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Archive for the ‘local food events’ Category

Chris and some Spicebush branches

Integration Acres’ Chris Chmiel is a passionate promoter of the cultivation and use of native plants. Known as the Pawpaw guy, he advocated for its designation as Ohio’s official native fruit, turned it into a cash crop, inspired the creation of many value-added products, and, for the last 13 years has hosted the Pawpaw Festival.  On June 23rd, he held the 2nd annual Summer Solstice Spicebush Celebration at the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Spicebush is found throughout all of Ohio, and is an understory shrub of moist to wet woodlands. Its twigs and branchlets, when scraped, emit a spicy fragrance. Bright red fruits appear in late summer and early autumn on female shrubs. Its dark green, glossy foliage (like that of Pawpaw), is unusual for woody plants thriving in full shade. As a native of the Eastern United States, Spicebush can grow to 12 feet tall and 15 feet wide and is a member of the Laurel Family, related to Sassafras and other Spicebushes.

Michelle and Eric doing some scoring

Prior to Saturday, my only experience with Spicebush was as a tea, having purchased the dried leaves and twigs from Chris at the Athens Farmers Market. So I was delighted when Chris asked if I’d be a judge for the Cook Off event. Upstairs in the Dairy Barn, I joined Michelle Wasserman (a worker-owner from Athens’ much beloved Casa Nueva) and Eric LeMay, a food writer and OU professor – both dazzled me with their ways of describing food, over the next few hours). With our rating sheets at hand, our cameras nearby, we were ready to discover the tastes of the Spicebush. Kristen LaMay helped coordinate the tasting and kept a steady supply of Spicebush infused items coming our way.

Iced Spicebush tea in cups made for the Celebration

We began with the beverage category. The first entry was iced tea, served up in a cup with the Spicebush Celebration logo – a perfect beginning since it delivered a clean and uncluttered taste of the Spicebush, and educated my palette to the plant’s unique taste.

Lovely Kristen pours our Arnolds.

Next up, a Spicebush Arnold Palmer (a combination of tea and fresh lemonade), created by Stephanie Katterhenrick, also a worker-owner of Casa.

So pretty, so tasty and refreshing

Lastly, a shot glass of Dancing Tree Distillery’s Spicebush gin. Entrant Kelly Sauber explained that his gin contains wild harvested, dried Spiceberries, certified organic Juniper berries, organic rosehips, non-GMO and organic corn from the nearby farms of Kim and Larry Cowdery and Matt and Angie Starline, and some Briess Organic 2-Row Barley from Wisconsin. Wow! If you like gin, you’re going to love Dancing Tree’s clean taste and aromatic woodsy nose. The gin took home the first prize in this category.

How’s that Spicebush gin, judges?

We still had room for this artful bread

Onto the appetizers – dips, cheeses, and more, but the prize went to Michelle Gorman’s (Integration Acres) Smoky Goat Chevre rolled in salt, black pepper and freshly ground spicebush berries. In the savory bread category, the judges selected Patty Nally’s (Avalanche Pizza) Fougassee with a Spicebush pesto.

Savory Spicebush entree

Our favorite savory dish was Stephanie Katterhenrick’s mashed potatoes, but it was quickly overtaken by her entree presentation. The potatoes (from Cowdery Farms) were boiled in water infused with Spicebush berries and leaves – a clever move! A summer and zuchinni squash dish seasoned with ground Spicebush berries complimented an English beef chuck roast from Sunny Mead Farm, cooked with ground Spicebush berries and steeped leaves, fresh minced garlic from Yankee Street Farm, onions from Cold Comfort Farm, and fresh thyme from HerbaVore Gardens. I never tasted such tender and lovely meat. As we licked our lips, we decided to give her a spontaneous accolade – the Spirit of the Spicebush award.

Then it was on to dessert…Who doesn’t love Snowville ice cream, this one with a creamy vanilla with a hint of Spicebush? But Carole Schloss literally took the cake (award) for her Spicebush German chocolate cake. So delicate, yet infused with that allspice-like, maybe peppery-ness, hard to describe, Spicebush flavor.

