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Posts Tagged ‘Community Food Initiatives’

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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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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One of my intentions for 2011 is to shine light on our many 30 Mile Meal partners. Meet Leslie Schaller, known to hundreds of food entrepreneurs in the Athens region as well as local food activists across the country.

Leslie in L.A.

Some background on this amazing dynamo. First, don’t be fooled by her diminutive size. This woman thinks BIG when it comes to sustainable economic development. She’s often on the go, responding to increasing demands for her expertise. Cleveland, Madison, Youngstown, D.C., Memphis, rural Iowa, Asheville – she could be in any of these places right now, assisting organizations and communities wanting to grow their food businesses and local economies.

For the last nineteen years Leslie has worked at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) where she is the Director of Programming, overseeing and delivering training and technical assistance for entrepreneurs. She played a lead role in the founding of ACEnet’s Food Ventures program, leading to the development of their 12,000 square foot kitchen incubator facility.

Launched in 1996, the shared-use kitchen incubator includes a licensed commercial kitchen, thermal processing, packaging, food service and warehouse space for over 240 food processors and area farmers. The program has pioneered non-traditional strategies to develop infrastructure, market programs and distribution channels for family farmers and local food processors in southeast Ohio, while also responding to the growing demand from rural consumers for fresh, local foods.

When she isn’t on the road consulting, she’s securing funds to create regional brands, launching marketing strategies, and mapping out business plans and financial management systems within the various sectors of our region’s local foods economy.

She is also a leader in the larger local foods realm, serving as Board Treasurer for the national Farmers Market Coalition, and as a member of the Ohio Food Policy Advisory Board, the Ohio Market Connections Task Force and the Athens Food Policy Council and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Leslie at Casa's 25th birthday party

Her food roots go back to the early ’80s when she operated an organic market garden and raised livestock, selling at the Athens Farmers Market and to area restaurants. Since 1985 she has served as the Business Director of the Worker-Owned Restaurant Corporation that operates Casa Nueva, Casa Cantina and Casa Manufacturing in Athens, Ohio. The cooperative currently employs 60-70 worker-owners and associates and was projected to have annual sales of $2.5 million in 2010.

In 1992, she founded a food security organization, Community Food Initiatives, which now engages in a number of food access and security projects in our region, including food and produce donations from Athens Farmers Market vendors for area pantries and food banks.

A few weeks ago Leslie and I met with Jane Black, a food writer (formerly with the Washington Post and whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Food & Wine, and other publications), and her husband, Brent Cunningham, also a journalist. Last fall they moved from Brooklyn to Huntington, WV – the town that Jamie Oliver made famous with his Food Revolution reality TV show.  Jane and Brent wondered what would happen once Oliver’s cameras and lights disappeared. Black notes in her blog, “I am off to (WV) to write a book about one town’s effort to change its food culture and whether the “food revolution” can cross geographic, cultural and class boundaries.”

When Leslie and I met them, they were on a regional tour of local foods hotspots, research for their book. After a stop at the Athens Farmers Market, we headed to Casa Nueva for lunch and some talk about the efforts underway to grow and promote our local foods economy. By the time Jane finished her homemade ginger ice cream (made with Snowville’s heavy cream), it was clear that she and Brett would be back and that their connection with Leslie would yield plenty of story leads for the future.

Earlier this week Jane interviewed Leslie for her Smart Food radio show on Edible Radio. You can listen to the interview here.

 

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Trimble Hot Chili Peppers 4 H Club

Supported by CFI’s Edible Schoolyard Project, the Trimble Hot Chili Peppers 4 H Garden Club provides its young members with sustainable agricultural skills in raising plants for food and profit (and ecological benefit), as well as the culinary skills necessary to create healthy and nutritious meals from their very own harvest.

The club is seeking individuals interested in helping out with the club and implementing lessons in the gardens, classroom, and kitchen. According to Project Coordinator, Molly Jo Stanley, “We are especially seeking an individual interested in registering with 4H as an advisor.  It is a simple process with great rewards.”

