In 2005, when Anna Castellani realized that there was no place to purchase food in her DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn, she decided to do something about it. “It was very simple. There was no business plan. It was pure desperation,” she told me.
As we chatted in the intimate, dark steel and wood-lined restaurant space in her newer location in Chelsea, Anna elaborated on her philosophy about food. Forager’s has now expanded beyond being just a grocery store. The location in Chelsea perfectly combines a small, sustainable produce market, a buffet of high quality takeout items, artisanal cooked and baked goods, an espresso station, and a restaurant serving local, organic salads, roasted and grilled meats, and desserts.
“Local” and “organic” were the operative words behind Anna’s decision-making process for the quality of food that she wanted Forager’s to carry. “I thought if I wanted to eat this kind of food, maybe others did, too.”
In 2005, during the inception of the store, she was thinking mainly about “perimeter products” – industry lingo for perishables, such as meat, dairy and cheeses, which in the food world are not always very clean. She decided to source meat and dairy from local farms in the Hudson Valley. Until recently, there was no infrastructure to get produce into the city, and farmers did not grow organically for stores. Anna’s solution? To have her own egg and vegetable farm upstate and run their Forager’s food delivery truck back and forth to the city.
Anna proudly told me that she started her own farm “out of need, more than anything else.” She went on to say, “We picked up dairy from co-ops upstate, which have been instrumental in saving farmland and keeping people in the dairy business.” While organic is all the rage these days, Anna believes that labels can be very misleading – people will buy anything that is labeled organic, and they often are not aware of the hidden ingredients in their food. “It goes down to the sugar in cookies: it’s bleached, it has bone meal in it,” Anna informed me. Forager’s is committed to food that is “clean,” above all else – the produce may not all be ‘certified’ organic, but it is grown using the most organic and healthy methods. “What I like about this business is that you get to learn what the industry sneaks into the food system, and I find it fun to try and work around that.”
Anna’s goal is to provide these products at an affordable price, but the efforts that go into sourcing locally and ensuring high quality are not cheap. She acknowledged that Forager’s is known as an expensive store, but she dislikes labels such as “bougie,” explaining, “Yes, it’s more expensive to have pasture-raised meat than industrial, but I think we should fight to eat better, because it keeps you healthy and living longer. It’s important.”
First published on Manhattan Sideways (sideways.nyc).