The final bite of Carole’s cake

Like the entire Spicebush Celebration, the Cook Off  brought together a mix of local ingredients that satisfied the belly and the soul. Thanks, everyone. I hope you’ll let me do this again.

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So hard to decide which truffle...so I usually pick three.

Stacy Peters has a knack for chocolate and timing. A few years ago she and a friend decided to make some truffles for the Christmas holidays and the Village Bakery agreed to sell them. The chocolate orbs flew out the door and O’Chocolate was born. For the last few years she’s been selling her sweet treats at the Athens Farmers Market where the Saturday crowd (I can report from first hand experience) hovers around her display, anxious to make their chocolate purchases.

Open for business at O'Chocolate

Gearing up for Valentine’s Day (when national chocolate sales are projected to be just shy of one billion dollars), Stacy began looking at options for a ‘pop up’ store for the month of February. When she found a longer term sweet deal, she couldn’t resist and, today, she opened her retail business at 5 North Court Street in Athens. With Kinko’s and FedEx upstairs, O’Chocolate is on the street level, just inside the lobby and is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 11 am to 2pm and 5 to 8pm and on Saturdays from 11 am to 8pm.

Eye catching packaging envelopes smooth chocolate pleasure...

Her chocolate offerings include ten kinds of truffles (my favorites are Chili Pepper, Espresso and Champagne) and five fabulous chocolate bars (so hard to decide…Mint? Organic Pecan with Smoked Sea Salt? or the Dark Chocolate Orange that Stacy describes as “a smooth bar with citrus tones that wake up the taste buds. Cayenne is added and lightly dances on the back of your tongue.”) She also offers barks and other darkly delicious confections. All are made with organic and Fair Trade chocolate. Vegans can indulge in truffles made with organic coconut milk.

A reason to head Uptown

Stacy is passionate about supporting other local enterprises and sources many of her ingredients within the 30 mile region. These include Snowville Creamery‘s cream, Sticky Pete’s maple syrup, Silverbridge Coffee, Ancient Roots lavender extract, and amaranth from Shagbark Seed & Mill Company. She also buys spirits for her truffles locally, supporting the Undercover Market (red wine) and Bella Vino (champagne). By March, the shop will include a display of locally made products available for purchase.

Another happy customer

As V Day approaches, Stacy invites you to attend her O’Chocolate’s Soiree on February 11 (Saturday) from 7 to 8:30 pm – grab your sweetie and enjoy some free chocolate! And for the love in your life (hey, it’s okay if it is you), fill up a red box with truffles!

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The crowd checks out information on Go Wild for Local Foods activities at the Athens Farmers Market

This past Saturday, 30 Mile Meal, WellWorks, Live Healthy Appalachia, and Athens Healthy Community Coalition folks arrived at the Athens Farmers Market with pots and pans. Ready to host their Go Wild for Local Foods event, we had two purposes: to offer a local foods cooking demonstration for Market shoppers and increase support for the Market’s vendors and Community Food Initiatives‘ Donation Station.

Info table promoting food-related programs in Athens area.

Under the Market’s Cafe tents, organizers set up food prep and cooking areas for guest chef, Pam Nalbach, from The Wilds. Local foods for her mystery basket of ingredients were collected from generous Market farmers and vendors.

Go Wild volunteers from the Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity and the OU Dietetics Club fanned out across the market to pass out yellow punch cards and to punch the tickets of shoppers who purchased from at least four Market vendors and made either a cash or food contribution to the Donation Station. These cards were then entered into a drawing for prizes, including Safari Tours at The Wilds.

Pam at work.

Plenty of fresh produce populated Pam’s food basket: leeks from Shade River Organic Farm, tomatoes from Green Edge Organic Gardens, peppers from Cowdery Farms, black Russian kale and spinach from Duff Farms, Asian greens from Dexter Run Farms, Sassafras Farm’s butternut squash, a bag of Cherry Orchards’ Melrose apples, and frozen elderberries from Herbal Sage Tea Co. Rounding out the menu possibilities were cheddar and Swiss cheeses from Ohio Farm Direct, Casa Nueva’s Shitake ginger vinaigrette, and black beans and spelt, precooked and donated by Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. What would the chef make?

