Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Farmers' Markets vs. Arts & Crafts Markets

There's been a lively discussion lately on the Cincinnati Local Foods Group about whether it's helpful for farmers' markets to include crafters. I've always taken the position that it isn't helpful -- that it's in fact counterproductive to developing a successful market -- but a lot of people don't see the harm. For farmers' markets that are just starting up and/or don't have all their spaces filled with local, sustainably-produced foods, it's tempting to invite crafters to fill the empty spaces. It makes the market seem busy and inviting to have more booth spaces filled.

I believe filling the extra booth spaces with crafters actually hurts the chances of developing the market into a thriving entity, long term. Here's why.

Yes, a full market is more inviting to potential customers. They drive past and see a full market and think, "Wow! Where'd that come from all of a sudden? I want to check that out." They park and go in, ready to shop and buy. It would seem the addition of the crafters did its job: it pulled in more customers earlier than a smaller farmers-only market would have, because it made the farmers' market seem bigger than it actually was at that point. It brought in more customers. That's good, right?

Well, not necessarily. If a customer stops to investigate and instead of the "farmers' market" she was hoping to shop at finds a few farmers but mostly crafters, she's likely to be disappointed. It wasn't what she thought it was. She looks around. She buys a few items, maybe even one of the craft items for sale (leaving less cash in her wallet to buy food items.) But now she knows: it's not really a farmers' market. Next Wednesday when she drives past, she doesn't bother to stop. The market does okay, but although it seems to attract plenty of new customers every week and most of the farmers make enough to keep coming back, few of them make enough that they want to expand their operations. And while enough farmers come back year to year that the market continues, there never seem to be enough farmers interested to allow it to really take off. There's always another crafter interested, though.

But imagine a different scenario: a potential customer drives past a small farmers' market. He can see there are only three booths, and it doesn't seem worth it to stop. The next week when he drives past, there are four booths. Two weeks later, there are five. He thinks, "Wow! It's really been growing! I should check it out." He stops, and when he investigates he finds a booth with lettuces, another selling meats, another with honey and eggs, one with apples, several offering a variety of vegetables. He shops and goes home happy, thinking, "I'll have to remember this is here every Wednesday." He tells his friends to check out the new farmers' market.

Did it take longer to get that customer to stop? Yes, it did. But the customer went away happy and intending to return. Word of mouth spreads in the neighborhood that the new farmers' market is a great place to shop every Wednesday afternoon on the square. Next year, the market attracts four more vendors because they've heard this market is thriving. The year after that, it fills up. The year after that, it has to start turning away new vendors because there's no more space, and one of the farmers suggests they start running a monthly winter market because he's been thinking of growing through the winter in hoophouses.

The farmers make money, and some of them expand their market gardens to include less common items. Customers are delighted. Leeks? At a farmers' market? Who knew? The market manager notices that many of the customers are coming from the next suburb over. Someone gets the bright idea to start a second market in that suburb on Fridays. Not all the farmers want to participate in this second market, so some new farmers get an opportunity to participate. One of them tells a neighboring farmer -- who for years has been planting mostly corn and soy -- that she should put in an organic market garden and give the farmers' market a try. The neighboring farmer tries it and has a good year, and her son (who had figured there was no room in farming for him because everyone knows small diversified farming is dead and he has no interest in growing subsidized industrial-input commodity crops) rethinks the idea of farming for a living.

This is how a local food distribution system builds. This is why I always recommend that new farmers' markets not include crafters. I believe the inclusion of crafters, in the long run, hurts a farmers' market and hurts the farmers at that market. This is counterproductive to the development of a sustainable local food system.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Trying something new...

Hello to all after some winter hibernation. Our Winter CSA started up recently, and I am thrilled to be back in the green(s). Oh, and in the tubers. Root veggies, that is. A few weeks ago, my share included some delicious spinach, a lettuce mix, some coveted cilantro, and a green known as mache (a dark green lettuce with a kind of sweet, nutty flavor). We’ve had some awesome salads at my house.

And, 3 lb of Jerusalem artichokes, a.k.a. sunchokes. I’ve never eaten this knobby little tuber before. I half-considered passing it up and just grabbing my greens and heading home. But, my curiosity won out and I decided I’d give them a try. I had to pull out my vegetable bible, The Victory Garden Cookbook. I decided I’d try the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, since the author Marion Morash claims it is her husband Russ’ favorite choke recipe.

A golden opportunity presented itself when all three of my children were elsewhere for a Saturday evening. They are fine eaters, mind you, but Jerusalem artichoke soup is pushing it even for them. I spent no small amount of time peeling those sunchokes, so I was really hoping I could trust Russ on this one and the soup would be a hit with my husband and me.

And, oh my. It was wonderful. Really tasty. The beauty of belonging to a CSA is that often those gardeners spring something new on you – I have to admit I probably wouldn’t have picked up those sunchokes on my own! Now I’m a fan. And if you’re wondering why they call them Jerusalem artichokes, well, according to Marian, they never came from Jerusalem and they aren’t related to the globe artichoke, though they do taste a bit like them.

