'Farm to Table Conference' aims to sustain local interest

Take this title literally:

"The Farm to Table Conference: Keep it Real, Keep It Local."

The third conference, to be held April 3 and 4 at the David Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, once again will tap into the area's burgeoning local and sustainable food circles, hoping to show more and more of the uninitiated how to bring food from the local farm to the kitchen table.

Started by American HealthCare Group in Green Tree, the conference this year features the mix of speakers on everything from a psychological approach to eating (Dorit Brauer on "Food Blessing Mediation" and Will Clower on "Faux Food Physiology and the Hunger for Satiety") to how to cook those products you're snatching up at farmers markets.

The message?

"Local, good food, health, eating well," said Mt. Lebanon's Erin Hart, one of five members of the Hagan family who run the health care group. The others are her parents, Bob and Lynn Hagan of Mt. Lebanon, and sisters Liz Kanche of Crafton and Mary Double of Spartansburg, Crawford County.

The company produces health and wellness programs for companies, school districts and community groups, and the Farm to Table Conference grew out of that, she says.

"We thought, 'We have these resources that are all around us, all these local farms,' and a lot of health and wellness providers we work with promote the idea of eating real food instead of processed food."

Drawing on her firm's experience in staging health fairs, Ms. Hart et al. set up the conference, first at the Bidwell Training Center in Manchester, and last year, at the convention center.

The move to the convention center has drawn larger crowds, and this year, more mainstream advertising, such as billboards, is designed to pull in more than the folks who are already plugged into the local food scene.

Last year's event drew about 600 people; she's hoping for 1,000 this year.

The 2009 conference will feature 60 exhibitors, up from 40 last year and as of late last week, included 16 farmers, most from Western Pennsylvania.

Besides discussing their operations, farmers will participate in a market featuring spring produce, such as sprouts, plus cheese, meat, milk and honey.

A food tasting will be held on Friday night, featuring milk products from Turner Dairy Farms; Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka from Pennsylvania PURE Distillery; cheeses from Hidden Hills Dairy of Everett, Bedford County, and FireFly Farms of Accident, Md.; corn bread and scones from Frankferd Farms Foods of Saxonburg; and Giant Eagle Market District, to name some.

Other speakers will include Christopher Fullerton of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA); Patricia DeMarco of the Rachel Carson Homestead, on "Living in Harmony: Why Organic Matters"; Thomas J. Reynolds, director of the Robert A. Macoskey Center for Sustainable Systems at Slippery Rock University; and Dennis vanEngelsdorp, acting Pennsylvania state apiarist, on "Honey Bee Decline: Why it Matters."

Joshua Burnett, program manager of Grow Pittsburgh's Edible Schoolyard program, will speak on "No Schoolyard Left Unplanted: Growing (an appetite for) Fresh Fruits and Vegetables."

Attending the Edible Schoolyard presentation can earn Act 48 credits for teachers whose districts are in the Allegheny County Insurance Consortium, says Ms. Hart.

Cooking demonstrations will be given by John Gruver of Giant Eagle Market District, one of the conference's sponsors; a chef from Right By Nature of the Strip District; and personal chef Rachel Lori of Lawrenceville.

Ms. Lori, a Fox Chapel native, says cooking local capitalizes not only on the quality of the food, but "everything that's coming out of the ground at the same time is delicious together."

What she'll be telling conference attendees is, "I don't want to say it's easy to always source locally, but it's possible, even in our long dark winter ... What's better than a great root vegetable stew" in late December?

"It's what you want, even if you don't know it."

Conference details

The Farm to Table Conference: Keep It Real, Keep It Local" will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 3 and 4 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

Tickets are $25. Tickets to the food tasting, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 4, are $25.

Purchase at pathwayswellnessprogram.com, where more information and schedules can be found.

Out Like a Lamb Stew

This is Chef Rachel Lori's favorite late-winter recipe, but it's also perfect for these early days of spring.

  • Olive oil for sauteeing
  • 2 pounds lamb shoulder, trimmed of most of the fat and cut into 2-inch square pieces
  • 1 cup of sliced, shiitake, maitake, oyster, or other wild mushrooms
  • 1 large onion, cut into  1/2-inch dice
  • 2 1/2 cups of peeled, 1-inch dice of any combination of root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, celery root, rutabaga, and turnips
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups full-bodied red wine
  • 1 1/2 quarts chicken stock (homemade is best)
  • 1 small sprig each of thyme and sage
  • 1 whole bay leaf
  • 2 medium potatoes, cut in 1-inch dice (keep in cold water until ready to use)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large, heavy bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat enough olive oil to thinly coat the bottom over high heat until hot but not smoking.

Season the lamb generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper and brown each side well. Work in batches small enough that the lamb pieces don't touch one another or the sides of the pan. Remove from pot and set lamb aside.

Add mushrooms to pot and saute until brown and fragrant.

Add onions and root vegetables and season with a large pinch of salt. Saute, stirring frequently until vegetables just begin to brown.

Add garlic and saute for 45 seconds. Add tomato paste.

Remove pan from the fire and add the red wine. Quickly place the pot back on the fire and add the lamb, chicken stock, thyme, sage, and bay leaf and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover and go read a book for about 3 hours.

After 3 hours drain potatoes and add to stew. If there is not enough liquid, add just enough water to cover them. Continue to cook for 30 minutes with the lid off.

Stew is ready when the lamb is fork tender and the potatoes are cooked. Fish out the thyme, sage, and bay leaf, add salt and pepper to your liking.

Serve with your favorite crusty bread slathered with butter.

Serves 4 to 6.

-- Rachel Lori

Margi Shrum can be reached at mshrum@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3027.


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