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Posts Tagged ‘Integration Acres’

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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Sunday afternoon I traveled to Amesville. This small Ohio village of 185 people has a colorful past that includes serving as an Underground Railroad stop and the unusual way its library was funded more than 200 years ago. In 1803 settlers wanted books, but had no money to buy them. Used to a barter economy, residents collected pelts from the surrounding forest’s fur-bearing animals (mostly racoons) and sent two townspeople east to secure the much desired reading material. Fifty-one books – mostly on religion, travel, biography and history – were purchased for $73.50 and in 1804, the Coonskin Library opened.

My destination was Green Edge Garden’s 2012 Open Farm Day potluck lunch at the Amesville Grange Hall. For those not familiar with the Grange movement, it is the nation’s oldest agricultural organization with a long history of encouraging farm families to band together for their common economic and political well-being.

March Magnolias at Green Edge Organic Gardens

Green Edge Organic Gardens is the passion and livelihood of Becky and Kip Rondy. Their 120 acre farm employs 13 people, with four interns arriving in a few weeks, making the Rondys the largest employer in Amesville Township. Their farm, primarily tended by hand, offers a wide selection of vegetables, including micro greens and specialty mushrooms. When I visited their farm in late January, I was stunned by the volume of vegetables they were growing in unheated high tunnels and their skill at making their operation year-round.

Example of a winter CSA share from Green Edge

 

 

Sunday’s event was an opportunity for their Athens Hills CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members to share a meal, meet the farm crew and take a tour of the farm to see, as Kip and Becky say on their website, “how and why we grow your food the way we do.” CSAs bring together farmers and individuals who pledge support to a farm operation to share the risks and benefits of food production.

CSA members invest in advance to cover the anticipated costs of farm operation and, in return, receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season. Through direct sales to community members, growers receive better prices for their crops, secure money up front for seeds and other production needs, and are assured of a market for these crops.  Athens Hills offers both winter and summer shares and attracts members nearby and beyond our 30 Mile Meal region.

               

Snowville bounty

I spoke with a mother and daughter from the Columbus area. Both were delighted to meet the people growing their food and planned to tour the farm after lunch. They love the freshness and diversity of the food they pick up each week in Columbus. The Rondys partner with other 30 Mile Meal producers, expanding what members can opt to receive. These include Christine Hughes and Bob O’Neil who offer Village Bakery bread, Warren and Victoria Taylor’s Snowville Creamery milk, Neil Cherry’s Cherry Orchards fruit, Michelle Gorman and Chris Chmiel’s Integration Acres cheeses, Jack Cantrell’s honey, and Sticky Pete’s maple syrup made by Laura McManus-Berry.

Neil Cherry

After plenty of time for socializing, the crowd headed for the kitchen where the counter was overflowing with delicious food. The desserts required their own table. Soon every seat and plate in the hall was claimed.  Special Green Edge Farm coloring books and crayons kept the little ones amused. Becky and Kip shared their story of growing Green Edge Gardens and Athens Hills CSA.

Becky and Kip talk about the farm

Leaving Amesville, driving past the fields and Bartlett pears, redbuds and forsythia glowing in the afternoon light, I felt the goodness of a place where food production, people and community are co-mingled and remind us of the power of mutual support.

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Last week’s spring-like temperatures had me imagining all the garden bounty that will be ripening in the coming months. But with this week’s return of drab and chilly weather, I remembered how lucky we are to have access to fresh foods any time of year, thanks to the year-round Athens Farmers Market.

Inside crowd

Every Saturday (between 10 am and 1 pm) I grab my 30 Mile Meal canvas shopping bag and head off to the Market on State Mall on East State Street. During the winter months the market’s vendors can be found both inside and outside the mall building. Usually 20-25 vendors offer their goods in the mall lobby.

My first stop last week was to say ‘hi’ to Becky Rondy from Green Edge Gardens (wow, nice Belize-induced tan). I filled my bag with their micro greens (green and purple radish), mixed leaf lettuces, spinach and shiitake mushrooms.

The pawpaw guy

Next I headed over to see Chris Chmiel from Integration Acres where I purchased some of their goat milk cheeses – chevre (the BEST I’ve ever had) and their luscious, creamy blue cheese rolled in ash. The week before I couldn’t resist some delicious cookies (the baking assisted by Chris and Michelle’s kids) with pawpaw and spiceberry jam sandwiched between two melt in your mouth whole wheat and rolled oats cookies.

King Family Farm sign

Across the lobby, I visited with JB and Charlene from King Family Farm. Before my move to Athens County, I didn’t eat much meat or fowl, but once I learned about the way the Kings raise and feed their animals, I gave their chicken a try. It is so tender and tasty. This week I bought some of their Italian chicken sausage.

Just down a few tables I purchased some pretty carrots (some orange, others purple) from Star Hamilton’s Shade River Organic Farm. She also has fantastic cilantro that keeps for at least two weeks in my frig.

Crumbs' Jeremy Bowman

My last indoor stop was Crumbs Bakery. This worker-owned business makes everything from tofu pasta to cookies. The line around their table is often 4-5 people deep, but worth the wait. I usually buy a few pastries and especially like their apricot and cherry rolls. I also recommend Crumbs crackers. Many are made with local grains, including spelt.

 

Outside crowd

Then it was back outside. On this Saturday a dozen vendors braved the cold.

Hola, Michelle

I was delighted to see that Michelle from Casa Nueva was back after a few weeks off and gladly bought a half pint of guacamole and some of their zippy bbq sauce.

Pizza Goon extraordinaire, John Gutekanst

Knowing I’d be hungry by the time I headed home, I stopped at Avalanche Pizza‘s spot and got one of their eight inch pies – mine made with plenty of mushrooms and cheese.

Matt Starline makes some change

Which got me thinking about Sunday breakfast and replenishing my dwindling supply of Starline Organics fabulous crunchy Maple Spelt Cereal – a million times better than Grape Nuts!

Another hearty farmer

Nearly done, I couldn’t resist getting some fresh green onions for the soup I planned to make with the Italian sausage, spinach, carrots and cilantro.

Cold and crisp apples

 

Oh, and a few apples from Cherry Orchards, because their apples are so good anytime of the day (or year).

One for the road home

 

 

My final stop, Brew du Soleil, for a Cappuccino.

Many thanks to all the farmers that make mine and others’ 30 Mile Meals possible!

 

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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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