OUT OF THE KITCHEN: CHEFS AT MARKET
Every summer Sunday morning at 11am, a crowd gathers around a table at the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market. Everyone, including a nearby canine or two, has their eyes glued to the chef behind the table who chops aromatic scallions while melting butter in a hot pan and guides the audience through the steps of a seasonal recipe. This is the FRESHFARM Market’s Chef at Market program.
Through the program, FRESHFARM Markets operates approximately 200 demos each year at all 10 farmers markets in the hopes that chefs and home-cooks can help share their knowledge on how to use seasonal fresh produce. The demos are not just educational, but a chance to build connection between local chefs and local farmers. However, 15 years ago, when the program started, things were much different.
The Chef at Market program was born shortly after the Dupont Circle market opened in July 1997, and while the program goals were very much the same, it was difficult to coax chefs from the kitchen. FRESHFARM Market’s Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director, Ann Yonkers spent hours not only recruiting chefs to the program, but also conducting many of the demos herself. At that time, it wasn’t just the program that was new, but also the farmers market, and for many, the concept of eating local and seasonal foods. But, there is something unifying about good food, and it didn’t take long until chefs, shoppers and farmers began gathering round the table.
Today, Chef at Market Program Coordinator, Maddy Beckwith, fields applications from hundreds of chefs and food authors each year, most local, but some, including Michael Pollan, Jacques Pepin and Mollie Katzen (Moosewood Kitchen) traveling to the District for book signings. Rather than spending hours pounding the pavement recruiting, Maddy now spends hours networking by phone and email, coordinating recipes, and sourcing ingredients from the farmers. During the peak season, Maddy coordinates about five demos per week, everything from the home-cook with a fabulous recipe for kale, to the giant Paella extravaganzas hosted by Jose Andres’s Jaleo, in which a team of chefs, often including Jose himself and a guest chef from Spain, roll out the nine-foot diameter Paella pan and cook a meal large enough to feed the entire market.
The broad reach of the program now allows us to attract a wide range of cooking talent, and even host demos that feature many vegetarian, vegan or even raw-foods chefs. For the chefs, the program is more than just publicity. It’s a chance to get out of the kitchen, enjoy the market day, and directly interact with the people who eat their food. Some chefs, such as Michael Costa, Ris Lacoste, Odessa Piper or Janis McLean, have dedicated countless hours, early mornings and hot summer days to the program. The demos are fun and dynamic and sometimes a bit unexpected. During one demo, Jared Slip, of Notte Bianche and Dish, proposed to his girlfriend by slipping a ring over a spear of asparagus and passing it to her as the first sample (she said yes).
While marriage proposals might not happen every week, we hope that the Chef at Market experience is not only an opportunity for our customers to sample some free food, but also inspiration to try a new vegetable or learn new cooking techniques. And for us at FRESHFARM Markets, not only do we get to learn along side our customers, but we revel in watching the great connections that arise between grower, cook and eater.
Hungry for More? Check out upcoming chef demonstrations on our calendar, and search our recipe database for past demo recipes.
Post by Laura Genello, FRESHFARM Markets Newsletter
FROM DAIRY COWS TO VEGETABLES: LOVE DOVE FARMS
When John Dove was a kid helping his Dad on their 200-acre farm in Howard County Maryland he did not realize that one day he would be transitioning the family business from hay and soybeans to a diversity of naturally-grown vegetable crops. Johns says that he must have always been a farmer at heart though, because after studying Environmental Science at Towson University, he enrolled in the New Farmer Training Program at Calvert’s Gift Farm. Through the program, John immersed himself in a different sort of agriculture: one where there were not just two or three crops, but 30. Working with Jack and Beckie Gurley at Calvert’s Gift Farm, was at first overwhelming, but while the style of farming was different, the strong work ethic of the farmers was familiar. It was this experience that gave John the inspiration and confidence to think that he could make a living in agriculture.
Shortly after completing the internship, John carved out one acre of his family’s land and established Love Dove Farms. The 200 acres of land, currently owned by his grandmother and farmed for four generations, was originally purchased as a dairy farm. In the late 1980s, John’s parents sold the last of the dairy cows and began growing sweet corn, soybeans and hay. While John’s father still grows hay on about 100 acres, John is expanding vegetable production on his section.
