I Love My Farmers Market Celebration: A Great Way to show Farmers and Farmland Love!

FarmMarket_logo_for_Microsoft_DocumentsI Love My Farmers Market Celebration marks the fifth year American Farmland Trust (AFT) has thrown a party for our nation’s farmers markets. They want eaters to pledge dollars we intend to spend at our farmers markets to highlight the pivotal role markets play in keeping farmers on their land.

We love this celebration for several reasons:

  • The first time a consumer pledges they will receive a No Farms No Food® bumper sticker, which rocks.
  • You can pledge every 24 hours (hint hint! Market managers!! hint hint!! set a reminder in your phone!!)
  • AFT's goal is to receive 1 million dollars in pledges before the celebration concludes September 9, 2013. One pledge = A commitment to spend $10 at your farmers market that week.
  • Instead of being a competition between markets to see who will win a contest, it is a celebration of all markets to see who can raise the most amount of money. That feels very inclusive and kind to us.
  • Over an acre of farmland is lost a minute to development. Once land is paved over that's it - no more tomatoes, or piggies, or wiggling your toes in the grass while chickens give themselves dustbaths in the sun. Since 1980, AFT is the only nonprofit dedicated to protecting farmland (check out their website, they really helped win federal $$ over the years for conservation easements and land banks).

The pledging process is very simple, simply fill out the information on lovemyfarmersmarket.org. Then set a reminder on your phone and pledge again (lets put it this way, we find it difficult to spend just $10 at the farmers market.)

As AFT's VP of External Affairs Susan Sink states, "I Love My Farmers Market Celebration is about celebrating the unique qualities of farmers markets throughout the nation and the important role that these markets play in keeping family farmers on the land."

Cheers to keeping family farmers on their land and cheers to the role farmers markets play!! 

Here is the post on Real Time Farms!

Washington DC's local food landscape and FRESHFARM Markets

I am happy to report our capital city, the thriving metropolis of Washington DC, shuts down roads and stops traffic for local food - and it all began with FRESHFARM markets.

The 501c3 organization runs 11 farmers markets in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. One of the two FRESHFARM Directors, Ann Yonkers, recently shared with me the history and the workings of this dynamic organization.

A native Washingtonian, Yonkers purchased Pot Pie Farm with her husband in 1991 in St. Michaels, MD and quickly became confronted by the local food scene. As Yonkers described it, "the Eastern Shore is such a weird setting. It used to be like New Jersey - almost all of the food for restaurants from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington came from there. With the advent of chicken farms, it just produces wheat, corn, and soybeans - which are all used to feed chickens. I would go to the farm stands and restaurants and all of the produce was from California. I said this is really crazy. So I started a little business, picking up produce and dropping it off."

Yonkers was thus fertile and energetic ground for when FRESHFARM Board Member Nora Pouillon, of Nora's, struck by the dynamic NYC Greenmarkets, suggested to her friend to start similar markets in DC.

Yonkers and her Co-Director, Bernadine (Bernie) Prince, opened the first two markets (Dupont Circle and St. Michaels) under the American Farmland Trust umbrella in 1997. (Farmers markets are often run under the aegis of a larger organization until they decide to take the time and money to become their own 501c3. It is much easier to be a line item in a church balance sheet, for example, during the first few bumpy years of attracting customers and growers.)

In 2002-3, FRESHFARM filed for 501c3 status and opened their third market - Penn Quarter. "It was a struggle" Yonkers recalled, "and part of the big struggle was getting that first market open with the permits to shut down the street." The Penn Quarter FRESHFARM market location is awesome - tents and shoppers are cradled on a closed off block of 8th St NW between the Navy Memorial and the National Portrait Gallery, looking straight down the hill to the National Archives (erected in 1931 on the former site of Washington DC's Center Market).

FRESHFARM is committed to tracking the numbers to illustrate that the local food movement is not a passing trend. "We count our customers every half hour. We also take a percentage fee of gross sales, which has made it possible to track how we are doing." As she continued, Yonkers sounded sad. "Most markets have no idea. All over the country there is this giant movement and everyone says - oh it is so great. But it is all anecdotal, not really great in terms of saying this is a serious activity."

So let us talk 2010 numbers. Over 360,000 shoppers purchased food from the 150 plus farmers and producers selling only what they grow, raise, catch or make at FRESHFARM markets. Over 9000 acres of Chesapeake Bay watershed is farmed to support that local demand. More than $19,000 in free food vouchers was donated to low-income shoppers - several of their markets accept WIC, Senior Coupons, and Food Stamps/SNAP Benefits. (Mark Bittman did a great piece on WIC recently in the NY Times.) Over 50,000 pounds of fresh food were donated to their gleaning partners (DC Central Kitchen among others).

