Western PA Celebrates Local Food Month

I have to say that I love to eat avocados. And we all know that avocados are not grown in Western Pennsylvania. With the worsening drought in California, where most U.S. avocados are grown, and the rising oil and energy costs for producing and transporting food in our modern agricultural system, it is increasingly evident that Americans will need to turn towards more regional and local food sources.

To celebrate local foods and raise awareness of local food sources, the Western PA Buy Fresh Buy Local® Chapter has designated September as Local Food Month. Every September, Local Food Month inspires a variety of events that offer ways for people to connect with their food sources and enjoy the bounty of local foods produced here in our own region. Events change each year and may range from cooking demos, gardening and homesteading workshops, talks about food regulations, local food dinners, and the chance to meet your local farmers.

The organization that oversees the Western PA Chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local is PASA- The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.  This year, PASA will once return to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA, September 18-20. Every year, PASA hosts an information booth and stage, featuring workshops presented by PASA members on topics like healing herbs, cheese making, and mushroom cultivation.  PASA’s Western Region will also host a regional workshop on Preparing for Fall and Winter Gardening.  Take the chance to learn more about the most local food option possible: growing your own!  Held on September 10 at Garden Dreams Urban Farm & Nursery, this workshop will provide information on extending the harvest of a variety of hardy vegetables.

Events like these and others sponsored by our Buy Fresh Buy Local Partners and organizational partners provide the chance for consumers to deepen their love for, knowledge of and connection to local foods so that they might choose local products more often.  Sample local foods from area producers while shopping for your groceries at the East End Food Co-op or Sunny Bridge Natural Foods in Pittsburgh.  Dine in style and grandeur with foods from Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus Farm.  Attend a Fall Festival or learn to make an Herbal Paper Collage at Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living.  Local Food Month can be fun… and very tasty!

So while you don’t necessarily need to give up the avocados or other exotic, non-regional foods that you love, we hope you will incorporate more local foods into your diet. Our choices fall along a continuum, and we can all move along it by starting with something small and gradually incorporating more practices into our lives that lead toward greater sustainability. For instance, you may start to shop at farmers markets or join a CSA, or select in-store items that were produced locally. You can also begin looking at labels, and asking questions that will help you purchase consciously. Local Food Month is just the beginning of the journey, but hopefully a fun and interesting beginning!

Find the full calendar of Local Food Month events here!

Jessy Swisher is PASA’s Western Region Program Coordinator and Coordinator for the Western PA Buy Fresh Buy Local Chapter.  For more information, visit pasafarming.org/wpabfbl.  More information on Local Food Month events can be found at pasafarming.org/events.

Join us next Monday on the BuyLocalPA blog, where Jackie Cleary will challenge us to answer simple questions to make big change.

Restaurant Review: Revival Kitchen – Reedsville, PA

Revival Kitchen Logo

I had high hopes for a delightful dining experience at Revival Kitchen during their opening weekend, but I had no idea what kind of treat awaited us!

Revival Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant in Reedsville, PA (equidistant between Lewistown and State College) opened to the public July 31, bringing a burst of culinary creativity and artistic passion to the hills of central Pennsylvania. Staying true to their name, Revival Kitchen is committed to strengthening and restoring local economy by partnering with Pennsylvania farms, bakeries, butcher shops and general stores. I had been anticipating this visit for a number of weeks and couldn’t wait to experience the culmination of values and skills!

Pork Belly

Pork Belly

My dining companion Mark and I began our evening, rather appropriately, with a couple starters. First up was a Crispy Pork Belly with a Peach Caramel, Thai Herbs and Mung Bean Sprouts. The beauty of the plate was just a foretaste of the sweet, tender pork and fresh, minty salad.

Beef Bone Marrow

Beef Bone Marrow

We followed the pork belly with Beef Bone Marrow with Bacon Onion Marmalade, Preserved Lemon, Herb Salad and Grilled Sourdough. Nourishing and mouth watering, this dish was the perfect spread for hearty slices of sourdough.

I may have demanded more as I savored my last bite of the marrow, except for the Roasted Balsamic Beet Salad that came next. Accompanied by house-made Greek yogurt and topped with puffed wild rice granola, also made in-house, the balance of textures and tastes was bold but by no means overdone.