Now entering his third season in operation, John hopes to cultivate five to six acres with the help of his girlfriend, Courtney, who returns from her full-time job every day to work in the fields and sell at farmers markets. The two grow a wide variety of vegetables from radishes to garlic, lettuce mix to sweet potatoes, all “naturally grown.” For John, naturally grown means that they use no chemicals or pesticides. The natural biodiversity on the farm is his biggest defense against pests. For example, by dispersing the potatoes in several sections over the cultivated acres, he’s able to confuse the potato beetles enough that they don’t get a strong foothold – although he does still need to do a fair amount of hand-squishing.
John has considered pursuing a certification system such as the national organic program. But he finds the face-to-face marketing at farmers markets and being able to share his story and farming practices directly with customers is much more important than any label. For now at least, John plans to focus on growing delicious vegetables and developing the business one step at a time. Visit John and Courtney on Saturdays at the Downtown Silver Spring FRESHFARM Market this season, and also check out their CSA.
Post by Laura Genello, FRESHFARM Markets Newsletter
IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO OPEN A FARMERS MARKET
Spring is not only the season of flowers but the time for the reopening of all of FRESHFARM Market seasonal markets. This week, we reopened the last of our farmers markets: Crystal City, By the White House, Ballston and Annapolis. In each of these locations, FRESHFARM Markets is working in partnership with an organization or local government agency to develop, manage and market our farmers markets.
Our partnership with the Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID) began in 2009 when we opened the Crystal City FRESHFARM Market after a survey of the BIDs constituents found that farmers markets were one of the most demanded services. They also fit nicely with the BID mission to change perceptions of Crystal City as a place to live, work and recreate. After operating their own market for a year, the BID recruited FRESHFARM Markets to take over the market. According to Rob Mandle, Chief Operating Officer of the Crystal City BID, “FRESHFARM Markets achieves our mission in a strategic way providing a strong experiential component to Crystal City. Due to construction, the market moves this year and we’ve relocated it nearer the Metro as a resource for our office workers who are going home and residents who are coming home.”
FRESHFARM Markets most high profile partnership is with the White House and The First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS). We opened our FRESHFARM Market, By the White House market in September of 2009, the year Michelle Obama created and planted her garden. We worked with her office, and a large committee of federal and city government officials as well as the White House press office, to choose and secure a site for our farmers market and to plan the opening ceremony. On the appointed day, Vermont Avenue between H and I Streets, NW was sealed off and all of our farmers and FRESHFARM Market staff were obliged to pass through security controls. A stage and press gallery was erected on site and a crowd of over 3,000 people braved a dreary, rainy day to celebrate local food with the First Lady and FRESHFARM Markets. Michele Obama famously said that day, “This market is about more than just the opportunity to provide good food. It is also about our communities. And this is just the beginning of the conversation.” Yesterday’s reopening of this market continued this connection as White House chefs joined us to ring cow bells in celebration of our fourth season. Participating with them were a multitude of our other market partners from elected city officials to Veteran’s Affairs directors to representatives from the Downtown Business Improvement District.
At our market in Ballston, Virginia, we are beginning our second season. Located in Welburn Square, directly opposite the Metro entrance and adjacent to a major bus transit center, this market is popular with office workers as well as Ballston residents. Our partner, the Ballston Business Improvement District (BID), recruited FRESHFARM Markets to come to this community that is at the epicenter of “the creative class” as it boasts the highest concentration of science and technology workers in the region. Tina Leone, Executive Director of the BID calls our joint efforts in Ballston “the best partnership around.” She adds “People here anticipate the seasonal opening of the Ballston FRESHFARM Market. The market is growing this year and we are confident that it will be even better than last year.“
In Annapolis, FRESHFARM Markets works with the city council chaired by Mayor Cohen. When the market opened in 2008, we worked with the city office of Economic Development to choose a site. As a result, the market is located in prime real estate, right on the busy harbor and on the site of the historic Annapolis farmers market. This historic connection is signaled by the large Marion Warren photograph banner hanging at market that shows residents shopping at this same exact site in the 1950′s. Maria Broadbent, Director of the Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs, sums up the benefits of this six year partnership, ‘The Annapolis FRESHFARM Market farmers market is just the right fit for Annapolis. Having a farmers market downtown allows us to further the goals of the Sustainable Annapolis program, encouraging residents to buy locally grown and raised food, while making the freshest ingredients available to residents right at the City Dock.”
