Who are those local farmers?
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Go to a farmers market and you'll find a little bit of everything, from fresh homemade salsas and just-picked corn to humanely raised pork and bright bouquets of flowers.John Beale, Post-Gazette photos
Art King of Harvest Valley Farms picks broccoli at his farm in Valncia. Some of the broccoli will be sold later in the day at the Market Square Farmers Market.
Click photo for larger image.
These are just a few of the scores of farmers and vendors you will meet at Pittsburgh-area markets. To locate the farmers markets (highlighted in bold below) where they sell their goods, see our map and market listings.
Cinco de Mayo
Among the most dramatic and first to sell in Cinco de Mayo's (724-258-3770) lineup of small-batch salsas are the smoky, fire-roasted chipotle and the jammy yellow mango with crunchy jicama and flecks of jalapeno.
These and 10 other offerings are stirred up fresh daily by Mexico City-born Arturo Vizuett, 44, the company's owner, chef and artistic director.
The product line includes a corn-and-black-bean salsa, a spicy roasted tomatillo salsa, and a fresh tomato salsa containing nothing more than tomatoes, lime, cilantro, chiles and salt. Other classics are vegetables and chiles en escabeche (lightly pickled veggies with herbs and chiles), pickled whole garlic cloves (tamed first by roasting) and seared poblano chiles (nice in grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas.)
New this year is a roasted peanut pipian, which Mr. Vizuett describes as a mole-like sauce, guaranteed to turn the flabbiest boneless chicken breast into something memorable. He has unlimited suggestions for using the salsas to expedite and enliven workaday meals from chops to scrambled eggs to quesadillas.
Cinco de Mayo products contain no animal ingredients and therefore keep refrigerated up to a month, Mr. Vizuett says. (The fresh tomato salsa is best consumed in a day or two). The products' meatless status makes them popular with vegetarians.
Mr. Vizuett totes "the entire repertoire" to 10 markets: South Side, Mt. Lebanon, Market Square, Washington Main Street, Highland Park, Forest Hills, Oakland, Mt. Lebanon, Ligonier. He also mans a stand outside Enrico's Biscotti in the Strip District.
-- Virginia Phillips
Combs Peindl Farms
Dolores Combs would love to say the veggies she and her husband Delbert (724-899-2744) tote to the Coraopolis market each Monday in the back of their Chevy pickup are the fruits of her labor; like most locally grown produce at farmers markets, it's both fresh and high quality. As for those caramel-colored brown eggs, which sell for $1 a dozen?
"People go crazy over them," she says.
Yet like any good mother, Mrs. Combs is quick to give credit where credit is due. All of the growing, she explains, is actually done by her daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Jay Peindl, on the 113-acre farm they share with Mr. and Mrs. Combs along Route 30 in Clinton.
"They just love being in the dirt," she says.
Unfortunately, both also have day jobs -- Susan's with the Findlay parks department, while Jay works as a steel fabricator -- so getting their produce to market proved something of a challenge. That is, until Mom and Dad, who have raised beef cattle, chickens and turkeys for more than three decades and who retired from their jobs as janitors a few years ago, offered to do the selling.
Early summer offerings include strawberries, onions, lettuce and peas, along with flats of mix-and-match flowers from Mrs. Peindl's two greenhouses. In July, when the market starts getting busy, it's on to "old time" vegetables such as rutabaga, kohlrabi, mustard greens and Swiss chard.
"And it's all natural, with no sprays," said Mrs. Combs.
With just a half-dozen vendors, Coraopolis is the smallest of the three markets at which the farm sells. But the Combses believe that's actually a good thing because it allows shoppers to get in and out quickly.
Better still, it allows the farmers -- who say you make what you put into a business -- to get to know their buyers and their likes and dislikes.
"People come up all the time and say, 'Oh, God bless you for being here!'" Mrs. Combs says.
-- Gretchen McKay
With less than 50 tillable acres, the farm Becky Floyd and her husband Philip (724-774-8379) have worked for more than two decades is hardly the largest you'll encounter in Beaver County. But you know what? That's perfectly OK.
