Great Local Foods Network (GLFN) is dedicated to bringing together and supporting local foods artisans and entrepreneurs, and to the development of a robust and sustainable Finger Lakes food web.
Inspired by the vision and passion of local food pioneer (and Regional Access founder) Gary Redmond, Great Local Foods Network strives to to support new food-based business and celebrates the stewards and chapmions of our local food web through investment and education.
GLFN has emerged from the networks and community associated with Regional Access, and draws on the experience and creativity of our local partners.
Gary Redmond grew up on a small mink farm in Burlington Flats, NY, along with his sisters Debbie and Joyce. He was raised in a small rural farming community, where families worked the land in various capacities to support themselves. He always had a love for the small family farm and embraced the lifestyle for its self sufficiency and entrepreneurial spirit. As a boy his family grew a garden, hunted and maintained a clean and healthy stream where to this day you can still harvest watercress, which Gary held near and dear to his heart. Even as an adult every time we would visit his family farm he would still go out to the stream to harvest the watercress.
His reputation for his culinary skills are widely known, he learned a lot of this from his mother and grandmother who taught him to cook with the very home-style type of cooking whatever they gleaned from the land. When Gary was a teenager, they moved to Oneonta and lived above the bowling alley that his parents had purchased. His parents were ready for a change of venue and wanted to try their luck at a new venture. Gary started working in the bowling alley after school and was exposed for the first time to a more processed diet. He noticed the difference in how it made him feel and the lasting effect it had on his body. From this point on he became more committed to the idea of living simply and closely with the land.
Every aspect of his life had always come around one way or another to food and healthy living. Even in college Gary studied nutrition and graduated from Cornell with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology. During this time he discovered macrobiotics through a small store in the college town area. His initial intrigue with this practice was its “back to the land” take on eating. It was not exactly what he had been raised on but he embraced the whole nature of the grains and fresh organic vegetables. His concepts of macrobiotics set him light years apart from where conventional wisdom stood about food. Conventional wisdom stated that meat was the foremost important food group followed by dairy, vegetables and fruits. Macrobiotics saw grain at the top of the food chain followed by vegetables and then meat. He embraced the concept of dialectics, stating that energy was not static, it was always evolving.
After college Gary moved to Oregon where he got a job as a biologist for the Oregon State Fish Commission working with clams. Eventually he left because he was disturbed by the way they were raised, which was a much less natural process than he thought it would be. He made his was to Minnesota where they lived and worked on a macrobiotic commune, where they grew their own grain, beans and vegetables. Gary was married to his first wife, Terry, at this point and they had their first child, Asa, while living on the farm in Minnesota.
After a couple of years in Minnesota, Gary and Terry moved back to New York. Living in Lodi, they had their second son, Sim. Gary continued his love of farming with various friends. He and the MacDonalds farmed in Savannah NY on the land behind ClearEye, a worker owned natural foods warehouse. This was Gary, Tom and Shelly’s first hand at making and marketing lacto-fermented pickles and sauerkraut. Lacto-fermentation is a process where only salt, pressure, and time are used to create these wonderful condiments. This style of pickling is known to promote healthy intestinal flora and thus a healthier body. In the summer of 1978 he went to work for ClearEye, to augment his farming income. Gary hauled food to various cities in upstate NY as well as small rural towns, often with young Asa and Sim in tow. Gary enthusiastically imparted his knowledge of eating a healthy diet to his children by packing rice balls and pickled vegetables for their snacks while traveling. Gary met many people on these truck runs and was first introduced to saunas while out on the road. These became a daily/weekly health regime for him that ended with dipping into a cold tub for 4 minutes to bring the greatest sense of relaxation. This was his source of meditation which he practiced in his daily life.
Gary had met his late wife Daisy by this time and had his daughter Anna. Gary would take all of the kids on truck runs with him and talk about all the different products he was bringing people. He was always so passionate about what it was he was doing. This was because in his mind he was not simply driving a truck, he was playing a critical role in making great local products accessible to anyone who wanted them. Gary and Daisy moved into Ithaca during this time and eventually the commute between Savannah and Ithaca grew to be too much. This was when he and Daisy decided to start Regional Access. It started initially by emptying out their garage, installing a few shelves and filling them with products, mainly bulk foods, cheeses, dried goods and some other hard to find items. Initially they only had about 50 different local products and a hundred or so customers and he did all the deliveries himself out of the family mini-van. The company grew; Gary was onto something that at this time no one else in the area was onto. In the early 1990’s it became clear that they needed a bigger space for the business to thrive, this is when they purchased the warehouse in Trumansburg, NY.
After Daisy’s unexpected and sudden death, Gary eventually moved our family out to the warehouse where he built a home with his partner Peggy. Regional Access continued to grow and flourish and the demand for his services were high. He now had a whole fleet of trucks and a warehouse full of local and hard to find products. We were lulled to sleep each evening to the sound of refer units humming in the parking lot. Pallets with stacks of grain became our playground. An old grain elevator became a bedroom and the band room for the various bands that took root there, including the various incarnations of the Sim Redmond Band. The warehouse quickly became a bustling place with employees and children. In 1994, out of the warehouse commercial kitchen, Gary and Peggy created a company called Great Local Foods. The first venture they took on as Great Local Foods was a sauerkraut and pickle business. Gary was always committed to the highest quality ingredients (not the most expensive) he could find. He was a purist. High quality ingredients are the healthiest for your body, have excellent flavor and are made, typically, in an environmentally sound way. This is how he chose which products he wanted to sell and promote as well as which products he wanted to eat himself.
To go out to a restaurant with Gary was always very interesting. He loved to go to different restaurants and see what they had on their menus, Gary would meet the chef and see what sort of products they wanted but could not find. Then Gary would go and try to find a source for what was needed. He was often the connecting thread between the kitchen and the purveyor. He was still doing truck runs as well, which would allow him to step outside and see what customers needs were. He threaded his food net far and wide, it was through this hard work and making all these connections that Gary was able to help and reach such a vast number of people.
Gary had a great love of food and enveloped the “old” ways of life. His apartment was built to breath with plaster walls and exposed wood, his aesthetics were for the simplest and most natural way of living. While the world has evolved and will continue to do so we still find it necessary, just as Gary did, to not forget our roots and that the best thing for our health is to find the best most sustainably produced products we can. With this foundation we hope to be able to continue Gary’s way of helping small farmers and producers just starting up, as well as to continue to educate as many people as possible to the bounty that can be had right in our own back yards.
by Anna Redmond, March 14, 2012