In short, while farmers markets appear to be simple affairs, the actual creation and management of these weekly “pop ups” involves a complex network of community partners who are key to FRESHFARM Markets’ success in creating vibrant “new town squares” at every one of our market sites. Partners, we salute you!
~Ann Yonkers, FRESHFARM Markets Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director
EVENINGS, WEEKENDS AND ALL THE TOMATOES YOU CAN EAT
Remember in pre-school when your teacher asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? Maybe you hoped to be an astronaut or an artist, a park ranger or a fire-fighter? But how many children dream of one day being a farmers market manager? Probably none. We sure didn’t. But the job of running farmers markets involves the creativity of an artist, the all-weather gear of a park ranger and the ability to work with both fire marshals and space cadets. The truth is “farmers market manager” doesn’t fit neatly into a career checkbox, but it’s rewarding, and never dull.
While a year round occupation, prepping for market openings in the spring is the busiest and most exciting part of the year for Juliet Glass and Reg Godin, the Directors of Market Operations at FRESHFARM Markets. The two handle everything from securing annual permits to selecting farmers and producers, and it all begins with the application process in December and January.
FRESHFARM Markets are producer-only, meaning that all applicants must be growing their own product, or if making a value added product, use some proportion of locally grown ingredients. For example, bakers can use local eggs or hot food producers can use local vegetables. Juliet and Reg conduct phone consultations with hundreds of interested applicants, ensure that all applicants have current insurance and licensing, and conduct farm and kitchen visits.
It’s only after the long process of fielding applications that Reg and Juliet sit down with FRESHFARM Markets’ Executive Directors, Ann Yonkers and Bernie Prince, and make admission decisions over the course of several meetings and a lot of eating. The team relies on years of data listing sales by market to aid in these decisions. However, Juliet says, “choosing the right line-up for the market is bit like a game of tetras.” Finding the best fit is hard: while a little competition will attract more customers, too much can harm individual businesses.
However, the farmers and producers are not the only concern. According to Reg, engaging with a vast array of local stakeholders is one of the most important prerequisites for opening a market. From city business improvement districts to local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) the market community is diverse, and sometimes the various groups have conflicting priorities. Reg and Juliet’s job is to ensure that the market is a positive part of the community for all.
Finally, there are the logistics. Juliet and Reg secure permits, measure booth spaces, distribute flyers and hire and train market staff. With so many moving parts, deadlines can come down to the wire, and Juliet says that one year, due to computer trouble a permit for a section of a market was not secured until an hour before farmers arrived. Prepping for market logistics is a team effort and Juliet and Reg work with all market staff to pack bins, organize supplies and install “no parking signs.” Juliet says there’s always a huge sense of relief when the bell rings on opening day and all the farmers & producers fit in their spaces. At that point, she enjoys witnessing interactions among farmers and customers, happy to see each other after a long winter season.
Successfully running farmers markets requires planning for the unexpected: a hail-storm, a nearby protest, or the surprises that we often find parked in the market space (everything from cars to heavy construction equipment). Our markets are vibrant, outdoor, public spaces and a little chaos comes with the territory. Yet it is this same vibrancy that makes the job both fun and satisfying.
Post by Laura Genello, FRESHFARM Markets Newsletter.
NUMBER 1 SONS: CAN YOU PICKLE THAT?
“Most people don’t realize how much of the food they eat every day is fermented,” says Caitlin Roberts of Number 1 Sons, a fermented foods producer new to FRESHFARM Markets. Sourdough bread, cheese, beer, chocolate, miso and wine are all the result of a fermentation process, and are far more mainstream than other fermented products like Kombucha. While fermented foods all have certain health benefits, it was taste that inspired Number 1 Sons to start making their fermented pickles, krouts and kimchi.
Growing up, Caitlin and her older brother Yi Wah ate well. Their mother was an advocate for vegetables and fermented foods play an important role in Chinese food culture. Years later, Yi Wah had accumulated nearly 15 years experience in the food industry working in a variety of high end restaurants in the DC area. While passionate about food, he was ready for a change of pace. He started experimenting with pickles using traditional fermentation methods instead of the more modern vinegar methods, and before long he recruited Caitlin, a current senior at William and Mary College, to the business venture. Number 1 Sons will celebrate a full year selling at farmers markets this May.
