The farmer’s market season is officially here with many local markets open either the first or second weekend in May. I decided to kick things off in Ottsville this year because, for one thing, they’re open from four to eight on Friday night which I think is rather convenient. There’s only so many things you can do on Saturday morning so this market has chosen not to compete. It makes for a great start to your evening.
Ottsville’s market features a unique variety of high quality farmer’s market items. Where else are you going to find grass-fed yak meat? Clearly a farmer’s market item, yet unique. Most of the items are family-grown food products like Chris and Patty Darrah’s “Mostly Mushrooms”. As the name implies there were several varieties of mushrooms as well as these crazy looking fiddlehead ferns and other unique plants.
The Ottsville Farmer’s Market is located on route 611 on the grounds of Linden Hill Gardens, a retail garden center with a beautiful variety of well-cared-for garden amenities. It’s great just to have a look around this ever changing collection. The owner of the gardens, Jerry Fritz, entertained the market by grilling fish and leeks over an open fire. He gave me some leeks to try which are salty but also zesty like scallions.
I have launched an investigation into issues relating to the topic of food such as food supply and land use. This blog represents mainly the anecdotal results of these investigations. It’s meaningful to talk to real people who are so directly involved with our food because they’ve made the choice to be involved. For example, I often wonder why kids are still interested in farming. This might sound rather glib, but it’s a legitimate concern when so much of our attention is spent learning about celebrity and so much time is spent dealing with new technology. It hardly seems exciting to live out in the country tending a farm.
I was impressed by the commitment of 22 year old Amanda Midkiff who, as manager of Roots to River Farm, will need to wait almost three more years before her land is certified organic. That’s how long you have to wait before a conventional farm, one that uses pesticides and genetically modified plants, can be declared organic by the USDA. The paperwork process is lengthy and expensive. Amanda and the farm’s owner Malaika Spencer must keep copious notes to not only verify the farm’s successful conversion but create an accurate business plan to sustain and grow the investment. Roots to River sells produce and herbs at Ottsville as well as Doylestown and Plumsteadville. The farm also operates a community supported agriculture program which allows consumers to buy membership in the farm in exchange for a share of the harvest.
The National Organic Program is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure the integrity of organic products produced and sold here. The USDA issue certification to farmers who have demonstrated that they practice farming within standards above and beyond those practiced on conventional farms such as those operated by or under arrangement with large “factory farm” food corporations. Most organic farms are small businesses providing specialty food to discriminating customers. Fields without Fences, a joint effort of Johann Rinkens and Lindsay Napolitano, claims even higher standards than those minimally required to be Certified Organic. “We use no pesticides and we use permanently raised beds to keep from tilling the soil.” Raised beds allow the farmer even greater control of the quality of soil, often enriched with compost, while preventing soil depletion and other ecological issues related to reusing the same plot for successive seasons. Fields Without Fences’ products make their way to you via a high-quality food distributer called Zone 7. Zone 7 specifically caters to chefs looking for high-quality food
products without searching through all the farms themselves. I asked Johann to whom do they typically sell their produce? He replied to upscale restaurants. I then asked, “so the restaurants care about organics?” He said no, not really. it’s just a simple fact that organic farms produce higher quality food products with more consistent and better tasting results. The healthy commercial relationship between organic farmers and great chefs is not based necessarily on a common concern for the soil, sustainability, or the environment in general; rather, chefs who are discriminating about the quality of the food they prepare, chefs who design recipes that call for only the finest products can trust organic farmers to deliver the variety and quality required to create the finest dishes. The integrity in culinary excellence begins, literally, from the ground up and proves how things are always better when folks take care and pride in how they choose to spend their life.
I spent some time talking to Leni Calabrese, owner of Perfect Day Coffee, who provided me with an eye-opening ten minute education on the meaning of Fair Trade in the sale of coffee and the benefit of buying coffee from a local roaster. Fair Trade is a certification earned by importers of coffee which guarantees farmers a fixed
percentage of the price. Farmers who are well paid for the use of their land and labor are less likely to plant narcotics and other harmful crops. Leni sells mostly Fair Trade; however, some exporters are known to have a decent reputation. Leni knows these things and buys his coffee directly from them. When the coffee comes to Leni it’s raw, still green. He roasts it and, if you want, grinds it for whatever kind of coffee pot you use. Coffee tastes better when it’s roasted and ground just before brewing. “Starbucks taught us to be coffee snobs” says Leni, “then people realized that even their coffee’s not that good.” So Leni represents a return the local coffee roaster who can provide coffee that is not only fresh, unique and of a higher quality but also a fair product to all who work to get it to market.
I ran into my friend and sound engineer Gabriel Antonini who was there to support his wife and daughter’s candle making venture called Sweet Elysium. Elysium is the ancient, idyllic vision of heaven. Originating in Homeric myth, the Elysium Fields were described as eternally pleasant in climate as in mood. I’m not a candle person but I did enjoy the clean smell of these candles which were made with genuinely fragrant plants like lavender. Mother, Maureen and daughter, Grace, hand craft the candles and search for unique glass vessels for each design. I gave one to my mother, (who is a candle person) and she was thrilled.
The Ottsville Farmer’s market is open every Friday from four to eight. It is located at Linden Hill Gardens, 8230 Easton Road, Route 611, Ottsville, PA. The market’s facebook page is well-maintained and a great way to keep up to date on special events and new vendors.