Buon Pane and Focaccia dishes out its namesake round breads for $4 apiece every Thursday at the Columbia Greenmarket. Barbara Olson and Joseph Garcia have been supplying the Columbia community every Thursday for over a decade, and their locally sourced toppings include goat cheese, gorgonzola, Portobello mushrooms, spinach, and artichoke hearts. In this edition of Tales from Farmville, Bwog’s bread chief Allison Herman spoke to Olson about how the magic happens.
Bwog: How did Buon Pane start?
Olson: I was formerly in publishing, with Simon and Schuster. When our smaller company closed, I had an opportunity to reinvent myself. I had been traveling to Italy pretty much every summer on vacation. One summer I was in Portofino, I saw people coming out of a bakery with little squares with olive oil and sea salt on waxed paper. When I got back, I started Buon Pane.
I was written up in the New York Times about a year and a half later by Florence Fabricant about our traditional focaccia squares, and we started making these round shapes and they’ve really caught on.
I’ve been at Columbia for about ten years. During the season, when the students are in, they really love to come by and take them back to their rooms. I usually don’t get home from the bakery or the markets until 9:30, 10:00 at night. It’s many long hours, but I’ve enjoyed it through the years. I’m also in Union Square on Mondays at the flagship market, and in Brooklyn at Grand Army Plaza (at the entrance to Prospect Park) on Saturdays, and that’s a very family oriented market.
Bwog: Why Columbia Greenmarket?
Olson: Well, Columbia was started as a specialty market outside of the school about ten years ago, and it was also available to the hospitals around here. It’s a nice thing for the community and the students. I was added to it because I use a lot of farmer ingredients, and they’ve now added on other bakers. It’s something healthy for students to eat, and it all comes from farmers in the tri-state area.
Bwog: What kind of farms do you source from?
Olson: We source from mostly farms in New York State and Pennsylvania. It’s actually mostly from farmers I work with at the different markets, like Lani’s farm up there [points towards 116th Street] and Maxwell’s Farm in New Jersey and Ray Bradley Farm in New York State. Union Square is pretty much the same people, plus Central Valley Farms in New Jersey and Norwich Farms in New York State. Some of it’s organic, some of it’s not. We get our flour from Cayuga Pure Organics. They grow local grain and they mill it fresh, within a week or two, and that’s in the Finger Lakes. They also grow beautiful beans.
Bwog: Did the hurricane affect your sources?
Olson: Yes, some of the farmers are destroyed. There are two farmers in New Paltz, New York; you can find about them at www.grownyc.org [if you want more information, they have a booth at the Greenmarket near 114th and Broadway]. Their whole winter source has been destroyed.
Bwog: Do you have any stories you’d like to share?
Olson: Just the experience of being able to work with all the local farms, local cheese people, the local dairies, and being able to make a product that I find not only very nutritious but appealing to so many. It’s a convenient thing to have for lunch or dinner, and there are so many wonderful people that I’ve met out here—families, locals, students that I’ve seen graduate and go on to their careers. Many of them come back to visit me. I’m always interested in what occurs in their life and what happens. One’s a doctor now, right around here!
Those wishing to say “hi” to the very friendly Barbara and Joseph can find them just outside the Broadway entrance to the bookstore.