Yi Wah makes all of Number 1 Sons’ products at their production facility in Arlington, Virginia, carefully crafting the spice blends for each recipe. Unlike canning which creates a sterile environment, fermented foods embrace bacteria. Whether making their kale-chi or kicky kosher pickles, Yi Wah packs the veggies in barrels along with salt and spices. The naturally anaerobic environment inside the barrels encourages specific bacteria to go to work breaking down the sugars and starches, while the salt discourages other non-desirable bacteria from interfering. The bacteria release natural enzymes from the plant material in addition to lactic acid, and the pH inside the barrel gradually drops while the flavor deepens and develops. Yi Wah and Caitlin can tell when a particular product is ready by monitoring the taste and the pH. When the pH drops below a certain point, not only does the product generally have the “right” taste, but the acidity assures the safety of the food. While this process would happen on it’s own, Yi Wah and Caitlin can help facilitate it by adding mother brine from previous batches to the barrels.
While Caitlin says some of her customers swear their products could cure the common cold, there is a real science behind the health benefits of fermented foods. Not only do the live cultures present in fermented foods help aid in digestion, but often the nutrients in the vegetables are more readily available because of the enzymes released in the fermentation process. Plus, fermentation gives food layers of flavors. They taste really good.
You can find Number 1 Sons at the Downtown Silver Spring FRESHFARM Market and the FRESHFARM Market by the White House this year. Many of the ingredients for their products come from other FRESHFARM Markets farmers, such as Bigg Riggs Farm and Spring Valley Farm and Orchard. Yi Wah and Caitlin scoop all of their products at market directly from the barrels, allowing customers to choose the size they want, anywhere from 8 oz to half a gallon. For Caitlin, selling at farmers markets is a rewarding way to do business: she enjoys meeting her customers and seeing their instantaneous reaction as they try things for the first time.
Post by Laura Genello, FRESHFARM Markets Newsletter
BUILDING COMMUNITY AS A YOUNG FARMER
A few years ago, I was a graduate student in DC. I studied, worked, socialized and occasionally volunteered at a community garden project. Eventually I wanted more growing experience: I wanted to be like the farmers I saw at Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market who seemed so happy and healthy.
So now I am an apprentice at New Morning Farm in Huntingdon County, PA. I started there just about one year ago, and I’ve loved it from day one. For me, the most difficult part of my new life is not the heat, or the long hours of the summer, or the lack of sleep the night before a market day: the hardest part is that I live and work far from my friends, my family, our market community in DC, and even many other local farmers. Our little community at NMF is filled with amazing people, but sometimes I need to see different faces. During the intense growing season, sustaining outside personal and professional relationships is a struggle.
I realized that instead of returning exhausted from a weekend away, I needed to build relationships through my greater farm community. This is why I love working at our markets, especially the Sunday market at Dupont Circle. Sure, it’s still work, and it’s a long day, but market days give me something to look forward to each week: who needs a happy hour when you can sell vegetables you just harvested?
In order to further explore my farming community, I recently attended the Just Food Conference in New York City, where I found connection with community to be a pervasive theme. Focused on food justice and sovereignty, the conference brought together activists, farmers, policy makers and corporate interests to encourage and re-energize those involved in the “food movement” in the NYC region. I’m grateful to the FRESHFARM Market’s Jean Wallace Douglas Farmer Fund for helping me pay for this opportunity to learn from and network with so many motivated, smart and innovative people.
At Just Food, I attended several workshops about NYC’s efforts to improve access to fruits and vegetables while increasing demand for healthier options through educational programming. Much of it sounded familiar—DC is lucky to have FRESHFARM Markets fulfilling so many of these vital roles of a functioning local food scene.
The conference awakened—or maybe reawakened—something in me: the need to be more involved, more connected, and less remote. I am lucky that I have an outlet for that interest because last summer New Morning Farm launched, with the support and assistance of our colleagues at FRESHFARM, a new farmer’s market at the Watkins Elementary School, in Southeast, DC just off Capitol Hill.
Starting something new is always a tough gig, but I went to the Just Food conference to learn: to take away some new techniques for community outreach, to raise awareness of the new market, and to understand our membership in the neighborhood. Now armed with so many ideas, I am confident that, with effort, time, and patience, the Watkins School market will thrive and I will have new faces to see.
Guest Post by Emily Best, New Morning Farm Apprentice