After a night of "end-of-the-world" blizzard warnings and reports of potentially 6" of snow, it was curious to wake on Saturday to really . . . nothing. No snow, rain or sleet. Seemed like a cruel joke Mother Nature was playing on Kansas City. As my family and I got ready to start our day . . . Eatie, Tastie and I decided to brave the non-weather event to attend the KCFoodCircle.org's 11th Annual, 2009 Eat Local Expo at the Shawnee Civic Center. And just as we pulled into the packed parking lot of the Shawnee Civic Center, it started to rain, sleet and mean business.
The auditorium was packed with local farmers and interested attendee's walking around moving from booth to booth to learn more about the local farmers and what was available in our area. Clearly some farmer's had been unable to make the trip due to weather concerns, so there were a few empty tables, but the event really was impressive and the vibe in the room was healthy and groovy.
My husband, Eatie, and I had to stop and remember our trip to this same show last year. We were newbies to CSA's, otherwise known as Community Supported Agriculture, as we were unsure how the process worked. We didn't know what to expect or how to really shop for a CSA. We knew some of the right questions to ask. We had read the Omnivores Dilemma. But it was still a bit intimidating and, honestly, a pretty foreign concept to a couple who had grown up thinking food came only from the grocery store. My goal this year, after my first year of using both a veggie CSA (Moon on the Meadow in Lawrence, KS) and a meat/eggs CSA (Parker Farms) was to find someone there that was new to the process, and help them in the best way I knew how.
Our first stop was to talk to our friends, The Parker's, at their Parker Farms booth. They supply us with our grass fed beef, lamb and pork as well as whole chickens and eggs, we went ahead and re-upped for next year with a deposit check of $100. An easy choice. We also spoke to them about the opportunity to get custom cuts of meats, another side benefit of using a CSA by the way. Get a leg of lamb when you want one, or t-bone steaks for a party when you need them. It's a great side perk of knowing your farmer.
Then there is the convenience of picking up veggies once a week during the growing season and meat/eggs every other week year round cannot be over-emphasized. Really, it beats the 14 aisles at the grocery store, any day of the week. Not to mention we don't really have to think about what's in season . . .it's what they are bringing us to eat every week. The only thing we got from the grocery store during the growing season was fruit, dairy and paper goods. Oh, alright and my gourmet food magazines and my Cosmo also make it into the basket . . .but we did not see the inside of a grocery store for most the summer and we loved it. When we had to head back into our local Hen House during the winters months, we shop their local growers . . .but like a spouse that strayed and found greener pastures, we yearn for the fresh produce our farmers provided to us over the summer before we were forced indoors to shop.
As we strolled through the rest of the booths we found many familiar friends. We stopped and talked at length with Tony Glamcevski from Green Dirt Farms about their lamb and their fantastic fresh sheep's milk cheeses. I became aware of Green Dirt Farms a couple of years ago when many of the Chef in town began using their local sheep's milk cheeses on their menus. Every single Chef I spoke to had nothing but words of high praise for the quality and flavor of the cheese that Green Dirt Farms produces. Tony was explaining how their cheeses tend to take on slightly different flavors and dimensions based on the time of year and what the sheep are eating. Fascinating. I had an opportunity to taste the Woolly Rind Green Dirt Farm cheese at the private dinner in Lone Jack, MO that Chef Jonathan Justus put on last Fall, but had not taken the time to go up and visit the farm to buy some more. Chef Jonathan had raved about the cheese and how mild & milky it was. Tony told me that Green Dirt Farms plans to start farm tours, cheese making classes, farm table dinners (which we talked about the possibility of doing for Test Kitchen members this year) and cheese appreciation events this year. You can check their website for more details.Tony is also rumored to be opening a restaurant in Kansas City in the next year. I have heard he is looking at a space in the Crossroads. Tony tells me they are still working on feasibility studies, so stayed tuned for more interesting information on that front.
When Tony said they were selling cheese at the event, Eatie and I bought one of each . . .the Woolly Rind which has the flavors of fresh milk, grass, mushroom and lanolin and the Dirt Lover cheese which has a beautiful line of vegetable ash surrounding the edges. I found it to be much saltier and more flavorful than the Woolly Rind. I immediately pronounced it my favorite. They do a few other cheeses and they do a handful of fresh cheeses that have different flavors like Nettle, Lovage which tastes of herbs, Firecracker which is spicy hot and Confetti which has a little of everything in it.
We also bought Sandhill Farm jar of honey and homemade mustard from this Rutledge, MO commune. At another booth we purchased a loaf of Flax Seed bread from Bread of Life located in Stewartsville, MO. There were bags of lettuces and greens, BBQ sauce, handmade soaps, starter tomato plants and much more. The farmers manned their tables and were really interested in talking and answering all of our questions.
Of course, the farmers were friendly, and maybe a little shy. You could tell they were really wanting to learn how to sell not only their products, but themselves. A strange new business model for most of these farmers. That's when I realized, that our level of anxious understanding at last year's Eat Local Expo, was only matched by these quiet farmers having to learn how to be comfortable putting themselves out there to be questioned. We were both grappling with this strange new world of culinary commerce.
The KCFoodCircle.org is going to have a second Eat Local Expo event on April 4, 2009 up in Independence, MO. So you still have time to come check out what eating local is all about. We ended up in Independence last year and discovered Mug's-Up Root Beer Drive-In along the way for lunch.
It's time to get a little dirt on your hands, and get to know those with a little dirt on theirs. Eat well.