Some years back, the couple decided to stay small and keep it in the family, even if it meant working longer hours and making less money than some of their competitors. That, and to sell only what they themselves grew.
"We're planted," Mrs. Floyd says, as she fusses over a tray of individually potted zucchini plants and grape tomatoes she brought to the Coraopolis farmers market on a recent Monday. "We sit on our verandah every morning with coffee, watch the sun rise and then get to work. We love it."
By focusing on quality rather than quantity, this fifth-generation vegetable and general farm in Potter has cultivated a large and loyal customer base at several farmers markets, including Coraopolis, where they've been a regular for more than 20 years.
"Our customers like to know where their food comes from and that it's fresh and consistent."
How fresh? Vegetables and herbs are brought to "town" within 48 hours of being harvested, sorted and washed; many items, such as the fragrant bundles of large-leaf Italian basil and soft, buttery bunches of red and green lettuce Mrs. Floyd is selling this particular afternoon, are picked just hours beforehand.
Obviously, that means selling only what's truly in season. Early summer herbs are followed by vine crops such as cucumbers and five different varieties of zucchini, including light-bulb shaped Lebanese zucchini, all carted to market in the back of an old Beaver County Times newspaper truck. Then come tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, beans and baskets of bright-purple Little Fingers and banana-shaped Louisiana Long Green eggplants.
Not that it's all work, mind you. Even when the sun's beating down on her suntanned neck and the traffic is blaring on nearby Fifth Avenue, it's fun.
"We've made so many friends here, and with different kinds of people," says Mrs. Floyd. "It's a really good market."
-- Gretchen McKay
Dolly and Murray Hoover have lived in Mt. Lebanon for 45 years, but they are not your typical residents. "Please call me Dolly. Everybody does," says Mrs. Hoover. "My mother was raised on a farm. So when I left business, I went back to farming. Everything we grow is started from organic seeds. I lease an acre in Washington County where we grow beets, pumpkin and radishes -- the peas will be ready soon. And I grow over at Randy Morris's farm in Irwin. There's potatoes, limas, late lettuce and kale over there. I pick my blueberries over at Trax farms."
She has devoted a 50-by-60-foot plot solely to cabbage. "Murray makes good sauerkraut in the fall. How do I know it's good? We sell out as fast as I can put it out."
Dolly knows how to bake a pie, too, and several are offered every week. To make sure customers get the kind they want, she has order sheets. What a choice! Blueberry, cherry, apple, peach, pecan, apple crunch or raisin. All pies are $14, and they are made from scratch with frozen or fresh fruit. For an extra charge, she'll even deliver.
The Hoovers sell at the Mt. Lebanon Lions farmers market in the parking lot of the Mt. Lebanon United Lutheran Church on Wednesday, and at a separate Mt. Lebanon Partnership farmers market at 600-750 Washington Road on Saturday mornings.
-- Marlene Parrish
Mildred's Daughters Urban Farm
Mildred's Daughters Urban Farm, along the border of Stanton Heights and Lawrenceville, has been farmed since 1875 and remains the last working farm within the city limits. Randa Shannon and co-owner Barb Kline stumbled onto the property looking for a place to let their dogs run and have a big garden. When they discovered the farm, everything changed.
"We wanted to preserve it and share it with the community," Ms. Shannon said.
They grow various heirloom vegetables organically on 5 1/2 acres. But they specialize in heirloom tomatoes, offering 24 varieties. Mildred's Daughters (412-799-0833) sell at the East Liberty farmers market on Monday and also at the Union Project Market at 801 N. Negley Ave. in Highland Park on Saturday but also have a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program, where customers pay in advance for a growing season's worth of produce they can pick up weekly in spring, summer and fall.
Ms. Shannon hopes to provide fresh produce for the neighborhood and to create a place for the locals to gather. "We want to be tied into the community; we want to watch these kids grow up."
