Sunday, March 25, 2012

Local Farmer Open House: What I Learned

Last Saturday, I attended the Local Farmer Open House at Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center. As I mentioned in my post from March 11, I'm one of three bloggers writing about my experience in choosing a community supported agriculture (CSA) share and also about what the open house had to offer.

If you didn't make it to the event, I definitely recommend it for next year. It's a great way to connect with farmers to learn about their offerings, including CSA programs for fresh produce, flower CSAs, online farm stores and workshops (more on all that later). It's also a great way to check out the Urban Ecology Center if you've never been.

In total, there were 27 farms, companies, cooperatives, etc. featured at the event. They were spread all throughout the building, each displaying lots of information about their offerings. Each stand has a few people available to answer questions and, if you desired, to sign you up for a CSA share.

Here is a smattering of what I learned at the event:
  • The definition of a CSA. Just to recap, in a CSA program, the consumer buys produce directly from a farmer and receives fresh, seasonal produce on a regular basis throughout the growing or harvesting season. The consumer signs an agreement to purchase a season's worth of produce shares. Each week (or every other week) he or she will receive a box of produce that's appropriate to the growing season. CSAs encourage healthy eating and help support local farmers -- a win-win!
  • There are so many options for a CSA! You can get weekly shares that are either a full share or a half share, every-other-week shares or just a fall/winter share if you'd like. There are also many payment options available, including payment plans and worker shares.  
  • Be sure to ask a lot of questions when selecting a CSA program. The informational sheet all attendees received offered some great questions you should ask a CSA farmer. These include:
    • Where and when are your pick-up sites? Oone farmer mentioned this was THE most important question and that an easy pick-up location was one of the most important things to consider when selecting a CSA share.
    • What is the length of the season?
    • Describe the size and cost of your share.
    • What, if anything, is offered besides vegetables? Some farms offer meat, eggs or bulk-buying options, such as tomatoes at the height of tomato season,
    • What are your production and growing practices?
  • Some farms have online farm stores. This was a really cool thing to learn. Some farms offer online stores in which you, even if you don't sign up for a CSA share, can go online and buy whatever is fresh that week at the farm, which can include meat and eggs, and pick up the order at locations throughout Milwaukee. 
  • There is such a thing as a flower share. Instead of getting fresh veggies and fruit each week, you can get fresh-cut stems. What a great idea! One farm offered a 20-week program in which members receive 12-15 stems (cut that morning) of whatever is in season at the time.

Quinoa Cups

You all know how much I love the food blog Iowa Girl Eats. I always enjoy her take on making not-so-healthy food healthier and using ingredients in ways I never thought possible.

Take her recipe for mini ham and cheese quinoa cups as an example. Using quinoa as a crunchy and nutty-tasting alternative to a quiche crust? Genius! And healthy! 

I've always enjoyed quinoa, but sometimes I don't know what to do with it, other than a simple side dish. This recipe is a perfect way to incorporate quinoa, a great source of fiber and protein.  

I followed Iowa Girl's recipe closely, except that I omitted the parsley just because I knew I wouldn't be able to use up an entire bunch. My cups didn't turn out nearly as nice looking as hers did, but they were still delicious and even tasted great heated up for lunch the following day.

We had way more mini cups than would fit in our mini muffin tins, so I put the rest in a shallow baking dish and baked it alongside the mini cups.

The nice thing about this recipe, too, is that it provides a good base and then you can do anything you want with it -- you make Mexican or Greek-inspired quinoa cups, vegetarian ones or super meaty ones. The possibilities are endless!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Local Farmer Open House -- March 17

Before the St. Patrick's Day festivities start next Saturday, March 17, I'll be spending some time at Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center for the 10th Annual Local Farmer Open House.

I'm one of three local bloggers who will be attending the event and writing about our experiences in choosing a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Over the course of the summer, in addition to my usual blogging, I'll be posting about the farm we went with, the foods we've received and the dishes we've made from the fresh produce.

You might remember that Nate and I had a CSA share two years ago. We took a year off last year, so I'm excited to be part of one again this year!

But back to the Local Farmer Open House. If you're interested in learning about participating in a CSA, how you can buy more directly from farmers and connecting with other folks who are also interested in buying locally grown food, I highly encourage you to attend. This will be my first Local Farm Open House, but from what I hear, it will be a great -- and informative -- time.

The event will run 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Urban Ecology Center, 1500 E. Park Place,  in Milwaukee (the center is located in Riverside Park on the east side of Milwaukee).

Here's is a bit more about what the event will include:
  • Attendees will have the chance to speak with different farmers about what each CSA offers -- shares may differ in size, length of season, variety of produce offered and drop-off locations. 
  • A resource table will offer information on cooking and food preservation classes and how to find farmers and local food in the area. Additionally, experienced “locavores” will be on hand to help attendees make decisions about joining a CSA. 
  • Other local farmers who sell directly to the public through at farmers markets, on their farms and through home delivery will be available to chat with to learn how to be directly from them. Additionally, some of their food will be for sale during the Open House.
  • If you've been missing food-truck food this winter, the Open House provides a chance to have lunch from two trucks: Tigerbite Truck and the Vegan Truck.
  • The event will include three workshops attendees can go to (no sign-up is necessary):
    • Intro to CSAs – 11:30 a.m. or 2:45 p.m.
    • Cooking from your CSA box – 12:15 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. (I think I might hit up this one!)
    • How Pesticides & Food Choice Affect Our Health & Water Quality – 1 p.m.
I hope to see you at the Open House, and please check back to On My Table for more posts about my CSA experience and the food I've made from it!