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

At this point, we were sold on this place, and we hadn’t even made it to the entrées. Not only were we speechless with nearly every bite, but the service and atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Staying true to their name, owners Quintin and Liz became masters of repurposing as they designed and decorated Revival Kitchen. Their creative use of old rope, mason jars, tractor seats, barn wood and the like give the space the simultaneous feeling of coming home and moving forward. A chalk board gives a shout out to all the local farmers and food producers that have contributed to the menu. Each name on the board represents a relationship formed around local food—a testament to the ever-growing and strengthening local economy in central PA.

Revival Kitchen House

Revival Kitchen

Gnocchi

Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables

Next came the large plates—Corned Pork Shank with Gruyere Cheese Potato Puree, Caraway Pepper Slaw & Natural Jus and House-Made Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables, Ricotta Cheese and Sage Brown Butter. First of all, the pork shank was the tenderest pork I’ve ever had. So tender, in fact, that the meat fell from the bone with the first gentle stab of Mark’s fork. The potatoes and slaw were the perfect complement, making me feel like I was celebrating St. Patty’s Day in a renowned Irish pub. Neither did the gnocchi disappoint. The gnocchi and vegetables were fresh and firm, perfectly seasoned and buttered so the summer flavors were center stage. And did I mention the gnocchi is made in-house?

Speaking of house-made, we finished with Revival Kitchen’s homemade Bourbon Maple Cheesecake with Blueberry Jam and Lemon Verbana. How do you describe the perfect dessert? Because this was it–the perfect ending to a phenomenal dining experience.

Quintin and Liz’s attention to detail, focus on originality and commitment to local food came through every aspect of the Revival Kitchen experience–in each dish that came across our table, in the ambiance created through the décor (pro tip: check out the bathroom’s penny floor when you visit!) and even in their creative twist on comment cards.

Welcome to central PA, Revival Kitchen! We’re glad you chose us!

Revival Kitchen serves dinner Wednesday through Sunday, 4:30-10pm.

Lisa Hershey owns and operates LeFevre Bakery, a bakery in Huntingdon County that specializes in naturally fermented, locally sourced and wood-fired breads. She chose to start the bakery after witnessing how food builds community, from the field to the farmers market to the table.

Local Food as a Human Connection

Christina Kostelecky and husband Halston

Christina Kostelecky and husband Halston

For me, local food conjures up so many images. Among the happy memories are winter prunings, spring plantings, summer harvestings, and fall picklings. The unifying theme in each, though, is the friend beside me. So for me, local food means an intimate connection with people.

I’m lucky enough to have farmer friends around the world. In South Korea I met dozens of Seoul dwellers eager to trade city life for a weekend of hard work in the countryside. I’m still in touch with many of them.

Walking home from work one evening I met a family making their fall batch of kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage that Koreans eat with every meal. They invited me to join this very family-centric activity and they won me over! Laughing while bent over barrels of salty cabbage is a great way to make friends.

I was also lucky enough to meet a very talented farmer who apprenticed under Eliot Coleman. “THE Eliott Coleman?!” I asked when we first met and then proceeded to have a forty-minute discussion about our favorite types of tomatoes. I miss her dearly and love seeing shots of her fabulous veggies that she caringly cultivates in South Korea still.

In France I ate so many local farm-made cheeses, meats and veggies. Each farmer was incredibly patient as I asked questions in my kindergarten French. “When this milk getting from her cow?” “How old is happy cheese?” They didn’t mind and were happy to talk about their craft. I can still taste the freshness of the nettle soup I made. The conversations I had with my French farmer while picking were well worth the sting of the nettles.

Now I’ve been in Pennsylvania for nearly four weeks. Already I’ve been connected to more than a dozen helpful and friendly individuals. I’ve done as Lisa Hersey recommended in her last blog post and used local foods as a map to the area. I’ve visited farmers markets and chatted with the vendors. From the vendors, I’ve learned about restaurants supporting those vendors and other local foods. From the restaurants I found networking and volunteer opportunities. From one such event, I’ve started making friends. So, in a very real way, local food has connected me with friends in such a short time.

In the coming weeks there are more volunteer opportunities and more good food to be eaten. My benefits of connecting to local food are friendship, appreciation for the complexity of my meal, and great food. These are true no matter where in the world I happen to be.

We’d love to hear where you’ve made connections with local food. Please feel free to comment below.

Christina Kostelecky and her husband recently relocated to the Lewisburg area after nearly four years of living in South Korea. While in South Korea she was at the forefront of developing and organizing local and sustainable markets and organizations.  She is dedicated to supporting and furthering local sustainable food. 

This is who I am, who are you?