Both owners of the farm have another passion. They helped launch Grow Pittsburgh, a organization advocating sustainable urban food production.
"Even people with low incomes can have high-quality nutrition by learning to grow," Ms. Shannon said, either in community gardens or in their own yards. "That was a tradition 50 years ago, and I hope it becomes a tradition again."
-- Doug Oster
Mushrooms for Life
Jonathan Cingota, 35, of Indiana, Pa., found his life path in a college internship, eye to a microscope, in the Department of Interior: The topic was Dutch Elm disease, a fungus.
Fungi are fungi -- but some are much more delicious than others. The Indiana University of Pennsylvania student then interned with a global supplier of spawn to the mushroom industry, Sylvan America in Kittanning. There he learned the delicate art of propagating tasty fungi.
For the past year, Farmers@Firehouse on Penn Avenue in the Strip District has offered Cingota's changing array: cultivated blue-and-yellow oyster mushrooms; almond portabellas; maitake/sheepshead; bear's head; dried shiitakes; grow-your-own kits, plus certified organic criminis, portabellas and white buttons. After a rain the Mushrooms for Life farm stand (724-599-2405) may feature seasonal "wild-crafted" (foraged) morels, honey mushrooms, chicken of the woods, boletes, black trumpets or chanterelles. Cultivated mushrooms may be ordered for pick-up at the Saturday market by calling Cingota, or by special-order through the East End Food Co-op.
Convincing mushrooms to grow to order calls for rarefied lab and field mycology skills. Mr. Cingota collects spore in the wild, adjusts conditions in his home lab until the microscopic dots reproduce, then coaxes out proprietary strains producing reliable mushroom crops.
"Mushrooms don't take much space. I grow them in one cool room in my house, in a modest greenhouse and along the edge of my garden."
He will introduce his cultivated Blue Ridge Matsutake on Saturday at the Farmer@Firehouse market. To his knowledge no one else has succeeded in "domesticating" this prized variety of matsu (pine) take (mushroom). Options are to buy the Blue Ridge in Pittsburgh ($24 a pound) or travel to California's Sierra Nevadas and go hunting. Chefs Derek Stevens at Casbah and Sam DiBattista at Vivo previewed the matsutake as Mr. Cingota tweaked it into robust flavor.
-- Virginia Phillips
With a family of five daughters and two sons, you'd think there wouldn't be time to spare for digging, planting, cutting and selling. But energetic mom Elaine Pisarcik drives a truck teeming with flower baskets, herbs, cut flowers and garden plants and sets up at four farmers markets every week.
"My husband is a superintendent carpenter and built our five greenhouses. And we grow five acres of flowers. All of the kids help out at the various markets," said Mrs. Pisarcik.
Look for sunflowers and snapdragons, ready this week. Cut flowers are $6 for a bountiful bunch and last at least six days.
Mrs. Pisarcik can be found at the Mt. Lebanon Lions farmers market on Washington Road on Wednesday; in Pine Community Park in Wexford on Thursday; at the City-County Building and Steel Plaza, Downtown, during lunch hours on Friday; and in Sewickley at St. James Church on Saturday.
-- Marlene Parrish
Irene Volkar vividly remembers 1968 and helping her new husband, Joe Volkar, clear 51 acres of his own near Fredericktown, Washington County, for their farm (724-632-5877). He'd grown up in the country, and the city girl from West Mifflin had longed to move out there, "but I didn't have a working farm in mind."
She remembers her stage fright at facing the public to sell their first strawberries, for 55 cents a quart or two for a dollar. She remembers him not coming home until after midnight from what's now the Original Farmers Night Market in South Fayette when it still was on Pittsburgh's North Side.
But years later, as they spend another evening hawking everything from asparagus to zucchini blossoms, she curls against his shoulder as naturally as a pea tendril to a post.
"Y'know, I wish I'd kept a journal," she says as they discuss a life of hard but rewarding work.
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they sell at the Night Market, on Route 50 west of Bridgeville, where they've been fixtures for 26 seasons (and their "Thank you -- Come Again" sign looks it).
