Trumansburg illustrator and graphic designer Q. Cassetti brings local products to life
Written by Adrienne Martini, Photos by Robyn Wishna
The odds are good that you don’t know Q. Cassetti. She’s just one person, after all, and the Finger Lakes are large. You’ve probably interacted with her work, however.
That pulsing pink, red and white Love stamp you just bought? That’s Cassetti. Her illustrations also turn up in publications like The New Yorker.
But it isn’t her national works that you’re probably most familiar with. If you spend any time thinking about, looking at or shopping for local foods, her pro-bono work informs your intellectual landscape. Like, say, the hollering chicken on the Wide Awake Bakery labels. Or the grain wreath that signifies Farmer Ground Flour. Or the whiskered fish of Stonecat Cafe.
It was Cassetti’s move to the Camp House, a Trumansburg landmark with its own visual appeal, that led to her involvement with local food. “This is crazy. Who would buy this place?” Cassetti recalls saying when they first drove past the Camp House. “And as it turns out…”
But Cassetti’s career didn’t start in Trumansburg: She grew up in Pittsburgh, graduated from Carnegie Mellon University and went on to work for Corning, Inc. From there, she bounced to New York City, where she designed for Tiffany and Co. and Estee Lauder. But life—and two kids in a New York City apartment—pulled her back to the area. Cassetti and her family have lived in T’burg for 10 years now.
“Once we moved here, it was like ‘OK. We’re here now. I’m going to engage,’” Cassetti says. At first, what wasn’t clear was how Cassetti would engage. “It dawned on me: What is it that I love? If and when I retire, what is it that I keep saying to myself that I want to support? I find food is a very important thing. Firstly, you need to eat and secondly, in this country the fact that children are going hungry is an obscenity. I like to cook and I cook from scratch. It’s a sport.”
It was her love of a local band, the Chicken Chokers, that gave Cassetti an in to the local food world. She asked if she could do the band’s posters, then a CD design, and a relationship was born. One of the Chokers, Stefan Senders, “decided he’d open a local, artisan bakery called the Wide Awake bakery. Every week for the better part of a season, we would have meetings where we’d just talk about his business. To me, creating a brand, creating a logo, comes out of lots of talk. We ended up with a stack of 100 designs, until finally he said, ‘why don’t you just give me something like the Chicken Chokers’ chicken.’ So I did.”
That job lead to another one, which then lead to another. Now Cassetti’s work with local producers gives her a unique vantage point on the state of the region. “It’s rare when you can be sitting on the crest of a wave,” she says. “With the local food movement, I feel that I’m on that close edge. People are coming to talk to me before they go talk to their bank. What a place to be! This gives me great happiness and joy. If I can provide design and insight into the market, I can help local producers be productive.”
Her goals extend further than the physical product’s look, however. “We need to establish a brand for Central New York. You think Vermont and there’s an aesthetic that comes to mind. Brooklyn has the same thing. From my vantage point, that’s our competition.”
Her vision moves easily from that regional picture to a hyper-local one. Cassetti is the president of the farmers’ market in Trumansburg and they’re in the process of wrestling with what should happen next. “To me, our Wednesday market has become a dinner market, where people come for dinner and they buy extra stuff. Wednesday is for kids. We have children’s entertainment. We have live music. It’s a show.”
While Cassetti is happy with the Wednesday market’s popularity, she’s concerned about customers who just want to buy fresh goods. “We’re now doing a lot of talking. Do we expand to Saturday and have a different market? You could go down to the Ithaca farmers’ market, which is insane. It’s become a destination for tourists. For us, it’s really a puzzle. How do you develop the farmers’ market? How do you get local food in people’s hands? How do we market it?”
In this region, the problems with simply starting a fresh and local food culture have been mostly overcome. Now, the larger issues seem to be about helping each producer find his or her own way to thrive. “The farmers or producers want to focus on one thing,” Cassetti says, “and sometimes they’re all doing the same thing. They’re all growing the same radish. The fact of the matter is sometimes they just don’t want to change. But what it comes down to is there’s a market and there’s a market need. You can fill it or you can be like everybody else,” she explains. “Does everybody want to fill that need? No. Sometimes they just want to grow carrots. And are they then saying maybe we could pickle them or brine them or juice them? I don’t know whether it goes to that point. I think that’s the challenge.”
The challenges grow deeper now, too.
“Once farmers are beyond three radishes on the table, who gives them the business support? We can keep branding people and they can keep being successful but where’s the safety net? It isn’t for the lack of working. Maybe we need to have some kind of community fund to support these people.”
Despite the region’s growing pains, Cassetti’s move to Trumansburg and into the food community was what she was looking for— “to be in the middle of all of this. It is really exciting because you never know who is going to pop up next.” And she chalks her excitement up to the power of living in a small town. “No one is in between you and making something happen,” she says. “In this kind of environment I’ve discovered that I’m an adult. I can do anything. So why don’t I just do it? Why wait for permission?”
Adrienne Martini teaches, writes and knits in Oneonta. She blogs, too: martinimade.com.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2014 edition of the magazine.