Magazine Feature Article: Keepin’ It Local

photos by Meriah Kruse

Keepin’ It Local

Fresh, Delicious Produce, and What Else Can You Buy at the Farmers’ Markets?

Unless you’re new to Central Kentucky, you know that we have one of the best farmers’ markets in the country. Maybe you’re a “regular” strolling to your favorite market once a week with your cloth bags in hand and some money in your pocket. If so, you already know what to avoid in the produce section of your grocery store, because you’d much rather buy that item straight from the hands of the farmer who grew it. If you are a “regular” you know what’s in season, when to get prepared if you plan to freeze strawberries or peaches or can tomatoes this year.

If you haven’t been to our local farmers’ markets lately, you may be quite surprised by what you can find there, in addition to the beans, potatoes, squash, onions, carrots, apples, and salad greens. Our farmers’ markets have exploded in offerings, size and availability. The Lexington Farmers’ Market, after decades in existence, now appears in three locations on four separate days, and the newer Bluegrass Farmers’ Market adds yet another location and two days of delicious shopping. In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, the mainstay of any outdoor market, you can find goat cheese, fresh basil, houseplants, cut flowers, organic beef and chickens, eggs, cheeses, berries, spice blends, homemade soap, ice cream, pulled pork sandwiches,painted gourds, fresh herbs, fried green tomato sandwiches, sweet tea, tilapia, blackberry jam, wildflower honey, wine, specialized olive oil, banana bread, homemade pasta, pimento cheese, game birds, crepes, lavender sachets, natural face creams, mushrooms, herbal baskets, cornmeal, and lots more.

After the downfall of tobacco as an economic way of life for family farms across Kentucky, many farmers have successfully turned to growing foods and other items for direct sale to the public. Many farmers who have spent their lives learning the intricate dances of agriculture between seed, land, machinery, labor and weather, have added to their skill base with such abilities as marketing, product development, and customer relations. They are adaptive, they are a marvel, and the markets they are producing right here in our own area are a marvel as well.

Featured here are just a few of the nearly one hundred farmers who are taking such good care of us, to give you an idea of the breadth of what you will find if you go shopping the Farmers’ Market way. See you there!

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market member Lexington Pasta

In keeping with the international trend toward fresh homemade pasta, Lexington now has its own pasta factory, thanks to the vision and know-how of long-time friends Lesme Romero and Ricardo Gonzalez. Each man grew up with food as a centerpiece of life—pasta in particular. And, as they say on their website, “Our friendship was almost immediate when we discovered that we had the same background: fathers from Spain, mothers from Italy, and an upbringing in South America.” In 2009, they decided to combine their expertise in food manufacturing, culinary arts, business, and sales and marketing. They left their corporate jobs behind to realize their dream of making fresh pastas, sauces and seasonings for the Lexington community.

At the Farmers’ Market, they have different flavors of pasta weekly, selections from their standards: Fresh Egg, Spanish Saffron, Roasted Red Pepper, Bay, Spinach, Tomato Basil, Portobello, Cilantro, Chipotle and Sun Dried Tomato. Most weekends you can find them at both the Saturday and Sunday markets.

Lexington Pasta also sells to groceries and restaurants, even creating custom flavored and cut pastas when distinctive pasta is desired. Lexington Pasta is a Kentucky Proud provider. Visit LexingtonPasta.com.

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market member The Beekeeper’s Natural Soaps:

In response to a life-threatening asthma attack, Abigail Keam made a few changes in her life to become a beekeeper. In 1999 she opened Abigail’s Soaps, making honey/beeswax-based natural products. Her non-allergenic soaps and creams were developed for others like herself who cannot tolerate commercially made soaps and skin-care products. She uses the same techniques she was taught by her grandmother. Her original clientele consisted primarily of people who were ill, had immune deficiencies, cancer or serious allergies. Later she began to make a naturally scented line of soaps, and since has developed an additional group of loyal clients who buy her Chocolate Swirl, Lavender, Key Lime, Hyacinth, and other soaps because they prefer to use natural homemade products.

In her own words, “Abigail’s soaps are made with coconut, olive, canola and palm oils to provide the ultimate in moisturizing. These soaps will not strip your skin of its natural oils but leave your skin feeling clean and refreshed. Plus I add extra vitamin E and my own honey. I use organic ingredients whenever possible. No animal testing!”

Abigal has recently published her first novel to rave reviews and strong sales. The mystery novel, Death by a Honeybee, is the first in a series, with her second book expected in 2011. The Keam Farm, a Kentucky Proud provider, will be included in the annual Farm Tour on July 31. Abigail attends both Saturday and Sunday markets. Visit AbigailSoaps.com.