Coincidentally, I was reading an article called “The Best Antiaging Foods You’re Not Eating Enough of” in the April issue of More Magazine. Guess what was #10? Yep, sunchokes. Apparently, they’re packed with vitamins A and B, potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium. A win:win. If you’re looking for the next anti-aging big thing (okay, I’m pushing it), here’s the recipe for the soup. Enjoy!

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup (The Victory Garden Cookbook, Marian Morash)

1 lb. Jerusalem artichokes
Lemon juice
1 medium onion
2 stalks celery
1 leek
2 tbsp butter
1 ½ tbsp flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup cream
salt and pepper
½ cup sour cream

Wash, peel, and coarsely dice chokes, dropping them into water acidulated with 2 tbsp lemon juice as you prepare them (this keeps the chokes from turning brown). Chop onion, celery, and leek and cook in butter over low to medium heat for 10 minutes, or until softened. Sprinkle on flour and cook, stirring, for 3 – 5 minutes. Add chokes (remove from lemon water right before adding) and broth and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Puree mixture in a blender or processor, and return to saucepan. Add cream and reheat. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste, and serve with a spoonful of sour cream on top.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Locavore 1.0 for the iPhone

This is pretty cool:  Locavore 1.0 will let you know what's in season in your area and where to find it.  I haven't tried this application, but for those of you with iPhones, the app's developer says it will tell you what fruits and vegetables are currently in season near you wherever you are (using GPS technology) via information from the Natural Resources Defense Council and where your nearest farmers' market is via information from localharvest.org.  All this info is already available online (and some of the seasonal information is a bit iffy in the accuracy department), but for the $2.99 purchase price for this app, if I had an iPhone I'd definitely give it a try. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kinkead Ridge Cabernet Franc "Best Value"

Nancy Bentley of Kinkead Ridge reports that a small group from the Cincinnati chapter of the American Wine Society recently blind tasted eight Cabernet Francs from France, California, North Carolina, and Ohio and named Kinkead Ridge's 2001 "Best Value."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wooden Shoe Gardens' CSA Kickoff Event Sunday March 29

Wooden Shoe Gardens is offering a food tasting featuring foods from the first offerings of this year's Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA).  If you're thinking of joining a CSA this year but want to know more, this is a great place to start.  Culinary Olympics medalist Marc Stroud will be doing the cooking. 

The event is at the New Thought Unity Center, 1401 E McMillan St in East Walnut Hills at 1:30pm this coming Sunday and is free, but please RSVP to David so they'll know how many to plan for.

Wooden Shoe's CSA has a slight twist -- the sharers will help decide what they'll offer this year.  David says, "This CSA program will begin by offering microgreens and possibly other organically grown salad ingredients.  Since this is a member-controlled endeavor, the participants will determine what we will do next.  Here’s a few of the ideas we are discussing:  organic sprouts; locally grown seasonal vegetables; greenhouse produced winter vegetables; a full line of shipped in organically grown fruits and vegetables; organic grains and other food staples.  The sky is the limit.  Please join us and help transform the food delivery system in the Greater Cincinnati Tri-State."


Thanks to all who turned out for LocavoraCinciPalooza at the Mercantile Library on Monday! It was a terrific event, with what I estimated to be at least 100 people in attendance for the panel discussion (moderated by founder and board chair for The Corporation for Findlay Market Mary Stagaman) among Chef Jono Fries of Boca Restaurant Group, Cincinnati Magazine food writer Donna Covrett (who is very chic, btw), Wine Advocate writer David Schildknecht, Turner Farms Garden Manager Melinda O'Briant, and yours truly. The discussion, which focussed on questions surrounding the local foods movement, was part of the Merc's Hearth and Home series.

Sincere thanks to the Merc for setting up this event, and to Mary Stagaman who had clearly done a lot of work in preparation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Home Brewing Classes at The Learning Kitchen

The Learning Kitchen, a hands-on cooking school up in West Chester, is offering Home Brewing Club, which is a series of four four-hour classes (Saturdays 3/28, 5/30, 8/15 & 10/24 from 4 - 8pm) in brewing and pairing beer with food. Registration is $275 for the series. For more information, visit their website.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Work For Food program at Thistlehair Farm

Vicky Tewes of Thistlehair Farm has a really interesting program she's offering in addition to the traditional CSA she offers: a Work For Food program.

Under this program, a few hours' work translates into a week's CSA share. That's right -- work five hours a week at Thistlehair Farm and get an entire CSA share's worth of food, a box of whatever is growing on the farm that week, in exchange. Plus the satisfaction of helping grow your own food and whatever knowledge and expertise you can absorb working alongside an organic farmer.

This is a great idea for those who'd like to eat more locally but have more time than money, for those who are worried that fresh, local ingredients will cost more than the industrial outputs they normally buy at the supermarket, and for those who'd like to learn how to garden organically.

