Lockport local Julie Blackman fosters many such food-based relationships. Like Rich Woodbridge, she is a sixth-generation farmer building on her ancestors’ agricultural foundation. Her parents still own the 160-acre Blackman Homestead Farm; in 1971, they first welcomed guests for seasonal “harvest-your-own” (or “u-pick”) visits in the property’s apple orchards. Following a 20-year career in physical therapy, Blackman returned to farming. She since has introduced a line of pie fillings, fruit butters and sauces made from her family’s harvest.

As she got acquainted with neighboring producers, Blackman found that many wanted­ to sell their eggs, meat and other products even after seasonal farmers markets had closed. In response, she and local baker David Setzer opened Farmers & ­Artisans in 2009. This past January, the store, which carries staples, specialty items and prepared foods from nearly 50 New York producers, expanded into a more spacious location in Snyder, between Buffalo and Lockport. Whether they supply herbs, milk or other goods, Blackman’s vendors recognize the value of niche production.

“There seems to be a younger group willing to take the leap,” she says. “They see farming as a viable way to make a living.”

Edible Buffalo magazine editor and publisher Lisa Tucker co-founded the not-for-profit Field & Fork Network to connect producers, chefs, institutional food buyers and consumers in an eight-county zone surrounding Buffalo. She calls the region “an untapped jewel in terms of food,” citing the diversity and quality of products coming from some 7,500 area farms.

“More and more folks want to go out and pick their own apples or blueberries. As they do that, they become more connected to what farming means,” she says.

In addition to offering fresh produce and future “u-pick” options at McCollum Orchards, the Woodbridges want to share the area’s agricultural heritage with visitors.

“You save a farm by farming it,” Bree says. “This soil has been supporting farming continuously for over 200 years, which is pretty special.” She and her husband also appreciate being able to plant their own roots while preserving the Lockport land for future generations. “We saw a real opportunity here not just to start our own business and save the property,” Rich says, “but also to be members of this community and have a real sense of place.”

RENEE BRINCKS is a freelance travel, food and lifestyle writer and frequent American Way contributor. She splits her time between San Francisco and rural Iowa.