They also run their own daily market on Route 40 in Richeyville and sell at Uniontown on Friday mornings and at a new market at Washington Crown Center Mall.
Mr. Volkar, who has the look and bearing of a farmer by Norman Rockwell, worries that farming is fading faster than his brown Dickies work pants. He says customers buy smaller quantities today than when folks canned. "They can get whatever they want, whenever they want" at supermarkets today.
Still, they see hope in a renewing interest in farmers markets, and in customers who ask for their German pink tomatoes, because locally grown produce does tend to taste better.
"Yep," he says with an easy grin. "That's what sells it."
-- Bob Batz Jr.
Wil-Den Family Farm
"Most people aren't used to seeing pigs walking around the fields," Denise Brownlee says. She and her husband, Bill, run Wil-Den Family Farm (814-786-7438) along with their two teenage children. For over 11 years the Jackson Center farm in Mercer County has been raising their pigs by letting them roam the fields.
Free-range chickens are a great thing, but free-range pigs? "It's just the best way to do it," she said. "Our customers like the fact that they're eating a happy pig." The animals are out in the sunshine and the fresh air in the pasture. They are also fed a natural soy and corn diet and aren't subjected to growth hormones.
The Brownlees sell at markets in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and in Sewickley at St. James Church on Saturday. The market provides a place to meet customers and form a connection with them. "They come to know you and to love you as a person. Their meals mean more to them, they can put a face to the food."
Mr. Brownlee grew up on a family farm and has seen animals raised in confinement but prefers this method. "We think it's healthier; I think the whole health issue is important for the producer and the customer," he said.
-- Doug Oster
CREAM SWEET PEAS
- 2 quarts fresh sweet peas, shelled
- 8 green onions, tops only, chopped
- 12 to 16 new potatoes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup milk
- Salt and pepper
Place shelled peas in a medium saucepan and add enough water to cover. Cook on medium heat until peas are almost done (they will turn from dark to light green). Add onion tops, potatoes, butter and milk, and season to taste with salt and pepper. If potatoes are small, throw them in whole; if they're large, cut them into quarters. Cook vegetables over medium-high heat until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
-- Combs Peindl Farms
STUFFED PEPPER SOUP
- Small onion, diced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 3 cups beef broth
- 3 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
- 3 cups pepper chunks
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 cup rice
- Grated cheese and fresh basil for garnish
Saute onion and reserve. Brown ground meat and drain off fat. Add broth, tomatoes, peppers, reserved onion and seasoning. Simmer about 30 minutes.
In a separate pan, prepare rice according to package directions. Add rice to soup. Sprinkle with grated cheese and garnish with fresh basil.
Makes 20 1-cup servings.
-- Douds-Floyd Farm
MILDRED'S DAUGHTERS VEGETARIAN (OR GROUND BEEF) STUFFED PEPPERS
This recipe works equally well with peppers, zucchini or eggplant. 'Eight Ball' zucchini, a small round zucchini, works well for individual servings, as does apple green eggplant, a small apple-sized eggplant. If you are trying to eat locally and enjoy beef, Barb Kline and Randa Shannon have also made this recipe with ground grass-fed beef from David and Deanna McMaken's Rose Ridge Farm of Waynesburg, Ohio (330-904-5365).
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bag tofu crumbles (or 1 pound ground beef)
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 4 to 6 cups heirloom tomato sauce (recipe follows) or chopped heirloom tomatoes, divided
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon course ground pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 5 large green bell peppers
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Saute onion in olive oil, add garlic, then add tofu (or beef) and raisins. Cook till warm and onions are translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add 1 to 2 cups tomato sauce, spices and salt and pepper. Add pine nuts and mix just prior to stuffing peppers.
Place stuffed peppers in a baking dish, add 3 to 4 cups tomato sauce to about 2/3 up the side of the peppers.
Bake at 325 for 15 to 20 minutes, till warmed through and peppers have begun to soften.