Contact Vicky for more information.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Slow Food Cincinnati Looking for Volunteers

Slow Food Cincinnati is looking for volunteers interested in helping with marketing, fundraising, grant writing, and other projects. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Local Wineries at 2009 Wine Festival

With thanks to Michelle & Kevin at My Wine Education who did all the work for me, these are
the local wineries who will have booths at the 19th Annual Cincinnati Wine Festival this weekend:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Imago Offers Table Talk Series

Imago, the Earth-issues organization in East Price Hill, is offering Table Talk: Saving the Earth One Meal at a Time, a series of educational events "designed to address the practical issues of finding and preparing food in healthful, budget sensitive and earth friendly ways."

Events include Commercial Farming vs. Natural Methods, a guided discussion by Nathan Back of Grass Fed Farms; What's Wrong With The Way We Eat, a talk by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman about our too-much-meat, too-few-plants, too-much-fast-food, and too-little-home-cooking lifestyles; a family-friendly Wild Edibles Hike and Dinner; Menu For The Future, a six-session course exploring the connection between food and sustainability; a showing of What Will We Eat: A Search For Healthy Local Foods, a 30-minute video investigating the growing failure of the industrial food system; and a Farm Field Trip to Grailville and Turner Farms.

Preregistration required; prices range from free to $20 depending on the event and whether you're already a member of Imago. For more information, visit the website or call Ansa at 513.921.5124.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Virgils Cafe in Bellevue to Serve Locally-Sourced Foods

Virgils Cafe (710 Fairfield Ave, Bellevue 41073), which will be sourcing local ingredients and wines for their menu, is now open. Hours are M/W/Th 11 - 10, Fri/Sat 11-11, Sun 11-4.

Chef owner Matt Buschle is interested in working with local growers. If you're interested in selling to him, give him a call at 859.491.3287.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ohio Proud Marketing Meeting at Bigg's

Growers and producers interested in selling to Bigg's as part of their "local products" program are invited to attend a marketing meeting set up by the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Ohio Proud program at the Mason Bigg's (9600 Mason Montgomery Rd, Mason, OH 45040) on Thursday March 26th from noon - 3pm. Registration fee is $10 (box lunch included.)  Pre-registration is required; deadline for receipt of checks is March 20th.  For more information contact Lori Panda or call Ohio Proud at 800.467.7683.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cooking with Maple Syrup/Class at Rowe Woods

The Cincinnati Nature Center is offering Cooking with Maple Syrup at their Rowe Woods location.  Dan Berger of Maple Grove Farm will demonstrate mixed greens with maple balsamic vinaigrette, pan-seared maple salmon, maple sauteed apples, and maple pecan tarts.  March 11th 6:30 - 8:30 pm.  Members $10, nonmembers $15. For more information or to reserve a spot, visit the website.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Great Sunflower Project 2009

It's time again to sign up for the Great Sunflower Project, which tracks bee visits to a particular species of native sunflower (helianthus annuus) which will be planted by volunteers all over the country to help gauge the health of wild bee populations. This year, organizers are collecting addresses of volunteers quite a bit earlier than they started last year, so with any luck we'll all get our seeds early.

If you'd like to participate -- volunteers plant sunflowers, then on a specified date or dates throughout the summer count the number of bees that visit one of their flowers over a period of 30 minutes and report their findings back via an online form -- visit the project's website and sign up!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Canning Classes

The Jam-and-Jelly Lady in Lebanon is offering hands-on beginning and advanced canning classes. The beginning class is a two-evening series that covers both water bath and pressure canning and is being offered March 17th & 19th and again May 19th & 21st for $65. Advanced classes are single-evening sessions for $25 and cover specific types of canning, including a class on canning with honey and one on marmalades.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Slow Food Cincinnati

Slow Food is forming a local convivium, Slow Food Cincinnati. The group is looking for volunteers who are interested in promoting local foods in our area.

Volunteer opportunities include:

  • Vice President (Co – Leader)
  • Recording Secretary: Takes minutes of meetings.
  • Corresponding Secretary: Maintains database of and communicates with members. Works closely with the Membership Coordinator.
  • Treasurer: Keeps the books, files the tax return. (The group is a non-profit.)
  • Fundraising: Looks for way to raise money. The convivium has $0 right now and is awaiting a small start up check from the national organization.
  • Grant writer: Applies for grant money on behalf of Slow Food Cincinnati. One opportunity has been identified and is due in March.
  • Web Site Administrator: Establishes and maintains the Slow Food Cincinnati website. Responsible for the content on the website and keeping it current. Works with all other positions to seek solicitations. (A couple of people may want to share this position.)
  • Membership Coordinator: Maintains membership email list and shares updates with the Database Administrator and Corresponding Secretary. Works to provide added value for members. Considers how to communicate with members w/o email addresses.
  • Program Chair: Works to develop programs & events. The convivium's goal is three events in 2009.
  • Community Liaison: Investigates community events and shares with members via the group's website. Partners between Slow Food Cincinnati and other local groups.
  • Meeting Site Coordinator – keeps an active list of places to meet that are non-profit friendly. When meetings/events are scheduled, works with the hosting group to execute arrangements.
Anyone interested in becoming involved should contact the volunteer coordinator. Volunteers will meet for the first time in January.