Salad is almost ready for tasting...

 

 

Pam began chopping, stirring, seasoning, and simmering. Not long after, the audience was enjoying samples of a spinach, Asian greens and spelt salad, dressed with Shitake and ginger vinaigrette and a butternut squash, leek, and apple soup.

After the event, Pam was presented with a 30 Mile Meal canvas bag filled with foods from the region, including corn chips from Shagbark Seed & Mill Co., tea from Herbal Sage, Gillogly Orchard’s apple cider, rolled oats from Starline Organics, romaine lettuce from Vest Berries and Produce, Cantrell’s honey, Mex-City’s red raspberry chipotle salsa, Dale’s Creations apple pumpkin butter and chocolate clusters from O’Chocolate.

We’re delighted to report that the Donation Station received $300 more than its typical Saturday cash donations and considerably more produce as a result of this event.

Many thanks to all who made this a great showcase for our local foods community including Kip Parker and Michelle Gorman from the Athens Farmers Market, Pam Nalbach, Danielle Bray, the APO and OU Dietetics Club volunteers, Francie Astrom, Ruth Dudding, Mary Nally, Louise DiLullo, Heather Anderson, Kim Valentour, and all the farmers and food producers who donated their fabulous foods for this event!

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The crowd checks out the auction offerings

Next Thursday is the opening day of the Chesterhill Produce Auction (CPA) and you are invited.  Morgan County (OH) is home to this well-known local foods destination, with auctions scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays through October.  Each event offers the opportunity to buy seasonal produce, plants, crafts, and more, in a wide variety of lot sizes, for both the home and business.

Children enjoy the fruits of local farmers

The May 12thfestivities will begin at 3pm with a community potluck and speakers, followed by the auction at 4pm. Children are invited to take part in planned nature activities. This year’s opening day celebrates the unique combination of public and private investment that has made this regional local foods hub possible.

The auction is owned by Rural Action, a membership-based organization promoting economic, social, and environmental justice in Appalachian Ohio.  After working for five years with the founders of the CPA,  in 2010 the organization brought together stakeholders throughout the region to secure the future of this community-based economic infrastructure. Financial support came from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), as well as a core group of local community investors, farmers, and supporters, and a loan from the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Kentucky.

Won't be long before the auction has an abundance of tomatoes

In 2010, ARC –  a regional economic development agency which represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government – announced funding of $50,000 in support of CPA, as part of its economic initiatives in Appalachian Ohio. The mission of the commission is to be a strategic partner and advocate for sustainable community and economic development in Appalachia.  According to Louis Segesvary, ARC’s Public Affairs Officer, “The member states of the Appalachian Regional Commission are funding more and more food-related job creation projects to take advantage of Appalachia’s resources.”

Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, Tom Redfern, notes, “With the increased emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables as a way to improve health, initiatives that support the local farm production necessary to capture those markets allow us to win at both the economic and health level.”

For more information on the Chesterhill Produce Auction, contact Tom Redfern by calling 740.767.4938, or by emailing tomr@ruralaction.org. Information on the Chesterhill Produce Auction is available here.

The Produce Auction takes place at 8380 Wagoner Road in Chesterhill, Ohio.

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Eco Cafe time

Despite yesterday’s sunshine and outdoor pull of spring, the Front Room at Ohio University’s Baker Center was abuzz with students, faculty and members of the larger community. Over 70 people attended the Eco Café, an on-going series of presentations on social, economic, and environmental issues impacting southeast Ohio, sponsored by Rural Action and OU’s Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies.

Ann welcomes everyone

Ann Brown, a volunteer with Rural Action and the series’ organizer, welcomed the crowd and introduced the panel.

