There are not many parts of the country where the local supermarket is a tourism destination, but a lot of us Finger Lakes lifers bring our out-of-town guests and family members to Wegmans Food Markets, an award-winning supermarket chain with deep roots in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region.
Staff is exceedingly friendly and helpful. The produce department always looks ready for a Martha Stewart photo shoot. And in the Canandaigua store where I shop most frequently, there is a burger bar, sushi counter, coffee kiosk and an outdoor patio where I can eat all the food I'm too lazy to cook myself.
The only dilemma in taking your guests to Wegmans is that they often go home with a chronic case of supermarket envy.
Wegmans has long had connections with local farms. Responding to consumer demand for more locally grown organic foods, the company started its own organic farm in 2007 as a way to encourage its partner-growers to transition to organic, and to learn for itself the best ways to farm organically in the Northeast climate.
Like its stores, the Wegmans Organic Farm on the western slopes of Canandaigua Lake has itself become a destination worth seeing, and public tours are offered sporadically during the growing season. The public can sign up for a tour, which takes you for a 2-mile stroll through various growing arenas, all with a fascinating backstory told by tour guide and store ambassador Alison Hayes (seen in photo below in red shirt).
After an orientation on good agricultural practices (GAP as it's known in the industry) and some thorough hand-washing and shoe sanitzing, Alison took us to the herb garden where we nibbled on blue spice basil, edelweiss, lovage and the mind-blowing, mouth-tingling experience of the Szechuan button (pictured below), a yellow flower that brightens more than your table vase, as this NPR story explains.
Our long Finger Lakes winters mean we need a little help stretching the season. Enter the hoop house, a simple structure with easily removable sides that both protect plants from cold and wind in the shoulder seasons and protects cool weather crops from too much heat and sun in the summer. In the hoop house pictured below, the farm is getting a head start on fall greens.
Organic production relies heavily on crop rotation and cover crops to keep soils healthy and vibrant. It also relies on compost, and to that end, Wegmans employs rabbits for their, uh, end product, which is safely composted along with other farm craps for use the next season.
To that end, the farm chickens also contribute to soil fertility. Their eggs are not sold in the store, but they do get used in some of the Wegmans restaurants. There are also bee hives, flowers, grains and lovely views of Canandaigua Lake. (The Wegmans farm recently acquired a nearby orchard, so stay tuned for organic fruit.)
Wegmans Organic Farm is at 4840 West Lake Road (County Road 16) in Canandaigua, 14424. It is only open to the public for scheduled tours. Upcoming tours are at 2 p.m. on Sept. 10, 24, Oct. 1 and 8. The cost is $10, participants must be 12 or older. Tickets can be purchased at the service counter of any Wegmans store. Tours take place rain or shine, so dress appropriately for the outdoors.