I agree with Yonkers's statement that: "every market has its own vibe and quality." Dupont Circle on Sunday is a maelstrom of activity and people. The buildings at Penn Quarter (Thursday) shade the chefs from local restaurants as they roll their carts up and down the street. Saturday Silver Spring's central fountain spills cheer and community into the pedestrian village. I like markets where you can spend time chatting with the growers - perhaps Michael James, of Blueberry Hill, at H Street (Saturday) or Mary Haskins, of Haskins Family Farm, at Foggy Bottom (Wednesday).

Farmers markets are a distillation of the demand and supply relationship between consumers and producers. As Attila Agoston, of Mountain View Farm, shared with me: "it takes four parts - the market, the restaurant, the grower, and the consumer to support one another. We try to respond to what people want and bring stuff that other people don't have."

"We have seen a huge innovation in terms of what comes to market then when we started. Fruit, vegetables, flowers and plants - that was it - and now you can feed yourself." Yonkers smiled. "The whole diversification - we never had any meat, any cheese, and milk - now we have all of these protein products that come year round." Whether preserving food through cheese making or sauerkraut, growers are responding to the year-long demand, and FRESHFARM responded in 2010 by extending the market season to year long for Dupont and Silver Spring.

"I am so glad, I can hardly believe it!" Expounded Yonkers, "I wanted to start a farmers market in a town where policy is made. The world is coming around. The little food movement is the most innovative sector, by far."

Here is the article on Real Time Farms!

Encomium for the USDA and the glory of the DC/Baltimore foodworld!

(Other than being a good word for freerice.com, encomium denotes a song of praise.)

Just in time for a perfect week of spring weather, I visited DC (my hometown) and Baltimore to walk up and down the Mall, visit the Department of Agriculture (USDA), talk to restaurants in love with transparency, take pictures of markets, and explore the food changes that have happened to my town in the past 7 years (since I left).

It was a dizzying week because the food world in the capital area has exploded. Farm to fork restaurants are sourcing from a myriad of new and vibrant farmers markets, rooftop gardens are supplying veggies to restaurants across the street — fed by compost from the very restaurants, and the USDA not only hosts a farmers market onsite — they shared the locations of all markets nationwide.

I began the week talking to Amanda Eamich, Director of New Media at the USDA. Eamich was able to highlight and share several of the tools the USDA has provided to help inform policy and the public. The Economic Research Service (ERS) section of the USDA has built two amazing online tools to help pinpoint food availability and broader “determinants of food choices and diet quality.” The Food Desert Locator shows all areas in the country that are more than 1 kilometer from a source of healthy food — you might be surprised at certain locations. The Food Environment Atlas enables you to view on a map a plethora of food choice determinants. Factors such as the 2008 sales tax from soda vending machines, the 2009 low-income preschool obesity rate, or the 2006 relative price ratio of green-leafy veggies to starchy veggies each jostle for your attention in this captivating tool.

Not only is Eamich working with those two tools, she works with the blog. That is right, the USDA has a blog. And what a blog it is. As the tagline says: “United States Department of Agriculture: Reaching Out, Every Day in Every Way.” There are updates about the First Lady’s Let’s Move Campaign, the People’s Garden expansion to overseas, Chef’s Move to Schools, ‘Know your Farmer, Know your Food’, and even what Smokey Bear has been up to. I walked away feeling our government has truly a vertiginous collection of disparate programs and initiatives all designed to provide access and education around healthier food in “every way.”

The next four days were a whirlwind of visiting restaurants in DC and Baltimore. Chef Rob Weland of Poste Moderne Brasserie showed me his courtyard garden in the Hotel Monaco — where you are literally eating next to a tomato plant growing in a pot. Chef Spike Gjerd of Woodberry Kitchen gave me a tour of his kitchens, including the sausage aging room (all butchered and made in house, naturally) and the wall of in house preserves (the last of the 2000 pounds of tomatoes from 2010 and the first jars of 2011 ramps in evidence). Chef Winston Blick of Clementine spoke of providing compost to Hamilton Crop Circle - a rooftop garden across the street - that, in turn, returns vegetables to his customers. I met with Nic Jammet, one of the founders of Sweetgreen, a sustainable build your own salad/yogurt phenomena that has rocketed to ten locations in the last 3 ½ years. I look forward to attending their Sweetlife Festival next May.