I was a professional chef for the first ten years of my working life. Whoever said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” was definitely not a chef. Every chef I’ve ever met was insatiably curious about ingredients and always looking at not just how other people were cooking but what they were cooking with. Whenever we travel outside our own area we always eat at local places, and the first questions are always: What’s good here? What are you known for? What shouldn’t we miss? Great (and often spirited) conversations always result.

Pride of place is strong in people who are passionate about food. By asking the questions What’s good here? What are you known for? What shouldn’t we miss? you begin with respect for the uniqueness of the other which I find is always returned. You tell me what’s good here, and you’ll be interested when I tell you what’s good where I’m from. We both gain from the exchange.

Local food, to me, isn’t a closed community serving itself to the exclusion of others. It’s the realization that everywhere is local for someone, and exploring the variations inherent in a healthy diversity. Local food isn’t just a way of saying, “This is who I am.” it’s a way of saying, “This is who I am, who are you?”

rettews-400px-wide

Rettew’s farmstand

Local for me, right now, is a small farmstand that’s about a minute walk from my door (Rettew’s in Akron, PA). The John Boy peaches have just ended (I put up a small batch of jam before they were gone; you had to eat them over a sink and wash your chin when you were done), and the Red Havens are coming in now (smaller, redder, and a more concentrated peachnitude; I fell for the tang of the skin which really makes it). They’ve got Early Gold and Pristine apples that will make you want to go back through time and slap every apple you ever bought from a supermarket. The Early Gold is a yellow apple with a rich and complex flavor that includes a faint hint of the woodiness of its stem (in a good way), and a texture that is at times powdery soft without being mealy. The Pristine is a green apple, but only gently tart, with a texture that is firm without being freakishly ultracrisp. They are exceptionally juicy with a taste I can only describe as earthily fresh. There’s sweet corn now, and green beans, and lima beans in their pods, tomatoes of course, onions, potatoes, and quite a few other things. Every day it’s a little different.

Their produce is all so excellent in quality that it is changing my cuisine. I’ve begun to completely rethink the protein/veg/starch 50/25/25 plate and now think in terms of simplicity of preparation, simplicity of presentation, and methods of giving each individual ingredient its own moment on the stage.

Tomorrow we’re having guests for dinner. I plan to put out some Cowgirl Creamery cheeses (local to Point Reyes Station, CA and maker of my current favorite cheese ever, called Red Hawk, a soft, washed rind cheese made with wild bacteria—meaning its flavor is unique to its place of manufacture, which gives local another shade) for nibbling to start, and throughout. Then I’m serving the best chicken stock I’ve ever made (procedure available upon request), clarified, alone in a cup, garnished only with two or three freshly-bruised, freshly-picked rosemary leaves from a planter on my back porch. Followed by a dish made by cutting the green beans into corn kernel sized circular segments, blanching them, shocking them in ice water, then sauteing them in butter with an equal amount of corn cut from the cob, salt and pepper, just until the corn is heated through. The corn is so good right now it’s spectacular even when raw. Then, another course, freshly shelled lima beans, blanched and chilled, tossed with diced heirloom tomato, and drizzled with olive oil. Nothing I could do would improve the flavor and texture of these peak-picked items. I would like dessert to be a half of a perfect Red Haven peach, drizzled with Scottish heather honey (not local to me, but it’s made by bees in a single and singular place), and oven-toasted skin-on almond slices. I’m hopeful, but I don’t have final say on dessert matters in this kitchen, and I’m okay with that. The peach dish I hope for, which we named Peach Jennius, was put together by the love of my life as a lunch dessert a few days ago, and it’s what really triggered the thought process behind the whole menu.

Peach Jennius

Peach Jennius

I’ve thought of dozens of ways that I can do more to these dishes, but I keep checking myself with the realization that with the ingredients I have available to me now the prime consideration isn’t how can I make these better, it’s how can I be sure I don’t diminish them. This is not anything new. Restaurants everywhere are embracing the tasting menu, but I don’t think it’s the way most Americans cook at home. The French have considered the vegetable to be a course all its own for hundreds of years, the Japanese have a respect for simplicity and showcasing ingredient freshness that’s unequaled. But I’m not French, and I’m not Japanese, so a shift like this is, in a very quiet and personal way, radical.

I am curious how our guests will react. I wonder if they will understand or just consider me quirky. I wonder if what local food means to me will resonate with what food (let alone local) means to them. Either way, I know that conversation will happen, because the meal, and I, will be saying, “This is who I am, who are you?”

