How green can your table be: Conference pushes healthy, fresh food all year long
Jane Dillner with her early tomato plants at the Dillner Family Farm booth at the Farm to Table show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
"The first tomato plants of the season" for sale at the Dillner Family Farm booth at the Farm to Table show.
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The Farm to Table show opened with a promise, whispered in green: There will again be local produce. Soon.
Jane Dillner, of Dillner Family Farm in West Deer, had baby tomato plants -- real, live, bright green tomato plants!
She lovingly told show-goers Friday, "I planted those on Feb. 14" -- Valentine's Day, in "hoop houses" on the farm, just north of Pittsburgh. She was selling "the first tomato plants of the season" for $2.50 apiece. She also was selling $3 bags of greenhouse-grown spring lettuce mix and pea shoots.
- Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
- When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
- Tickets: $15 at the door.
- Information: http://farmtotablepa.com/conference.
These were among the green tastes of things to come at the fifth annual Farm to Table conference, which runs through today at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
A sort of miniature home show for healthy eating and living, the event brings together 60-some exhibitors -- farmers, producers, retailers, wellness practitioners, activists -- many of whom also give talks and demonstrations. This year's theme was sourcing, preparing and enjoying healthy local food year 'round -- no easy task in a region where there can be more white on the fields than green.
But it's not as hard as people might think, noted Erin Hart of American HealthCare Group, which sponsors the show. Noting that "Let's go to the farmers market" is another way to say "wellness," she pointed to all the cheese and other dairy products, maple products, canned Pennsylvania produce, eggs, baked goods and other goodies available for sampling and for purchase.
"This is a farmers market in March," crowed Lisa Winschel, who organizes the Mt. Lebanon Uptown Farmers Market. She hasn't set its opening day yet, but believes it'll start in mid-May and run, longer than ever, through November, as both vendors and customers want as long a season as possible.
She made it a point to remember to bring to this year's show some green -- cash -- and she looked forward to turning it into local cheese, wine and more.
"As soon as I can get away from this table, I'm going shopping."
Mrs. Dillner, too, is trying to extend her growing season, and the pea shoots -- tender plant stems and leaves served raw in salads or lightly sauteed -- are an experiment in having more to sell early and late. She was hoping to educate consumers about Pennsylvania produce more generally and to sign some up for her farm's CSA, or community supported agriculture subscription, for which customers pay in advance for regularly delivered boxes of produce.
Like a proud parent, Mrs. Dillner showed off photos of other veggie plants sprouting indoors on the farm. It made her wistful: "Man, I've got so much work to do at home."
Besides food and wellness professionals, attendees include consumers, many of whom are more interested than ever in local, healthy food.
"We always get excited to see local farms," said Whitehall's Cory Maloney, who paused with his three boys -- Luke, Josh, Matt -- to sample goat fudge from Kent, Ohio's Lucky Penny Creamery.
They could taste everything from green-as-green-gets wheatgrass juice to maple candy, raw milk to hemp pretzels (Hempzels). Mr. Maloney's wife, Suzanne, and their daughter, Maria, were taking in one of the presentations.
Today's range from how to grow and prepare your own shiitake mushrooms to how foods fight cancer. At 2:30 today, Emily Stevenson will talk about heritage livestock breeds, such as the chickens, Bourbon red turkeys and Dexter cattle they raise on their Pleasant Valley Farm way up in Tionesta. Forest County -- a farm that she and her husband, Dan, work using a mother-daughter team of Belgian draft horses.
She'd brought some lamb and ham to serve at Friday night's local food tasting, but at her booth, she's selling her canned vinegars and pickles and jellies.
Their farm stand's best seller: "Carrot Cake Jam," made with pineapple, pears and spices, which she swears tastes just like the cake.
There's still snow on her fields, but she's got plants growing, too, and lots of baby chicks to attend to. They're among the signs that it won't be long now.
An "approximate harvest schedule" at Clarion River Organics' table read like a food poem:
"Asparagus, Broccoli, Chard, Kale, Lettuce, Patty Pan Squash, Radishes, Strawberries."
All that ... in May.
First Published March 26, 2011 12:00 am