When not gawking at menus I was able to visit two farmers markets in the middle of town — and I mean in the middle of town. One is 3 blocks from the Mall and the other is 3 blocks from the White House — producer only, crowded, and diverse (orchids, wood fired pizza, and the first strawberries of the season - glorious). Thank you FRESHFARM for your great work creating pedestrian villages in downtown DC.

My last day started with a meeting with Debra Tropp and her team of committed farmers market devotees in the Farmers Market and Direct Marketing Research Division of the USDA. Food Tech Connect recently posted a great article describing the need and uses for the Farmers Market Directory in a conversation with Tropp. As a former farmers’ market manager, I remember last year feeling honored and vindicated to fill out the survey to populate the directory. I was doing something important when the government asked me the number of people who came to the market or whether we accepted Bridge Cards — my little stretch of pavement 18 weeks of the year became part of something large and meaningful.

Little did I know my 15 minutes filling out the survey would be transformed into a resource available to the world. The information in the Farmers Market Directory is what first populated Real Time Farms database of markets.

The cherry on my Sundae week was meeting with Gretchen Hoffman of the American Farmland Trust - the vanguard group who worked in the 1980s to create and implement conservation easements for farmland. A few years ago, Hoffman spearheaded the America's Favorite Farmers Market Contest, voting starts June 1st!

A week of good food, good company, and good learnings - what more could one want?

Here is the article on Real Time Farms!

(I would also like to appreciate Wendy Wasserman of the USDA, without her help and good sharings my week would have been very different.)

Westside Farmers' Market: A season in review

The Westside Farmers Market will start its 2011 season on Thursday, June 2. Last Thursday was the last market day of the 2010 season for the Westside Farmers' Market. We were gifted with a warm and clear day, a perfect chance to look back at the accomplishments in the market's 5th year.This was the first year we accepted Bridge Cards and Project Fresh Coupons. After we scared the bees' nest away from the Ethernet port, it became a weekly ritual to plug in the point of sale machine in order to swipe customers’ Bridge Cards and hand out wooden tokens. In September we doubled the amount of money SNAP users received thanks to Double Up Food Bucks (up to the first $20). More than $1,000 was funneled into the hands of our local farmers, in return for fresh healthy food.

The Cottage Food Law changed the landscape of the market as well. Several vendors choose to augment the weekly offering from their garden with items from their oven. As Brian Steinberg of Inchworm Farms said, “I have probably been able to double my sales this year because I did the Cottage Food bill. It was often the difference between breaking even and making a little money.”

Borden - long shadows at wsfm

Martha Dopokowski, of R Farm, thought, “[The Cottage Food Bill] has really helped – even though none of these items yet are making use of my own products … that is part of my business plan.” Granholm signed the law into effect Monday, July 12 and by the following Thursday there were already new items joining the wares on tables. On average we welcomed 28 vendors every week in addition to non-profits, live music and free massages. Chef demonstrations were fun, often spicy, and bewitchingly spontaneous – depending on the produce of the moment. Mark Baerwolf of Cornman Farms and Zingermans Roadhouse joined us many weeks to experiment and teach. Last Thursday, gas flames roared as he blackened peppers for salsa. We welcomed an average of 890 people to the market to meet their farmer, to learn about shrimp grown in Okemos, chocolate conched in Dexter, garlic grown in Ann Arbor, Highland Beef grazing in Jackson, or popcorn grown in Clinton.Every week we recorded our bounty with Real Time Farms. As our local restaurants continue to source their items locally, it is important to have as much information about the farmers and what they grow throughout the season as possible. I look forward to seeing how the website develops for our next season.

Many people have asked these last few weeks why the market does not stay open for a few more weeks, to which my answer is simple.

Borden - Seedling cider at wsfm

The convenience of having an open-air market in the afternoon means that by 7 p.m. last Thursday the sun had dipped behind the buildings of the Westgate Mall. Animals sleep by the sun, not the clock, as John Harnois, of Harnois farms, reminded me as we discussed the deepening dark. Unlike chickens, who put themselves to bed, he faced the prospect of chasing sleeping turkeys into the barn when he returned home.

One of my favorite aspects of eating locally is the reminder of the seasons and the connection with the earth that we share with all creatures, great and small. The deepening dark allows us all to settle in for the winter.

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Will farmers markets be hurt if Congress cuts food stamps to pay for school lunches?