Dan Waber is a poet, playwright, publisher, and digital artist whose work is almost (but not always) text-based (http://logolalia.com/). His professional life has been in food and sales and marketing. His life was well and truly changed by reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, and he has committed the next stage of his life to supporting sustainable food by all means possible. He can be reached at danwaber@gmail.com.

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When Your Meal Becomes A Map

I smirked as my dad predictably took us on a counter-clockwise tour around his dinner plate, telling us nothing we didn’t already know.
Farm fresh vegetables

“This beef was raised right here in our own pasture,” he points out the window where two Holstein steers graze serenely.

“The beans, potatoes and salad from that land there,” he says, referring to the plot of green adjacent to the pasture.

“Even the eggs in the salad are from our little corner!” he finishes with a flourish.

This was a commonplace litany in my childhood home, especially in the summer months when the garden spewed forth greens and tomatoes, potatoes and corn. Yet despite this most ordinary and life-long experience of knowing his food’s source, my father’s obvious delight at the land, work, and food connection has never waned.

Not only has he maintained his joy in being connected to his food, he’s passed it on.

I, too, now delight in surveying my dinner plate—my physical nourishment extending into a map of places, people and memories.

Sweet potatoes from Micah and Bethany at Plowshare Produce, friends and spiritual comrades. The tubers are not only flavored with butter and salt, but with memories. Memories of weeding the sweet potato plants on a drizzly summer day alongside friends as Micah explained why this particular field had the best soil on the farm. Memories of digging through the dry and crumbly sod on a crisp fall morning like a team of archeologists, our treasure of bushels upon bushels of sweet potatoes a worthy reward. Imaginary prizes handed out to the largest potato, the most bizarre shape, one which most resembles a living creature.

Cheese from Clover Creek in Williamsburg, my weekly neighbors at the local farmers market. Each bite of cheese is the result of one family caring for and milking the cows, creating new cheese recipes, culturing the cheese and bringing the cheese to market. This is industriousness and creativity I am happy to support.

Bread from my oven made with grain I can picture growing at Small Valley Milling and slathered with honey from Andy of Tug Hollow Honey, who keeps me regularly informed about the plight of the bees in our area and country. Bees that have enjoyed the cover crops across the road at Plowshare Produce and dutifully pollinated our vegetables in return.

And in my eating, I am connected. For ultimately, eating locally is about connection. Environmental stewardship, local economy, individual health and all the other reasons we eat local work to restore connections and seek wholeness.

As Wendell Berry says in his essay “The Pleasure of Eating”:

“A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes. The pleasure of eating, then, may be the best available standard of our health… Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”

Choosing local food goes beyond physical necessity and nourishes our need for connection to the earth and to each other. And in restoring these connections, we become a bit more grateful, a bit more humble, and a bit more whole.

How does eating locally restore your connections? Please answer in the comments.

Lisa Hershey owns and operates LeFevre Bakery, a bakery in Huntingdon County that specializes in naturally fermented, locally sourced and wood-fired breads. She chose to start the bakery after witnessing how food builds community, from the field to the farmers market to the table.

 

Finding Connection In Local Food

by Roberta Cosentino

It’s June and my garden has been my obsession for several weeks. Each new flower on the chipotle pepper plant has me counting the days to fresh salsa. As always, ramp season was too short, but berries are ripening and summer is in the air. I am looking forward to the summer season and all of its wonderful spirit, energy, opportunity…and flavor!

A few years ago at a PASA conference I purchased a copy of Simply in Season – what would come to be my go-to recipe book. Organized by season and indexed by ingredient, I found myself at home with my first CSA share thumbing through pages of recipes with ingredients I actually had on hand. It was after my first rhubarb pie that I immediately started buying the recipe book for my friends and family.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, purchasing Simply in Season would eventually have the great effect of helping me connect my food to my surrounding landscape. As the seasons passed, I flipped through the book to the appropriate pages and started to realize that indeed, I had no reason to cook a summer dish in the dead of winter! There were other great recipes I could enjoy during those months, with seasonally appropriate ingredients. As the title of the book suggests, it was simple.

Eventually I would come to adopt something equally as simple: buying fresh and buying local. Without a doubt, this means different things to different people. What is local, anyway? Is it my town? My state? The east coast? The answer I choose is, simply, as close to me as possible.

Whether it’s my garden, the farm down the street or my favorite soap maker from Centre County, buying fresh and buying local is not a steadfast rule, it’s just a simple choice. At first it’s a choice about paying attention to where things come from until inevitably, one day, you enter a big-chain grocery store and feel like you’ve just taken a trip to strange, faraway land.