The club, known as the Trimble Hot Chili Peppers, focuses on giving the youth members sustainable agricultural skills in raising plants for food and profit (and ecological benefit), as well as culinary skills necessary to create healthy and nutritious meals from their very own harvest.

Their first meeting will be held on Monday, January 10th at 2pm at Trimble Middle School. It will be a casual introductory meeting where the group will organize ideas for 2011, make some food, and possibly plan their garden designs. The group will be meeting twice per month until August with most of the meetings held at 2pm on Mondays.

If you are interested in mentoring these talented, young green thumbs, or learning more about this program and the opportunities within it, please inquire by contacting Molly Jo at mollyjocfi@frognet.net or call 740-593-5971.

 

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One food fight wafting through the locavore blogosphere is the attempt to write off the movement as merely a bunch of foodie yuppies in pursuit of white eggplants or edible flowers. But there’s much more going on in the efforts to localize food economies, including work to assure that healthy, local foods are available to all. Here in the 30 Mile Meal region of southeast Ohio, partnerships are turning the well worn adage about giving a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day… into ‘teach kids to grow food and develop business skills and they’ll have more life choices.’

Young entrepreneurs at the Athens Farmers Market

In 2005, Community Foods Initiatives began a community garden program at the Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Hope Drive Apartments, a public housing complex for low-income individuals and families. Soon a group of youths ranging from 12 to 18 were organically growing vegetables and making value added food products to sell at the Athens Farmers Market. Their earnings support YEAH! (Youth Entrepreneurs At Hope) Kids.

Now CFI is partnering with Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. to help seven YEAH! Kids acquire business skills. In this venture, the young entrepreneurs purchase locally grown black turtle beans, corn and spelt flours and spelt berries from Shagbark, a recently-started local company focusing on staple food products. After making these wholesale purchases, they repackage the foods and sell them at Shagbark’s Athens Farmers Market booth.

“This is a great opportunity for kids to learn money management skills and familiarize themselves with inventory, packaging, processing and customer relations,” says CFI Community Garden Manager Lisa Trocchia-Balkits. “It prepares them for work in various ways, and exposes them to local food options that support healthier lifestyles.”

Shagbark Seed & Mill Company owners Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger

Reflecting on the potential impact of the grant Shagbark received from the Wallace Foundation to partner with CFI and the YEAH! Kids, Michelle Ajamian notes, “This is a really exciting partnership for us. Working with CFI means that we go beyond being a boutique business and it allows us to be part of an effort to provide healthy food access to low-income residents.” She adds, “CFI projects at the Athens and Trimble Township Farmers Market, Trimble Tomcat Culinary Club and Athens City School Family Fun Nights is going to make this possible.”

The YEAH! Kids are already showing some business savvy. They’ve scheduled their sales at the Athens Farmers Market to coincide with upcoming holiday meals and gift-giving. So stop by the Saturday Market on November 20th and December 11th and 18th and see what the YEAH! Kids are offering.

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Like an eight course meal (local, of course) 30 Mile Meal Week (September 17-25) was packed with tasty offerings – something for everyone to enjoy! True, our week had more than seven days, but that’s how much time we needed to showcase the depth and breadth of our local food-ness. Here’s a look back.

 

Power to the Pawpaw!

 

Held on the shore of tranquil Lake Snowden in Albany, Ohio , the 12th Ohio Pawpaw Festival gave us a celebratory three day start to the week. The Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) was declared the state’s official native fruit in 2009, thanks largely to the efforts of Chris Chmiel and Michelle Gorman, owners of Integration Acres. The festival draws thousands from near and far and features all things Pawpaw – music, food, contests, art, history, sustainable living and other workshops, and activities for kids. Vendors abounded, many of them offering appropriately themed concoctions – everything from Pawpaw beer (Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery) to Pawpaw ice cream (Snowville Creamery).