Borden - picture of Bridge Card sign at WSFM

I have received several emails on the Michigan Farmers Market listserv urging us to contact our representative in the U.S. House of Representatives not to pass the U.S. Senate bill Hunger-Free Kids Act, S. 3307. People are concerned because the bill, as it stands, pays for its $4.5 billion price tag by cutting $2.2 billion from the SNAP (food stamps) program.

The bill needs to be finalized this week before the current funding for certain school nutrition programs expires on Sept. 30. The House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, HR 5504 includes more provisions for summer meals and eligibility, but does not allocate funding for the $8 billion increase.

According to the Michigan Farmers Market Food Assistance Partnership (MIFMA), $297,000 in food stamp benefits were redeemed at Michigan farmers markets last year. MIFMA has done a lot of work supporting Michigan farmers markets to be able to accept bridge cards/food stamps this season.

All four farmers markets in Washtenaw County accept bridge cards. To date, the Westside Farmers Market has accepted nearly $1,000 in government nutrition benefits. That is $1,000 going into the hands of our local farmers and providing fresh food to our citizens versus a small step toward fighting the 30 percent obesity rate in American children by working toward healthier lunches.

Both the Senate version and the House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act will increase funding for school lunches by six cents, up to $2.44 per meal. It is also the first time there has been an increase in 30 years.

Is the six cents a meal for the children worth cutting food stamp benefits for the whole family? If I were in Congress, I would pay for the six cents by taxing the "edible food-like substances" that line the shelves of convenience stores. In fact, I would increase school lunches by as much as I could tax, because I have taught in an inner city charter school and seen the difference in the attention span of a student subsisting on marshmallows and Cheetos and one who had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. (Alternatively, we could scale back the subsidies that hide the real price of what food costs.)

As Stephen Colbert said recently, in his testimony to Congress about the plight of the migrant workers picking Americans fruits and vegetables, “The obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating our fruits and vegetables.”

That is one solution, but perhaps our representatives have another one. If you care about this issue, contact your Representative.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

John Dingell launches Double Up Food Bucks in Washtenaw County

Borden - Dingell, Hesterman, Edwards at Ypsi market for DUFB

Photo courtesy of Richard McLeary

Congressman John Dingell, Oran Hesterman of the Fair Food Network and Amanda Edmonds of Growing Hope spoke Tuesday afternoon at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market to launch the Double Up Food Buck program in Washtenaw County.

As I wrote about in July, the Double Up Food Bucks program matches every food stamp dollar spent at a farmer’s market up to $20 per visit.
Congressman Dingell spoke in support of the program from his perspective, “as the sole remaining author of the three of us who introduced and moved forward with the food stamp bill back in the Eisenhower administration.” Our nation has been supplementing nutrition for low-income individuals and families for more than 50 years, and our representative was there at the beginning.

Currently, 12.9 percent of the U.S. population receives federal food assistance benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), historically and commonly known as the Food Stamp Program. Dingell outlined the scope of the issue for our state, reporting that, “Michigan now has more than 17 percent, 1.75 million of our people, … on food stamps.”

Borden - Washtenaw participating markets

Double Up Food Bucks launches this week in four markets in Washtenaw County and in Calhoun County (Battle Creek area) this weekend. From this week until the end of October, Double Up Food Bucks will be accepted at all Washtenaw farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits: the Ann Arbor Farmers Market (7 a.m.-3 p.m.Wednesdays and Saturdays), Westside Farmers Market (3-7 p.m. Thursdays through Sept. 30), Ypsilanti Depot Town Farmers Market (8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays), and the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market (2-6 p.m.Tuesdays).

Rachel Chadderdon, program manager for Double Up Food Bucks, explains the decision to stop at the end of October. “We will take a break - while Michigan produce takes a break - and then once there is enough Michigan produce, probably in June or July next summer, we will start up with those three sites [Detroit, Washtenaw, and Calhoun] and as many other sites that we can find funding for around the state. We hope to be running this program for the next three summers.”
Funding for the program comes from major foundations such as the Kresge Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, with a one-to-one match from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations for each dollar of local foundation funds received. One such local source is the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF). AAACF Vice President Martha Bloom, a fellow audience member, shared that they have given the Double Up Food Bucks program “one grant, and there is a potential for more.”
Hesterman hopes the Double Up Food Bucks program will create data to “share with Congressman Dingell and others in Congress to show them that it is time for us to move from this kind of program being funded solely by foundation dollars…into federal legislation as the next generation of food assistance programs.”
As witnessed by cameras, videos, and wind-blown audience members, Congressman Dingell reiterated his promise to help the program when successful. In the octogenarian’s words, “If you guys can make this new proposal work, I’ll be glad to try to help you get it into law.”

