by Anna Birk
In 2002, Christine Hughes and Bob O’Neil opened Village Bakery, a place for residents and Ohio University students to thrive. Today, it has flourished into an eco-friendly community that provides locally sourced food and naturally powered energy.
Hughes came to Athens in 1995 with a friend who, at the time, was attending film school at OU. Through her waitressing job at Casa Nueva, a local eco-friendly restaurant, Hughes met Bob O’Neil. Together, they decided to create a place that would allow the public to access locally sourced food and benefit the local economy at the same time.
These ideas are promoted in Village Bakery’s mission statement, which highlights the environmentally-conscious stance that the bakery holds.
“Our mission is all over the place. You can see it in the murals and maps,” Hughes said. “What you choose for lunch will change the world. We honor that by offering a wide selection of foods, chosen for … their impact on our village and our planet… We do not participate in corporate agribusiness that destroys our access to real food.”
Their mission statement is radical, Hughes says, but the expressed ideas are ones that have become more accepted since the business’ opening.
“Even though a lot of the farms that we buy from are ethical animal farms, we use a lot of dairy and … very little meat in our menu, but we feel strongly that those farms are also part of saving the world and helping heal the soil,” Hughes said.
Athens is home to a year-long farmers market which helps Village Bakery to ensure that its products are local.
As for coffee at Village Bakery, the roast comes from Ridge Runner Coffee, a Fair-Trade participant located just a few feet from Village Bakery.
“There’s a local roaster who roasts in the building next door, which was our original bakery,” Hughes said. “Our coffee is super fresh because it’s 300 feet away from here.”
Village Bakery is also adamant about offering vegan products. Hughes recognizes that there is a growing need for natural products, and the bakery has met that demand.
“The new generation is more interested in vegan, plant-based food,” Hughes said. “We are definitely going along with that and making sure that we have those options.”
Village Bakery is much more than just a quick coffee stop along East State Street. Catalyst Café, located on W State St., is a branch of Village Bakery that provides more access to the company.
The bakery’s focus on the community is what makes it such a welcoming space for customers and a site for local events. Village Bakery has weaved Hughes into different community groups here in Athens.
In 2019, Village Bakery was the local sponsor for a national-scale climate strike. Outside the bakery, both OU students and Athens residents banded together to make their voices heard against climate change. A call for another climate strike has been heard by the owners of Village Bakery and they are hoping to hold another protest on Earth Day.
Other sponsorships by the bakery include helping young adults register to vote through music and dancing. Recently The Union hosted a Village Bakery sponsored event.
“The election is really important for the future of the planet especially and … we called it Gyration Nation … a dance liberation for voter registration at The Union,” Hughes said. “We just wanted it to be for people to come and register to vote. We might do it every election season because it was so much fun.”
While Village Bakery helps the local economy and environment, they are also conscious of their impact on the world, so they use natural energy.
Solar power was installed at Village Bakery’s buildings around 2007 to help generate energy. Other natural energy forms that are used at Village Bakery, including geothermal energy, which is ground source heating and cooling.
“That has saved us a lot of energy,” Hughes said. “Instead of taking hot air from outside and trying to cool it down and cold air from outside and trying to heat it up, it all starts at about 54 degrees or so.”
Village Bakery is dedicated to helping both the local Athens community and the world as a whole. In accordance with its mission statement, Village Bakery encourages customers to, “celebrate your power to change the world, every time you pick up a fork.”