 

The crowd lines up at Crumbs Bakery's stall

 

The Athens Farmers Market is more than 35 years old, the largest Farmers Market in the state, and a much loved part of Athens’ food and social scene. The market is open from 10 AM to 1 PM year round on Saturdays, and on Wednesdays, from April to December. Many of the Market’s farmers are 30 MM partners and provide an amazing array of fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, baked goods, condiments, plants and flowers, herbs, and much, much more! Three market dates fell within our30MM Week. On Saturdays, you’ll find music, demonstrations, and the Market Cafe, a great place to catch up with friends while enjoying local fare! And some Saturdays, there are Junior Chefs workshops for kids.

 

Making spring rolls

 

 

auction abundance

 

Another reoccurring event during the week (Monday and Thursday) was the Chesterhill Produce Auction. This seasonal market offers produce, often in large quantities, to a range of buyers. Produce is usually brought in on horse drawn buggies and laid out on pallets for customer inspection. The auction is fast-paced and exciting and draws many who enjoy the atmosphere and sense of community while purchasing the high quality farm products.

 

An Athens Favorite

 

The week was full of ‘local eating’ opportunities, as the some partners featured menu items incorporating local foods throughout the week: Catalyst Cafe, Della Zona, The Village Bakery, Casa Nueva, and Busy Day Market. During our Friday 30 Mile Meal Day in Nelsonville, Rhapsody and Fullbrooks Cafe offered locally sourced fare. Heaven’s Oven participated on Saturday during the 30 Mile Meal Day at Eclipse Town in The Plains.

 

Fran preparing a 30 Mile Meal

 

There were two opportunities to learn about how to make delicious food with local ingredients. Community Food Initiatives sponsored a homemade sour cream and cheese cheese workshop, led by Liz Florentino, the Village Bakery’s dairy expert. At the Grover Center Atrium Cafe (and sponsored by Wellworks), Fran McFadden and his team from the Ohio University School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness presented a hands-on local food cooking class and meal.

 

the farmers keep the harvest coming

 

On Wednesday, September 22nd, the Athens Farmers Market pulsated with the oranges and yellows of fall, pumpkins and squashes among the bounty offered by over 25 vendors. Over at the 30 Mile Meal tents, the crowd gathered for our public event. Leslie Schaller, representing ACEnet welcomed the crowd and introduced Jack Cantrell, Athens Farmers Market president and co-owner of Cantrell Honey and Candles.

 

Frances Strickland, Leslie Schaller and Paul Wiehl

 

Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl delivered a proclamation declaring 30 Mile Meal Week and then introduced Frances Strickland. The First Lady, a long time supporter of local foods and Ohio agriculture, spoke about the importance of this project as a model for other parts of the state. She was delighted to receive a huge canvas bag of local foods. You can watch a brief clip of Strickland’s comments here.

 

Sarah Slater

 

 

Christine Hughes

 

Other speakers included local business owners, Christine Hughes, co-owner of The Village Bakery, Della Zona and Catalyst Cafe and Sarah Slater, a Casa Nueva worker-owner.

 

Angie Starline

 

 

Chris Chmiel

 

Two farmers shared their support for the project: Angie Starline, co-owner of Starline Organics and Chris Chmiel, co-owner of Integration Acres. Paige Alost from the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau concluded the program.

Nelsonville's Public Square

On Friday, 30 MM activities were evident in two towns – Trimble’s Township Farmers Market took place and in Nelsonville, several shops on the Public Square offered local foods tastings during their final Fridays festivities.

 

Eclipse Company Store

 

The week concluded with Saturday’s Local Foods Dinner at the Eclipse Company Store, drawing 130 people to enjoy chef David Lopez’s fabulous meal and live music.

A big thanks to all who made the week so much fun and to those that joined us for the launch of this exciting initiative!

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