Here is the article on annarbor.com

(on a somewhat unrelated note, here is the Growing Hope Flickr site, where you can see a picture of all of the market managers surrounding John Dingell - lucky duck.)

Lunsasa: online farmers market in action

Tuesday, August 24th, I wandered into the Lunasa warehouse on Jackson Rd because I needed soap. Much like the time I visited Ikea for a lamp and came home with a couch, I left Lunasa juggling my shopping for the week. Unlike my visit to Ikea, I was able to talk to the producers of the whitefish salad, sauerkraut, soap, chocolate, honey, vegetables, fruit, cheese, and bread that filled the warehouse space with color and texture. Borden - Goetz Farm stand at LunasaI wrote about Dawn Thompson and Jane Pacheco’s vision for the online farmers market before the market opened and I was curious to see their plan in action. As I wandered around the tables and introduced myself to both familiar vendors and several I have not seen before in Ann Arbor, Dawn shared with me that Lunasa has experienced, “a 92% increase from the last market cycle. We are almost to 100 members.”

I may have been the 100th.

The process is very simple. You enter the warehouse space (there is plenty of parking) and check in at the welcome table. Lunasa members are given a print out of their online order. Non-members are encouraged to wander around and then become a member. Membership is $40/year. All members are given a Market Day Receipt. Lunasa members who reserved items walk around to the producers to pick up what they reserved and if new things catch their eye, than the producer writes down the information on the Market Day Receipt.

If a member only wants what they pre-ordered, the pick-up can happen relatively quickly. If last minute items are added to a member’s Market Day Receipt than there is a place to pay Lunasa with cash or a credit card. As Linda Purdy of Westwind Milling tells me, “it is a really great thing for a customer, you know you want this, you want this, you want this, and you just go by and pick it up and you don’t pay me, me, me, me [her arms include the other vendors in the space] - you pay one time.”

Borden - The Brinery at Lunasa

According to the producers, it is a great thing for them as well. Bob Jastrezebski, of Bobilin Honey, currently sells at the Canton and Wayne Farmers Markets and hopes one day, “to have it so that I bring everything here once a week and I never have to go to any other markets.” Tod and Larry Williams, of Bay Port Fish Company, travel all the way from Grand Blanc to join the market. Larry feels Lunasa is, “kindof a good idea, because they are going to be open year round and we freeze a lot of filets — and we can smoke fish all year.” (Eaters note: Their smoked whitefish salad was fantastic, clean, good chunks of fish, not gloppy.)

John Savanna, of Mill Pond Bread, is part of Lunasa because “it is a fantastic idea, and it will grow.” Linda Purdy, of Westwind Milling, feels Lunasa, “is a good business model. It is easier and better. We stopped doing farmers markets, which is a drag because the customers are really cool, but with the economy right now, more people started making bread, money just went down. And the money goes down but you are working just as hard and spending just as much gas. At a normal farmers market you might sell everything or nothing, but this way you know that you already have this much gone, so you have made your gas money and all of the rest is extra.”

Candy Sweeney, of Nakee Natural, thinks Lunasa, “will help with sustainable living.” Sustainable living means the Michigan producers are able to make a market worth their time and travel expenses. Sustainable living means that consumers are educated about where their food comes from by the people who produce it. Sustainable living means Lunasa can afford to rent the warehouse and run the website to offer this service to the community.

Lunasa takes place the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month. The next shopping window is September 9-11. Or you can visit the warehouse on September 14th between 3-7 and become a member in person. Lunasa warehouse is located at 6235 Jackson Rd.

Westside Farmers Market hosts over 1100 people!

Borden - Valentine Gardens at wsfm

Last Thursday was hot and humid with a scattering of clouds. Perfect weather to ripen tomatoes, squash, and eggplants - perfect weather to visit the Westside Farmers Market. I was not the only one who thought so, for the first time in our market’s five year history we counted over 1000 people at the market. In honor of breaking the four digit hurdle, here is a summary of the new doings at the market since our strong start to the season.

The Westside Farmers Market continues to expand our acceptance of supplemental nutrition programs. Bridge Cards (formerly Food Stamps) are administered through the USDA and we have accepted over $500 so far this season. Two weeks ago, we became eligible to accept Project FRESH coupons.

