Sitting in a session on local food councils on Saturday at the FH-CASA Conference, I realized that this event, and others like it, is not really about the panels, or the food, or the exhibits. It’s about building a sense of community and carrying it forward into the world for the next year, and beyond. Sustainable agriculture, family farms, local food sheds – all are there because of individuals who produce, process, distribute and consume in a way that sustains our lives and provides for the future of the planet. They must be supported. We can only do it by pulling together.
So that’s the sermon for today. It was inspired by that panel, at which I heard about the idea of the “Chesapeake foodshed” – a system of locally-produced, healthy food within reach of all income levels. That sense of community was maintained by the next panel, of old and new farmers. The old ones mused on how “sustainable” used to be a bad word. No longer!
They were gratified to see how many young farmers were in attendance. One had a pithy comment when asked about words of wisdom based on his experience: “Thirty years of farming is not thirty years of experience, but thirty one-year experiences!”
The exhibit hall held booths occupied by a variety of organizations eager to sell goods and services to farmers. There were also some interesting sartorial statements.
Whole Foods, a conference sponsor, invited attendees to pinpoint their locations on a board which formed (not incidentally) a big picture of the Chesapeake foodshed. I couldn’t help but notice that the Olney Farmers and Artists Market is right in the middle of it.
Lunch was once again composed of products donated by local producers and cooked by the staff at the conference center. At dessert, the chefs were thanked for their flexibility and spirit of cooperation in dealing with unusual ingredients – there were, for instance, quinoa, and cream of Jerusalem artichoke soup – but the fried chicken at dinner Friday was the best dish of the weekend.
One of my lunch companions wore a necklace of vegetables that just perfectly captured the spirit of the day. Cheryl Kollin runs Full Plate Ventures, which takes surplus produce, processes it, and freezes it “to nourish those who are hungry.” She is a supporter of the foodshed!
After lunch, Curt Sherrer from Millstone Cellars Cider described how he came to brew “wine style” cider (as opposed to most commercial hard ciders, which are done “beer style.”) Millstone took over an old mill in Monkton, Maryland, and converted it to cider and mead production. Since then, they have experimented with grafting heirloom apples to rootstock in an abandoned orchard, and with various flavor additives to cider – such as sour cherries, fresh hops, garlic, and fish peppers. Some of these worked better than others, as you might expect. Undaunted, they anticipate trying more flavors, such as lemon grass, different kinds of mint, mulberries, spruce, juniper, and magnolia blossoms. They are working towards local sourcing of all ingredients.
Curt brought along some of his honey-blended cider, called “blossom.” It was at once crisp and sweet, worth seeking out. Distribution is limited at this point, mostly to shops and restaurants around Baltimore, but stay tuned – it may appear at Olney Farmers and Artists Market this summer!
There was big news at this conference: FH-CASA announced its plan to merge with the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), which is in the early planning stages. Here’s hoping that this will allow the good work FH-CASA has been doing to go forward with renewed vigor in the future!