As a non-native Pennsylvanian I attribute my connection to my community with the Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign. Having moved here from a major city, my first months in PA were spent driving down gravel roads, giddy to find my dairy farmer. I met like-minded folks at the farmers markets, and generally appreciated the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the area. I quickly found myself living peacefully – as a responsible and conscious consumer. And in this small, simple way, I started connecting my plate to my earth and my earth to my neighbors and my neighbors to the world around me.

In the coming months I’ll be turning this discussion outward, connecting with the Buy Fresh Buy Local community throughout the state – producers, businesses and individuals alike. In the meantime, I welcome input, questions, requests or musings.

Until next time, I wish us all a bountiful season and merry salsa-making. Cheers!

Roberta Cosentino is a native New Englander who now lives, works and eats in Chester County, by way of Washington, DC. Since becoming a PASA member, her passion for small-scale farming, food security, cooking and community have guided her academic, professional and personal goals for nearly a decade.

The many faces of Marty’s Market

A three-faceted business, Marty’s Market has achieved a hemostasis that mirrors the balances found in nature. The Strip District business boasts an American-style café, a market, and a coffee bar, all of which work together to provide affordable, all natural, organic, and often locally grown products. “The idea was to have a model where people could experience food in many ways in one space,” says Johanna Klotz, Marty’s Market Strategist.

Klotz explains that, in addition to being convenient for customers, combining three food outlets into one space reduces waste. For example, produce that is not aesthetically fit for sale in the market can be incorporated into a café dish. Extra meat from the market’s butcher, whose products come entirely from local farms, can also be cooked into café meals instead of composted. By ordering for all three sectors at once, Marty’s Market is also able to cut down on transportation waste.

“The goal for this market is to really try to be a part of strengthening the region’s food system. We really feel strongly about supporting local growers,” Klotz says. “We like to see more money entering the local economy. But also we are really interested in how things taste and how fresh they are, and that’s something you can only achieve by ordering locally.”

Marty’s Market disproves the misconception that ordering locally means a limited selection of crops. If anything, their intimate connection with local farmers allows for a greater variety of produce. “We have a staff that is really dedicated to educating themselves about food, but then also transferring that education onto customers. We might get something that’s really rare that we would only get from a farmer directly, and not from a distributer. We get really excited about being able to talk about it with our customers,” Klotz says. Adding these more obscure fruits and vegetable to the café menu allows customers to try, and learn how to cook, foods that they may not buy on their own.

Food demonstrations led by visiting chefs are another way Marty’s Market connects with the community. Other special events include children’s cooking classes, cosponsored by Slow Food Pittsburgh, and raw vegan workshops. Marty’s Market also hosts monthly Healthy Eaters’ Meet and Greets. The Meet and Greets are not based around dieting, but allow community members to discuss ways to maintain healthy lifestyles. The next Meet and Greet is scheduled for April 11.

Not even a year old, Marty’s Market shows that there is a demand for organic foods in the Pittsburgh community. “Our customer base has proven that people really want [healthy foods] and they are willing to come to a small store in the Strip District to purchase these items,” Klotz says.

About PASA

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) is a nonprofit organization working to improve the economic prosperity, environmental soundness and social propriety of Pennsylvania food and agricultural systems. We work with farmers who grow our food, consumers who eat the food, and those concerned with the ecological wellbeing of our environment and natural resources, among many other interest groups.

PASA is the only statewide, member-based, sustainable farming organization in Pennsylvania and the Northeast, and is one of the largest in the nation. The Association seeks to address the sustainability of the entire food and agriculture industry, and places great value on efforts to build bridges between various and disparate participants in the food system.

PASA creates networks and markets to strengthen the ties between concerned consumers and family farmers. PASA is building statewide channels that link farmers with farmers, farmers with consumers, and consumers with markets. As our organization has grown, we’ve had some real successes with a variety of educational programs – both on and off the farm, that are shaping new partnerships that enhance the lives and livelihoods of producers and consumers.

PASA is a network of people who care – we all have a role in assuring the health and longevity of our regional farms and food supply. PASA is the catalyst that brings together those dedicated to advancing sustainable food and farming systems. PASA is a dynamic new model for partnerships between traditional agricultural and our ever-changing society and has worked to forge positive and needed changes in the way food is grown, harvested, distributed, and marketed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Our family farms face enormous threats and whether we can save farming in time is up to all of us. They can and will be saved – if they have enough friends (and farmers). Please be one of them. Please join us.