Project FRESH Coupons are administered through the Michigan Department of Community Health as part of their WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program and Senior Project FRESH program. Project FRESH Coupons enable the holder of the coupon book to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from participating farmers. The coupon book holds 10 pages of $2/each. When I received my training by the State to accept the coupons one of the other students was curious why the amount given, $20, has not increased in value since the program began in 1986. To which, the very nice woman replied, “State budget.”

As we maximize our space within the boundaries set for the market in our zoning permit we have had welcomed new vendors to the market. Spice Merchants from Saugatuck, My Kitchen Gourmet from Pinckney, Dick’s Pretty Good Garlic from Ann Arbor, Farrell Fruit from Ann Arbor, and Stone Hearth Breads and Bakery from Brooklyn, MI. In addition to the former collection of bakers, farmers, and jam makers — we have two new very unique vendors.

The Westside Farmers Market is a producer only market — every vendor at the market is required to grow, bake, cook, sculpt, or somehow create whatever it is they are selling. Therefore you would not expect, in Michigan, to see a shrimp farmer and a chocolate maker at a producer only market — yet there they are. I wrote extensively about the business of shrimp farming and Russ Allen’s Shrimp Farm Market in Okemos in the Spring. Angela Smith posted a full history of Mindo Chocolate in April. You can now meet both businesses every Thursday until the end of September at the Westside Farmers Market.

Last Thursday, Alicia Meza-Wilson, daughter of Barbara Wilson - owner of Mindo Chocolate, describes to me what is involved in “bean to bar” processing of the cacao beans that arrive to their kitchen in Dexter from Mindo, Ecuador (where the beans are grown and fermented). According to Alicia, the business started 8 months ago when her mother wanted to bake brownies in Ecuador — one never knows where inspiration will come from to start such an adventurous business.

You can continue to follow our vendors at the Westside Farmers Market and other markets on Real Time Farms. Real Time Farms continues to expand and streamline their website, making it easier to add pictures for contributors and creating a more dynamic experience when looking for markets. For example, they now have a slideshow of your market that you can embed anywhere.

Instead of asking markets to add every booth and tag every item, Real Time Farms has started an add 5 campaign, with the goal of adding every farmers market in the country to their website with 5 photos of the market - highlighting a cross section of what is available and exciting in the market. (Check out the captivating video that launches this campaign). Anyone with a camera on their smart phone can add pictures and information to the website, Real Time Farms is truly created by and for the people.

There is nothing better to me than a full meal grown by my local farmers. Starting perhaps with a cool cucumber soup, topped with dill (from Cassidy Farm in Chelsea). Followed by fresh corn , with ripe tomato and basil salad (from Pregitzer Farm Market), and lamp chops hot off the grill (from Ernst Farm). And for dessert, perfectly sweet watermelon (from Ruhligs Produce), with a seed spitting contest into the blooming hostas.

August in Ann Arbor — I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Food Gatherers becomes "Super Carrots" at the Westside Farmers Market

Borden - Tyena Lyons at the Super CArrots booth

The Westside Farmers Market runs June-September in Zingerman’s Roadhouse parking lot (on the corner of Jackson and Maple) on Thursdays 3-7 pm. I am an active volunteer with the market and provide an insider view of the establishment.

This past March, Missy Orge, Director of Outreach and Training for Food Gatherers, reserved a spot at the Westside Farmers Market to sell vegetables under the name, “Super Carrots,” as part of their Community Kitchen Job Training Program (CKJTP). Seeds were planted, earth was watered, the sun shone down, and plants began to grow, and grow, and grow.

Borden - Super Carrots!Thursday’s market was a shining sunny day to welcome Tyena Lyons, Patti Ramos (intern from the School of Public Health), and Missy Orge to our rows of tents and tables selling carrots, cabbages, tomatoes, and broccoli. The vegetables were harvested that morning from the 8 raised beds at the Gathering Farm in front of the Food Gatherers warehouse on Carrot Way.

As you may recall, Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community. In 2005, they implemented the Job Training Program for youth (ages 17-21) who work for 6 weeks to learn marketable skills in the food industry. In 2007, Food Gatherers began offering paid internships to the stellar graduates of the program.

Tyena Lyons is one of those stellar graduates. Lyons describes her experience, “the job training program here at Food Gatherers is great to bring the kids off of the street in the community that have been dealing with drugs, that have been abandoned, that have parental problems…the students are happy because they can come to someone who shows them love.”

Lyons mans the booth at the market on Thursdays and she also assists Chef Ellen at the Delonis Center with the current students in the training program. The current class of students started with 14 and there are now 11 students. This attrition is not uncommon, Orge explains, “a lot of people come into the job training program thinking it is easy and fun, but they have to be there every day… But we especially chose Tyena for this project, so she can be the face of Food Gatherers.”