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market member Cookin’ Up Kentucky

Chef Jacob Graves had a great idea: Why not arrive at the Farmers’ Market early in the morning, buy food from the farmers and then cook up breakfast and lunch for the visitors? Graves visited many farmers’ markets around the world while working as a private chef, and in every market except Lexington’s, there were chefs cooking up delicacies for hungry visitors. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Graves has run several restaurants. After years of 120-hour weeks, he decided to go back to the family farm to, “Get some peace in his life.” Then he asked the question: “How can I be both a farmer and a chef?” Cookin’ Up Kentucky was the answer, and Chef Graves is now a Kentucky Proud provider.

In June his menu consisted of a fried green tomato sandwich with garlic pesto aioli, or a local beef cheeseburger with the same fried green tomatoes, and iced tea as the beverage. An anonymous visitor remarked, “This is the best burger in town!” Mark Sievers, a food writer for the Bluegrass Food Biz Buzz, summed it up, “These food offerings are truly signature Kentucky culinary gems.” You may have to wait a few minutes for your food at Cookin’ Up Kentucky on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but it will be worth it.

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market member Joyce Smith, the Gourd Lady

Growing up in the mountains, Joyce Smith didn’t think of gourds as decoration. To her way of thinking, a gourd is something to make a bird feeder, fiddle or banjo out of, or to dip water from a mountain spring or well. Gourds were utilitarian and necessary. She recalls a very practical item known as a “darning gourd,” which was used to repair socks, and reports that some people kept gourds full of salt or coffee near the fireplace to help keep the contents dry.

So, it is somewhat ironic that today Joyce, long-time matriarch of the Smith Family Farm in Franklin County, now paints gourds to sell at the Farmers’ Market—mostly selling them to people who wouldn’t think of using a gourd to drink out of or to make a string instrument. She is widely known as the Gourd Lady, and many people have stopped by her booth to ask questions about growing, drying, carving and painting gourds in the ten years she’s been offering her creative musings to her market customers. As she says, “It’s therapy for me. I never know what’s gonna come out on a gourd.” She also enjoys sharing stories and advice with her customers, “The people here are very good to the farmers. I get so thrilled telling people about it. Everything I do I love, or I don’t do it.”

The Smith Family Farm is one of the oldest members of the Lexington Farmers’ Market after 37 years. Many old friends wouldn’t think of buying their tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, or sweet corn from anyone else.

Joyce and her family can be found at the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday markets.

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Farm Tour and Fundraiser for Lexington Farmers’ Market

The Lexington Farmers’ Market will hold its annual Farm Tour on July 31 in the daytime hours and in the evening will host a fundraiser at the new Fifth Third Bank Pavilion on Main Street from 6-8 p.m. The fundraiser, “From The Country To The City Dinner” will raise funds to contribute to the long-term development and stability of the market and its vendors.

The Farm Tour cost is $10, Dinner $20, or a combination ticket for $25. Details of the Farm Tour (a sell-out last year) and tickets are available at their website, LexingtonFarmersMarket.com or at the market itself in early July.

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TIDBITS: Did you Know?

  • The average meal travels 1,500 miles from the farm to your plate.
  • Critchfield Meats and Midways’ Greathouse Family Farm are part of a new statewide network aimed at distributing healthy grown Kentucky beef.
  • Kentucky is one of only 19 states with a Wild Ginseng Program.
  • Six Lexington chefs are among the group of selected Kentucky chefs participating in “Cookin’ in the Bluegrass: A Celebrity Chef Dinner Series” during the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this fall.
  • Kentucky’s total income from agriculture and agriculture-related enterprises in 2007 was $42.1 billion.
  • Kentucky ranks 2nd highest in the nation, at 67.4 percent, in the percentage of obese and overweight adults.

Information provided by the Kentucky Proud website: KYProud.blogspot.com.

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Kentucky Proud

According to Agricultural Commissioner Richie Farmer, “Kentucky Proud is one of Kentucky’s greatest economic development success stories in decades.” This marketing approach creates a single recognizable name for products raised, grown and/or processed in Kentucky by Kentuckians. Farmer continues, “Thanks to Kentucky Proud, many family farms have been saved, and numerous tobacco farmers have made a successful transition to other products.” Buying these products decreases the distance between farm and family and, “Ensures that you’re eating fresh and nutritious foods while supporting Kentucky’s farm families. Buying local products strengthens our local economy by keeping dollars at home and building a sense of community during the process.”

Producers range from large companies producing fluid milk, cattle, hogs and other value-added foods for distribution statewide, to smaller enterprises with dedicated customer bases for such things as organic vegetables, grass-fed beef and artisan cheeses. The Kentucky Proud website lists 147 Lexington providers and another 339 in our surrounding counties—providers of everything from wine to gladiolus.

Learn more at KYProud.com.

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 Another Market! Bluegrass Farmers’ Market

Seeding a new tradition in the east end of Lexington is the Bluegrass Farmers’ Market. According to their website, they are, “The only farmers’ market in Lexington providing 100% locally grown products,” setting them apart from other markets in the region who also sell imported products. Most of their vegetables and fruit are picked the day before they go on sale, and all of their vendors are providers registered with the Kentucky Proud program.

