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June 8, 2013

Origins Café is a business on the move

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing writer
The Daily Star

---- — Origins Café mobile food truck is a celebration of culinary responsibility created by sisters Dana and Kristen Leonard.

The Leonard sisters grew up in their parents’ garden nursery — Carefree Gardens in Cooperstown — and were exposed to healthy practices in diet and agriculture. The sisters traveled to Peru last winter as part of a team of global explorers for the cooperative WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) where they were inspired to bring the lessons of responsible agriculture back to Cooperstown.

“We are committed to responsible environmental practices,” said Kristen Leonard. “Eating is something that we, as people, do every day. So, this is a focus of ours — we focus on simple, locally grown food. In environmental health, food is the key. We want to encourage responsible agricultural practices.”

The mobile café travels to area events offering vegetarian meals prepared with locally grown produce.

“We are not opposed to eating animals, but it is not necessary for all meals,” said Kristen Leonard. “The reason we do not source meat on our menu is that raising meat leaves a much bigger environmental footprint than growing produce does.”

Origins Café offers catering services for parties and events. The sisters are often found working local venues.

Recently the sisters parked their food truck at Ommegang Brewery for the Old Crow Medicine Show, where they offered their vegetarian fare.

Every Wednesday evening, Origins Café parks the mobile food truck at Carefree Gardens and opens its diner to area residents who are interested in locally sourced meals and area music.

The dinners are donation-based and include multiple courses and live music. They are often themed, such as the Mediterranean dinner held in May that included homemade bread and herbed garlic butter, a Honeybee Farm cheese sampler platter, mushroom and asparagus risotto with spring greens, rhubarb tart, and Ciao Bella gelato. All of the food served was purchased from area farmers. Local jazz duo Joe Siracusa and Evan Jagels performed for the dinner crowd.

“A lot of restaurants cater to the tourists or the baseball crowd,” said Dana Leonard. “We really want to focus on the local residents of Cooperstown. We have a sense of community here — this is my farm — this is my food — this is my community — that is what we are about.”

When the sisters decided to practice responsible food service they asked their parents for guidance. Brent and Mary Leonard have owned and operated Carefree Gardens for almost 30 years. Brent Leonard built a summer greenhouse café for his daughter so the mobile food truck would have a home base.

“When we were in South America, we were inspired to do something at home,” Kristen Leonard said. “When we came back and talked to our parents, Dad built the café house so we could park the truck here.”

The café is in the middle of Carefree Gardens nursery, located at 558 Beaver Meadow Road in Cooperstown. There is an eclectic mix of seating surrounded by lush foliage and flowering plants. In addition to menu items, the sisters have on display a collection of fairly traded, handmade items acquired during their travels.

Origins Café is a seasonal restaurant that opens in the spring and closes in the fall. When the cafe closes, the sisters travel to other countries, learning about sustainable farming and responsible stewardship of the land.

Next winter, they are scheduled to harvest olives in Greece.