Super Carrots will be at the market every Thursday until the end of September.

Lunasa: Online local food market brings together producers and consumers

Dawn Thompson and Jane Pacheco have been steeped in the local food movement for many years. Between the Chelsea Community Kitchen, the Raisin River co-op, and the Yellow Door breakfast café they are two women familiar with the many practical facets of bringing local food to the table year-round in Michigan. Hence their latest venture, Lunasa, an online local market, bringing together local producers and consumers with the help of a great website and a warehouse at 6235 Jackson Road.

Borden - Lunasa Logo

As Pacheco told me recently, “our goal is to make it easier for everyone.” On the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month from 4-7 p.m., members (and those wanting to be members) will swarm to the warehouse on Jackson to collect the food they pre-ordered online. A membership costs $40 for the full year. At the moment there are 15 participating local vendors on their website, but when I spoke to Thompson and Pacheco, I was informed they are adding new vendors daily.

Lunasa is only offering membership to vendors who are producing what they sell and who are local to Michigan. Pacheco and Thompson are aware of the slippery slope of defining local - as Thompson says, “you cannot find vanilla beans in Michigan.” Their rule at the moment is that the majority of what is being produced has to come from Michigan.

Let us pretend we are one of their producers - say Tantre Farm. A week before the market, Deb Lentz or Richard Andres will walk through the fields and ascertain what is to be harvested on Sunday and Monday. Armed with this information, they will log into the Lunasa website, post what they are able to bring next week Tuesday, and wait for orders.

Let us pretend we are one of their consumer members - and not necessarily an individual, this could be a neighborhood co-op or office group. After the producers upload what they have, the customer’s three-day shopping window opens. The customer could go online 24 hours a day between Thursday-Saturday to order what is being offered by the producer to be picked up that next Tuesday. Customers pay for the products when they are ordered, minimizing the risks to the producer.

The producers themselves will set up on Tuesdays in the large warehouse space that Lunasa provides on Jackson Road, west of Zeeb Road. They will be available to answer questions about growing practices from the consumers. Pacheco says, "Customers will customize their order and get what they want when they want it, year-round. The vendor is able to bring to market an exact count, there's no waste, but you still have the relationship to where your food is coming from."

This online market model may seem complex at first, but there are many such ones already in existence all over the country. For example, the CSAFarmersMarket.com market is located in the Flint and Lapeer area. The CSAFarmersMarket.com is part of the Locallygrown.net collection of more than 1,000 online markets. Markets organized around the premise of knowing your farmer, trusting where your food is coming from, and supporting your local economy.

Pacheco and Thompson are excited the share the stories of the farmers and producers. As Thompson says, it is important to “see all of the time and energy that goes into producing our food.” The ladies of Lunasa see their online market extending beyond the food transactions as a place of education and community. With their experiences of community building at the Yellow Door and the Chelsea Community Kitchen, I am sure that Lunasa will become integrated quickly into our local food world.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

Double up food bucks and food policy with the Fair Food Network

According to the Michigan Food Stamp Calculator, a single person earning $1,000 in Social Security income a month, with a $300 monthly rent payment, would be eligible for $66 in food stamp benefits that month. Say this person lived in Detroit, without a car, and wanted to purchase food. According to Oran Hesterman, inaugural president and CEO of Fair Food Network, “60 percent of all food stamp benefits are redeemed in liquor stores, party stores, and gas station convenience stores. People are doing their grocery shopping at gas stations. Detroit is not unique, it is happening all over the country.” When I taught in Washington, D.C., a student came to school one day with marshmallows and Cheetos for lunch. Think about the dietary repercussions of such “food” - day in day out. Think about the $70 billion a year of your tax money spent on food stamps where 60 percent of that contributes to our pandemic of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity - welcome to our health care.

Fair Food Network’s solution to this Gordian Knot is simple: encourage people to spend their food stamp benefits on local produce, chronicle the benefits and evidence scientifically, and change the policy in Washington, D.C. Their Double Up Food Bucks program matches every food stamp dollar spent at a farmer’s market, up to $20 per visit. Hesterman speaks broadly and with conviction about the program. “Instead of watching our $70 billion of food assistance going to support the highly processed food industry while keeping our low-income families and kids unhealthy: eating high fat, highly processed, high sugar food. We need to use that same resource in a way that gets healthier food to people while also supporting a local food economy.”

