I was able to attend both days of this year’s Farming for Profit and Stewardship Conference last month, organized by Future Harvest – Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (FH-CASA). On Friday, there was a choice of several workshops before their formal program of panels and presentations. I signed up for the one on fermentation. Not the alcoholic kind, though; our objective was a tasty batch of sauerkraut.
Tables were set up inside the industrial-sized kitchen of the Marriott Inn and Conference Center at the University of Maryland. I recognized the fermentation workshop area by the oversized bowl of cabbages (as opposed to the goat butchering workshop, on the other side).
We got a rundown of techniques for preserving produce by fermentation, courtesy of Meaghan and Shane Carpenter of HEX Ferments (soon to open a shop in Belvedere Square Market in Baltimore). Fermentation produces a selective, anaerobic environment, in which beneficial microbes thrive and harmful ones are killed. The process results in a product that is slightly pre-digested – which sounds off-putting, but consider: pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut have been enjoyed around the globe for hundreds of years.
After the short lecture, we got to work slicing up the cabbage, golden beets, kohlrabi, and apples, and mixing in the sea salt. The mixing went on for longer than I would have imagined – a good 20 minutes or so – until a little brine could be seen at the bottom of the bowl. This was the sign that the mix was ready to be packed into jars.
There was enough for everyone to take home. We were instructed to let it sit out for three days, then refrigerate.
And sure enough, it was delicious. Crisp and only slightly pickled, it could ripen over time, even in the “Fermentation Slowing Device (refrigerator),” if there was any left!
Meaghan also talked about kombucha. This cultured drink is becoming increasingly popular for its health benefits, but I must admit that I have never been able to get past the taste, and the samples she offered did not change my mind.
As we left the kitchen, I noticed that the butchering workshop was also finished.
The fermentation theme continued with the conference keynote speaker: Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head Brewery. As an English major, he was working in a bar (do you want beer nuts with that?) when he got the idea to open a brewery. His education came in handy, as he claims, “There is probably no better work of fiction than a business plan!”
He is now producing locally-sourced ales as well as beer-centric food, such as brats, clam chowder (based on a recipe in Moby-Dick – there’s that English degree again), and hop pickle. But possibly his most interesting new venture involves working with molecular archaeologists at the University of Pennsylvania to develop beer based on ancient recipes.
At a session geared to farmers markets, I learned many interesting things that could be applied with benefit to OFAM – among them, that Amy Crone, late of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, now is executive director of the Maryland Farmers Market Association; and that the University of Maryland Extension runs a nutrition education program called Market To Mealtime.
Then it was time for the reception, sponsored by Whole Foods, and dinner, with food contributed by many of the farmers attending the conference, and cooked by the chefs of the conference center.
There was a silent auction. Just like last year, a dinner contributed by Brian Voltaggio of Volt Restaurant in Frederick was on offer. And just like last year, it was way out of my price range!
And in an “it could only happen here” moment, a box full of portabella mushrooms, still in their growing medium, contributed by one of the exhibitors in the Exhibit Hall (on which more in next post).