David Holben, professor and Associate Director, Nutrition at the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness, began the conversation, framing the topic for the next hour and a half.

David Holben

He noted that while the term ‘food security’ is often confused with food safety issues such as post 9/11 fears that our drinking water could be attacked with a substance like arsenic, it is really about universal access to food that is healthful, nutritious, safe, and culturally acceptable. David observed that the panel represented the depth and breadth of the region’s local foods advocates.

Tom

Up next was Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, Tom Redfern. Tom explained that RASA supports established farmers markets in the region, and works with communities wanting to establish their own marketplaces. Since 2003, Rural Action has also been leading the way in bringing local foods into institutional systems, including Ohio University. Passing out the ever-present-in-his-briefcase, beautifully designed, Chesterhill Produce Auction brochures, he described how this market aggregation of Amish and other farmers in the area around Chesterhill increases earnings for growers and adds vitality to our regional food economy.

What about access to healthy, fresh foods for those who may not know how to grow or preserve them or are unable to afford them? Ronda Clark, executive director of Community Food Initiatives, told the crowd how her organization serves low and moderate income populations in the city of Athens and in some of the highest poverty areas of Appalachian Ohio – rural Athens and Morgan counties. CFI assists people in growing, cooking and preserving their own food through their Appalachian Foodways workshop series. The organization has also created and supported several community gardens, including the expansive and beautiful Westside Gardens in Athens.

Ronda's homegrown and heirloom seeds

One of CFI’s most far-reaching efforts is the Donation Station, located at the Athens Farmers Market each Saturday from 10 am to 1pm. Staff collect produce donations from both farmers and the public. Collected cash is used to purchase additional fresh foods from the market’s vendors. Hundreds of pounds of local food are distributed across the region each week to food pantries and other feeding sites. Ronda ended her presentation by pointing to several Ball jars filled with colorful seeds on the table before her. Harvested from her own garden, she offered to share them with anyone interested in trying some heirloom beans and squash.

I had the opportunity to speak next about the 30 Mile Meal Project and to encourage the audience to take even small steps to increase their use of local foods and to support businesses that source their menus locally. Here’s a video I made for the occasion.

Leslie

Described by Tom Redfern as the region’s most long-term and knowledgeable local foods activist, Leslie Schaller, Director of Programming at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), concluded the program. Much of ACEnet’s work has centered on building, aggregating and supporting a local food-based economy. Its kitchen incubator has launched hundreds of local food businesses. Able to trace the region’s embrace of local foods back three decades or more, she noted the incremental development of the resources and networking that make this economy so robust. She described the typical farm ‘commodity to mouth’ supply chain – one with no possibility for interaction between the distant producer and the consumer and how different it is when the chain is locally-based. She also shared a visual presentation of the many people and places that make our food, real local, and real good!

Following the talk, there was plenty of time for questions and to pack up a few of Ronda’s seeds to plant.

Going for the seeds

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Always a popular event, last Thursday’s WellWorks Winter Gathering drew hundreds of people. At least 30 local foods businesses and health-related organizations were on hand with plenty of treats. The event included food samplings, live music, a raffle (we were proud to provide a 30 Mile Meal bag brimming with local foods, thanks to Leslie Schaller and her many ACEnet clients) and plenty of socializing.

I sat next to a woman sharing info on the 2011 Appalachian Health Summit. Her table display included a large plate of fresh vegetables (broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, red peppers, and cherry tomatoes). They looked pretty, but I figured they didn’t stand a chance of being eaten, given the food/sweets competition in the room. I’m happy to report, I was wrong. The biggest eaters from her veggie platter were kids! Some of them came back for seconds. Good job all you mothers, fathers and anyone else who is encouraging children to eat healthy foods.

Now for a few photos from the event…

Got Snowville Milk?

Salaam serves up peanut stew

The crowd enjoys music and food

Eclipse Company Store's Chef David Lopez and helper serve up fruit pancakes

Jonathan Milo Leal's Gourmet to Go

Shagbark Seed & Mill Company's Michelle A. talks spelt

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