In addition to the standard fare of assorted vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruit, farm-fresh eggs, grass-fed beef, local honey, jams, soaps, rubs, and bedding plants, the Bluegrass Family Market also has special weekly offerings, which are listed on their website. Recent not-your-everyday-fare items included: chocolate zucchini cake, hand-blended soup mixes, catnip, lavender sachets, sugar snap peas, rhubarb, hanging herb baskets and Dave and Karin’s Kick’n Pimento Cheese Sandwiches. A Customer Appreciation Day will be held on July 10, with free activities for children, including making their own visors.

Located in the parking lot in front of Pedal the Planet Bike Shop and FastSigns, they have plenty of free, disabled accessible, convenient parking, and they accept EFT/debit cards for purchases. Bluegrass Farmers’ Market is held on Tuesdays from 3-6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at 3450 Richmond Road in Lexington. Visit BluegrassFarmersMarket.org.

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 Community Supported Agriculture

Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Typically, farmers offer a certain number of “shares” (which may be called memberships or subscriptions) to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but many other farm products are often included. Interested consumers purchase a share in return for a set amount of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. According to Local Harvest, an advocacy organization for the farm-to-table movement, “Some farmers include the option for shareholders to buy shares of eggs, homemade bread, meat, cheese, fruit, flowers or other farm products along with their veggies.”

Farmers benefit by receiving payment early in the season, thus assisting them with cash flow, and consumers earn many advantages, such as eating ultra-fresh food, having the opportunity to visit the farm, and developing relationships with the people who produce their food. Some families notice that participating in a CSA’s is another way to entice children to eat their vegetables! Visiting “their” farms creates a sense of ownership in children, often resulting in a willingness to eat foods they might ordinarily shun.

Mark Keating, a lecturer in sustainable agriculture in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, notes that, “Community Supported Agriculture is blooming in Kentucky. With its mix of farms and metropolitan areas, Kentucky has a near-perfect environment for the local foods system of production and distribution.” The Kentucky Department of Agriculture estimated in April 2009 that there were 35 farms operating CSA’s in Kentucky, with the number growing yearly. Local Harvest’s database, while not claiming to be all-inclusive, lists over 2,500 CSA’s in the United States.

One example of a Lexington-area CSA is Berries on Bryan Station, recently declared a USDA Certified Organic farm. They specialize in strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and cut flowers; purchasing seeds from other organic farms and from rare seed sources, or drawing on seeds that have been passed down carefully from one family generation to another.

Georgetown’s Tarleton Tavern Farm has a flexible CSA program, providing pickups in Lexington, Frankfort and Georgetown. Their 20-week CSA season begins in May and includes a selection of shares. They offer vegetable and herb shares, beef and pork shares, egg shares and packaged products in share sizes large and small.

To find other CSA’s in the area, search the Local Harvest website: LocalHarvest.org.

 

Gluten Free Eating in Lexington

For the thousands of Central Kentuckians who are exploring or committed to gluten-free diets, there is an organization that is making it a little easier. Those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, or any have any other reason are following a gluten-free diet know that it can be tough to avoid this pervasive food ingredient. Gluten Free Lexington (GFL) is the central Kentucky chapter of the national Celiac Disease Foundation, using public meetings, support programs, special events, and outreach initiatives to provide support and guidance to anyone who can benefit from their resources and the fellowship they offer.

GFL’s website is an excellent source of practical information, including a list of restaurants where gluten-free foods can be found, such as Wendy’s, Outback Steak House, Carino’s Italian, and Godfather’s Pizza, the home of gluten-free pizza. Their web master evaluates grocery stores for their provision of gluten-free products, recently citing Whole Foods as the Web Master’s Choice, in recognition of their wide variety of gluten-free items and easily scanned shelf labeling. Good Foods Co-op was also acknowledged for its recent expansion into more extensive gluten-free offerings.

Gluten Free Lexington will have a booth at the 4th of July Festival. Learn more at GlutenFreeLex.org.

 

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What Contains Gluten?

Gluten is a special type of protein commonly found in rye, wheat and barley. So, of course that means no ordinary cereals, breads, puddings, breadings, cakes, or pies. However, gluten can also be found in the most unlikely places…

  • Raisins and shredded cheese (dusted to prevent them from sticking together)
  • Soy sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Cottage cheese
  • Malt vinegar
  • Teriyaki Sauce

Sometimes these items contain gluten, depending on how they are manufactured:

  • Food starch
  • Deli meats and hot dogs
  • Caramel coloring
  • Dry roasted nuts
  • Non-dairy creamer
  • Ground spices
  • Natural juices
  • Vitamins
  • Toothpaste

 

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