Nov. 7, 1956 - Feb. 17, 2020
Daniel Oles, a farmer whose organic vegetables inspired restaurateurs to prize Western New York produce and present it with pride, died Feb. 17.
It was a brief illness that worsened swiftly last weekend, his family said.
He died as he lived, with his wife, Jane, surrounded by his family and friends, at the heart of his farm. He was 63.
“Every time a guest orders something local off a restaurant menu in WNY, they have Daniel Oles and his family to thank,” said Christa Glennie Seychew, former Buffalo Spree food editor and family friend.
Born in Buffalo, he graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1975 and Cornell University in 1979 with a degree in farm business management.
A lifelong farmer and son of a farmer, he started turning to sustainable and organic farming in the 1980s, after deciding standard commercial agriculture methods were unwise.
In 2008, a busload of chefs visited Oles’ farm, 240 acres spread over parts of Corfu, Darien and Alden. They left loaded with bags of vegetables.
“A chef called afterward and said, ‘What are you doing? I haven't tasted food like this since I was in Italy, the flavors are so different,’ ” recalled Ben Oles, Daniel's son.
Three immediately signed up for regular deliveries of the farm’s diverse produce.
Today, 20 restaurants get regular Oles deliveries. As Ben Oles talked yesterday, he oversaw packing orders, like fresh spinach, which a decade ago, no one in Western New York was growing in February.
His work is their work now, and the farm will continue in its path, Ben Oles said.
Helping fellow farmers was another Daniel Oles habit, as he explained the ins and outs of sustainable methods and his restaurant-service-plus-community-supported-agriculture farm subscriptions model to other farmers, some of whom have developed similar establishments.
Oles also focused on the human element, using his patience and kindness, as well as his bags of produce, to knit together a sort of extended family grown around the vegetables and the visits, spread out miles beyond his farm.
Oles was a major force in bridging the gap between great local produce and restaurants, said Craving owner Adam Goetz. “I don’t think Dan would be comfortable with people saying how integral he was to the positive change in the Buffalo food scene. He was too modest for accolades,” he said.
Like: “His legacy will live on in the way he helped people change the way we all look at food,” Goetz said.
“He was a pioneer in delivering direct, speaking in the same terms as we do, and finding the window to make the deliveries happen,” said James Roberts, owner of Toutant and Dobutsu.
More than anything, “he provided a superior product, one that he committed himself to, and to excellence in his work,” Roberts said.
“I spoke to him twice a week for the last 10 years and looked forward to every chat,” said Steven Gedra, owner of the Black Sheep and, formerly, Bistro Europa.
“He legitimately spread the farm-to-table gospel far and wide. His product was second to none, and his sense of humor was incredible,” Gedra said.
Daniel Oles sought to spread the “know your farmer” message, his son said, picking up where his father left off.
“We're just one of a dozen local farmers out there that you can get good produce from pretty much year-round,” he said. “Not only are you supporting a small business, but you’re getting a good quality product.
It makes us happy to know that it's just not going on some truck to who-knows-what market. That's why we're doing this – because all our members are, you know, they’re family.”
Survivors include his wife, the former Jane Wisniewski; his father, Jack; two daughters, Meg Janis and Pam Hull; two sons, Andrew and Ben; a sister, Judy Villwock; and 15 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. Monday in Millgrove Bible Church, 11517 Genesee St, Alden.
Food and fellowship will follow. “Feeding people in true Dan Oles fashion,” his son said. “He wouldn’t want anyone to go away hungry.”