers enters the door. 

“I was drawn to their philosophy surrounding food, and how food is an important part of the local system,” Tess Hickey, a server at the Village Bakery, said. “I like how they stand for sustainability and encourage social movements and are active community members.”

A major element of sustainability is locally sourcing food.

“Mostly, if not all of our food is sourced locally,” Hickey said.

Buying and baking from local sources helps reduce food mileage, Hickey said. When food has to travel, it takes a toll on the environment.

“We prioritize putting back into the cost that would normally be externalized,” Hickey said.

The Village Bakery sources from many local food providers. Just a few are Greenedge Gardens, Laurel Valley Creamery, King Family Farm and Snowville Creamery. 

With these ingredients, the Village Bakery makes its own products in-house, from scratch. 

“I think that’s sort of unique to us,” Hickey said, “Whereas most businesses would buy these things in bulk.”

The Bakery strives for zero-waste. To achieve this, only one trash can is used. All other waste is filtered into compost or recycling.

“Everything we use we try to compost or recycle,” Hickey said. “We try to have as little food waste as possible. We don’t produce very much actual trash.”

The Bakery uses compostable to-go cups, boxes, pastry papers and paper towels.

“I think Athens has a very big local food movement, and sustainability is just a part of it,” Hickey said. “I think people who are living here or are just going to school are drawn to the Village Bakery because we prioritize sustainability. The Bakery reflects and contributes to this environment.” 

“I think it’s really impressive, what Athens has here,” Victoria Schira, a senior studying environmental geology, said. “I go to places like Cleveland or Columbus and expect to see more, but you get to Athens and you know the vibe. They do a lot here.”

Schira has been coming to the Hocking Hills/Athens area since she was 12. The effort businesses put into sustainability is one of the things that has drawn her here, she said.

“Local food is more sustainable because it uses less pesticides and herbicides,” Schira said. “They’re nicer to workers. It’s also more sustainable to transport things that are closer.”

Catalyst Cafe, located at540 W. Union St., is a little different from the Village Bakery. 

Smaller and farther off campus, it has a more coffee-centric atmosphere. Quiet and open, with an upstairs that looks out to the end of West Union, it offers a bit of an alternative 

“It’s about 50/50, students and professors, since it’s a little bit farther off campus,” Melissa Barragan, a barista at Catalyst Cafe, said. 

Barragan started out as a volunteer at the Village Bakery. She would wash dishes for free, dedicating her time to the establishment. Eventually, she got hired.

Barragan thinks that some businesses aren’t as transparent and sustainable as The Bakery and Catalyst Cafe due to fears of high cost. 

“Our bosses are more interested in making sustainable, ethical, organic choices instead of looking for a profit,” Barragan said. “I can’t stress this enough but they really care — it’s outrageous how much they care.”


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