March 31, 2008

Local Is As Local Does

Farming is not adapted to large-scale operations because of the following reasons: Farming is concerned with plants and animals that live, grow, and die.

- Cornell University Agriculture Professor, via Omnivore’s Dilemma

It’s not everyday that you get to meet somebody who was in one of your all-time favorite books. But that’s what happened to me on Saturday, and probably to many others who attended the Farm to Table Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center this past weekend.

Anybody who stopped by the Heritage Farm booth at the conference most likely met the 20-year-old Peter Burns, who played a small role in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Peter—who along with his father, Greg Burns, operates Heritage Farm in Ridgway, Pa., about 2 hours northeast of Pittsburgh—was an intern at the increasingly famous Polyface Farms during the time Pollan spent there researching Dilemma, and he nabbed a few mentions in the book.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Greg and Peter about their farm and their products. Among other things, they told me how the folks from the Big Burrito Group recently paid a visit to the Burns’ farm and will be sourcing some Heritage product for the Big Burrito family of restaurants. [A quick aside: If you believe in local food and you dine out in the Pittsburgh area, you simply must patronize one of Big Burrito’s many excellent establishments. Bill Fuller, Big Burrito’s executive chef, is as fervent a supporter of local farms as you’ll find. If this movement is going to continue to grow and flourish, it will be on the backs of dedicated chefs like Fuller.]

Peter’s year-long internship at Polyface, Greg said, has allowed Heritage to follow in the Polyface/Joel Salatin mold. So the grazing beef cattle help to fertilize the soil that sprouts the grass they eat, and the chickens (and turkeys!) are brought in behind the cattle as they are moved around the farm, picking out vital nutrients from the cow’s waste, leaving their own fertilizer packages behind to nourish the grass. As Salatin told Pollan, running a nearly universally sustainable operation means being a very good grass farmer.

If nothing else, the conference offered an opportunity for attendees to get some quality time with local farmers who are producing quality products.

I picked up some creamy raw milk cheeses from Pasture Maid Creamery, part of Dean Farms, in New Castle, a family-run operation that’s been around since the late 1800s! I also sampled some delicious cheese from Emerald Valley Farm in Scenery Hill, Pa. I foresee a shipment of some of Emerald Valley’s Formage Blanc varieties in the very near future.

Speaking of dairy products, I usually need my milk to have a good bit of cereal floating in it (my most recent favorite: Barbara’s Peanut Butter Puffins). But I really enjoyed the tall glass of raw milk I sampled during one of the three cooking demonstrations held on Saturday. And the bite of bison tenderloin, courtesy of Bistro 19 executive chef Jessica Gibson, was wonderfully tender. The bison was from Wooden Nickel Farm in Edinboro, Pa. Seriously, who even knew there was a buffalo farm in Pennsylvania?!

All in all, my 4 or 5 hours at the conference on Saturday was time ridiculously well spent. I met some of the true leaders of the local food movement, found new sources of sustainably produced products, and even added to my own local food production: a pot of freshly sprouted arugula and a pot of mixed lettuces.

Both pots are lounging in a window in my dining room. With any luck, in a few weeks, they’ll be my ultra local source for a salad that will accompany some monster grass-fed rib eyes in my freezer that I’m just dying to slap on the grill!

Welcome spring. It’s time to eat!!


Wellness said...

Hey Carmen,
Mary here, from Farm to Table. I'm glad you liked the event. You could almost see the local food movement growing at the conference, much like the potted pet grass that Chris from Mung Dynasty decorated the tables with.
Hopefully we can get the Wooden Nickel Buffalo Farm to come to the event next year. You can see their farm from I79 if you drive up to Erie, Pa. Surprisingly, there are at least two other Bison farms in Norhtwestern PA that I know of.
Bison meat is tasty and is much lower in fat than beef...although, most conventional meat is!
Anywho, thanks for coming. We are already ramping up for next year.

Farmer Troy said...

I knew . . . I've been buying Wooden Nickel's bison for several years now . . . you gotta try their award winning "buffler' & garbanzo bean (that's my name for it)chili!" It is awesome!!

Actually Edinboro, and this ranch are only 20ish minutes away from our farm.

Their bison products are also sold at the Whole Foods Co-Op in Erie.

Fillippelli the Cook said...

Yes, farmer troy, but you are far more enlightened than even the average foodie in this neck of the woods! :D

Well, now that I know about it, I will order up some buffalo. Maybe even have a buffalo party! Complete with my own buffalo chili that I think might compare favorably with Wooden Nickel's.

Lindsey said...

I'm in Erie, PA and new to the whole Farm-to-table thing. I would love to find a place where I can buy beef (like 1/4 of a cow). Any thoughts?

My email is