From planting the first heirloom apple trees in the organic farm at UC Santa Cruz 35 years ago, to granting millions of dollars over nearly 20 years as part of the Kellogg Foundation’s Sustainable Food Systems Program, Hesterman has either worked with, or given seed money to, many of the organizations involved in the local food movement. Hesterman feels his lifetime of work has enabled him, “to gain a perspective as to how this movement has been growing from very early on and has provided me with an incredible network of people and projects all of the country … and a lot of good connections in the philanthropic world.”

Borden - Double up food bucks front logo

Those connections with philanthropic funding are pivotal because Fair Food Network is talking about a statewide Michigan program for Double Up Food Bucks, in order to help convince policy makers as to the feasibility of the project nationwide. Piloted last year in Detroit (under the name Michigan Mo' Bucks), this fall he hopes to expand to Ann Arbor. “We are working on engaging radio, billboards, bus signs, direct mail to SNAP [food stamp] recipients,” Hesterman shares. When I spoke to him in June, they planned on ordering $300,000 worth of aluminum coins.

Headquartered in downtown Ann Arbor, Fair Food Network has a director of policy and communications working in Washington, D.C. toward effecting food policy. Reauthorization of the Farm Bill will happen sometime in 2012 or 2013 and food stamps are part of that behemoth of a bill (just looking at the outline of the 2008 enacted bill is dizzying). Hesterman hopes the Farm Bill reauthorization will, “include in it some form of incentive that is encouraging people to use their food stamp benefits to buy healthier food,” based on the evidence presented with the Double Up Food Bucks program.Borden - Double up food bucks back logo

In addition to his leadership of the Fair Food Network, Hesterman is working on a book. “The book chronicles the movement and introduces a lot of the good food heroes. Some of these are small scale - but some of it is big company, too. You don’t hear about it commonly, but some of the largest food companies in the country are doing some very interesting work right now creating more ecologically sound systems and insisting that farmers that they source from produce their food differently.” The final part of the book focuses on the, “ways you can plug into this and help this revolution.”

The working title of the book is "Good Food Revolution," with the Double Up Food Bucks program as one front, I look forward to reading of more.

Here is the link to the article on annarbor.com.

Vegan Garlic Scape Pumpkin Seed Pesto inspired by Dick's Pretty Good Garlic

According to the pictures and data on Real Time Farms, this week at the farmers markets in and around Ann Arbor was garlic scape week, often referred to as just “scapes.” The Washington Post describes scapes beautifully in a recent post, as “a part of the garlic plant that is a garlic lover's nirvana.” Borden - Scape pesto on pasta Farmers harvest scapes from the hardnecked garlic plants because keeping the flower shoot (the scape) attached will curtail the continuing development of the bulb. Not only does it help the bulb develop, it is a delicious treat of garlicky goodness that is a step down in intensity from munching on raw garlic cloves.

Dick’s Pretty Good Garlic was selling 18 different varieties of garlic scapes last Thursday at the Westside Farmers Market. Dick and Diana Dyer were handing out recipes for their Garlic Scape Pesto along with the nubile round stalks.

As you may remember, I am not very good at following directions for recipes, but the idea of Garlic Scape Pesto was captivating as a jumping off point.

So I looked in the larder and came up with a new recipe. I had a big bag of pumpkin seeds and three walnuts left in the cupboard, so I threw a handful of pumpkin seeds with the walnuts into the toaster. I don’t like putting cheese in my pesto because I prefer to add fresh grated later (if at all).Borden - Garlic Scapes

While the pumpkin seeds and the three walnuts toasted, I cut up the 9 scapes, and threw them into the blender. My scapes were the Stull variety, according to the handout from the Dyers.

The nuts and the scapes blended together as I drizzled olive oil into the blender until the mixture was a cohesive mass; at the very end I added a swig of pumpkin seed oil. I did not add extra salt because the pumpkin seeds were salted.

Then I spooned it on top of the Mixed Blend Pasta Noodles from Pasta e Pasta, grated some pepper, and took a bite. It was perfect. For me, the classic recipe of garlic with olive oil on top of pasta often ends up with chunks of garlic either undercooked or charred. Scape Pesto spread the intensity of the garlic along every noodle. The color of the pesto is bright green and I like the nuttiness of the pumpkin seeds. I think it would work very well in lasagna, on eggs, and even with meat.

Next week I am going to purchase more scapes to freeze some pesto for the wintertime!Borden - scapes in situ

(Check out Diana Dyer’s blog for other ideas of what to do with scapes.)

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

 

Photo of Spanish Roja scapes courtesy of Dick Dyer