- PHOTO BY AARON WINTERS
- Homegrown organizers Geoff Dale and Leslie Z. Ward.
He remembers Orange Zones. The places in the city that had been tagged as particularly COVID-infested. And as a bar owner, he remembers how, whether you followed those warnings or not, we were all being advised against going out.
We haven’t heard about Orange Zones for a while. But folks, the COVID landscape is not much different than it was a year ago.
And so we have Homegrown at Home.
Homegrown started out a decade ago as a January celebratory collaboration between Rochester’s Three Heads Brewing and Lovin’ Cup Bistro & Brews. But after nearly 400,000 Americans had died of COVID, Homegrown went from a live event to virtual.
A year later, that number has grown to more than 850,000 dead Americans.
So Saturday’s Homegrown, on Jan. 22, will be a livestream event once again, starting at noon. The Homegrown kit is a survival triumvirate for these quarantine times: music, food, and beer. The kit will be ready for pick-up at Lovin’ Cup that day.
The $160 package is good for two people, although I went to college with a few guys who would go solo on this: Beers from 14 local breweries, including Three Heads. They come with two uniquely designed sampler glasses, otherwise the beer would spill all over your floor.
There will be food kits available from five Rochester-area restaurants, including Compané Trattoria, Nathan’s Soup & Salad, Lovin’ Cup and Mama Lor’s Café.
And you’ll get access to the livestream of Rochester music from The Majestics and MoChester, as well as acoustic sets from Friday in America and Jackson Cavalier.
It was just a few days before last Christmas that Dale — the co-owner of Three Heads Brewery — and Leslie Z. Ward of Lovin’ Cup Bistro & Brews, decided that Homegrown had to go virtual once again.
“You could just see, the numbers were really starting to rise,” Dale says. “And just doing the math, it was pretty obvious they weren’t going to get lighter at Christmastime, with everyone seeing each other, you know what I mean? It was pretty obvious this was going to be the beginning of the surge, not the apex.”
That first virtual Homegrown was a much-needed break from the unrelenting onslaught of the virus. “I think that was the best part,” Dale says, “and what we were hoping to do was give people, like, a little moment of joy, in what was a pretty dark time.”
And this Homegrown will be a much-needed break as well. Many of our restaurants and clubs are at the breaking point. We’ve seen a lot of closings.
“With regards to music, it’s devastating,” Dale says. “We had to cancel shows pretty much all of last year.”
But Three Heads, which has been open for more than a decade now, has been able to pivot from its visible image of a bar with music to what’s in the back room. That big, big back room. The brewery itself. Three Heads doesn’t just brew beer, it brews good times. “We’re lucky because we have a product that we can also sell in stores, like Wegmans,” Dale says. “So we’ve been able to just sort of, instead, to tweak our business model.”
So sure, Three Heads Brewing sends less beer to the bars these days. But it’s increased the amount going to the stores. Because you’re drinking at home.
“Here we are, 11 years in, and almost having to relearn the business on the fly,” Dale says.
“I feel like that’s been the nature of this for everyone. It’s anyone that has a small business, even a big business, is trying to figure out how things are actually going to be. Without any real data, you’re all guessing.”
Yet after two years of this pandemic, Dale describes himself as “an eternal optimist.”
“I feel like this should be the last big surge. And that, I think that each month from now, till spring, is going to get better. And then by summer, just like last year, it’s going to feel like normal.
“And then the real question becomes fall next year.”
And there we go again.
“I feel like in this city,” Dale says, “the amount of people that are pro-vaccine seems to be higher than the national average. At least, I feel like we’re in a better shape than some other areas. But again, I’m an eternal optimist. I have to go with the mindset: Hope for the best, expect the worst.”
Hopefully, he notes that the COVID mortality rate is down.
“Maybe, hopefully next year, COVID becomes a real strong version of the flu,” Dale says. “Every year you get your flu shot; you get your COVID shot.
“If that happens, then we can get back to somewhat more normal. And then we can start dealing with the PTSD, and the mental damage that it did.”
PTSD. He’s talking post traumatic stress disorder.
“I see it because I have a daughter, my youngest is 16, and I see what it is doing to her,” Dale says. “And all my friends that have younger kids — this is something that doesn’t get talked about enough — is the damage that’s been done to a lot of these young kids.”
Dale says our society hasn’t paid enough attention to mental health. He says he’s of an older generation whose solution was, “Rub some dirt on it, it’ll be OK.”
“And that’s not a healthy way to deal with things,” he says. “It’s much bigger than just a disease, it’s shown some cracks in some of those areas of society that we need to fix.
“The good news is the youth of this country. I have hope. They are going to take the ball and run with it. And hopefully push us in the right direction.”
Dale’s kids, the generation he says are going to deal with this, are 16, 20, and 22 years old.
“I look at them, and how they’re approaching a lot of things in society, and they’re much more socially aware than I was at their age,” Dale says. “They’re much more, they’re much better global citizens than I was at their age. And I felt like I was a pretty decent guy. But I can’t hold a candle to them. And I see a lot of their friends and just the whole group, there’s a lot more awareness of how we all sort of work together, in the youth of this country, than when I was a kid.
“They’re not willing to just accept this, they are willing to fight for what they believe in. And I like that. It gives me hope, man.”
Jeff Spevak is WXXI's arts and life editor and reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.