-- Mildred's Daughters Urban Farm
HEIRLOOM TOMATO SAUCE
Make this when you can be in and out of the kitchen all day.
Barb and Randa usually take all the heirloom tomatoes they have, wash them, then cut them up and toss them into a pot on the stove. They let them cook down a while, then put them through a food mill to remove seeds and skins, and put the juice back into a pot and cook all day on low heat, stirring occasionally. Sometimes they add basil and/or fresh garlic.
They like to add several different varieties to make a great-tasting sauce. Adding 'Pineapples' or 'Hillbillys' to some 'Amish Paste' and 'Brandywines' gives the sauce a sweeter taste.
Adding any of the purple tomatoes, such as 'Cherokee Purple,' 'Black Prince' or 'Paul Robeson' adds another unique flavor. They also have made a sauce with only yellow tomatoes such as 'Goldie,' 'Orange Banana' and/or 'Amana Orange' for an orange-colored and very sweet sauce.
The sauce takes longer to cook down when not using just paste tomatoes, but the flavor is worth the time spent, and the kitchen smells so great all day. And if you make too much for the stuffed pepper recipe, it freezes well so you can use it in the winter.
Randa and Barb often try to find time to make this recipe and freeze the peppers stuffed and ready to bake, or just freeze peppers cored, washed and dried. Stuff prior to thawing and they work fine, for a fresh taste on a cold winter day.
-- Mildred's Daughters Urban Farm
GRILLED BLUE RIDGE MATSUTAKE ON A BED OF GREENS
Jonathan Cingota suggests Blue Ridge Matsutake for this dish, but other meaty mushrooms -- shiitakes, sheepsheads and oysters -- will be delicious too.
- 8 to 12 ounces Blue Ridge matsutake mushrooms (2 to 4 mushrooms, depending on size)
- 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 4 to 6 cups fresh greens, washed and coarsely torn
Slice mushrooms lengthwise, stems on, about 1/4 inch thick. Combine remaining ingredients and marinate mushrooms for 20 minutes. Place mushrooms in a single layer in a lightly oiled grill basket on a medium-hot grill and grill on both sides until golden. Alternatively, grill indoors on a ridged stovetop pan or under a broiler until colored.
Sprinkle with salt and serve over bed of greens. Leftover marinade may be used as salad dressing.
Serves 4 to 6.
-- Mushrooms for Life
Becky Weerkamp's husband, Paul, works at the nearby Volkar Farm Market, so it's easy for her to get the fresh vegetables she so loves. This salad is one of Becky Weerkamp's favorite veggie recipes, along with a recipe for dressing
Mound mixed greens in the middle of a platter.
Arrange around the outside:
Tomato wedges, cucumber slices, radishes (fancy cut or not), whole fresh mushrooms, hard-boiled egg wedges.
Parboil fresh green beans and/or asparagus briefly (two to three minutes) so they're still crisp, rinse in cold water and pat dry, and arrange atop the mixed greens.
Serve with Honey Dijon Dressing.
-- Becky Weerkamp
HONEY DIJON DRESSING
Becky Weerkamp says this sauce is equally tasty on cooked salmon, egg dishes, even fried chicken. You can substitute sugar for honey and, for the lemon juice, vinegar or lime juice.
- 1 cup Hellmann's mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons of honey
- 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard (grainy or smooth)
- Juice of half a lemon
-- Becky Weerkamp
BEER BATTER FOR FRIED VEGETABLES
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup beer
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of melted butter
Mix all ingredients in a mixer, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for four hours at room temperature.
Clean, dry and cut into pieces your choice of vegetables -- mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower florets, onion rings, even zucchini blossoms. Dip into batter. Deep fry until golden brown. To keep finished batches warm, place on brown paper bags on cookie sheets in a warm (200 to 250 degrees) oven.
-- Becky Weerkamp
Jonathan Cingota of Mushrooms For Life sells at Farmers@Firehouse in the Strip District.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published June 29, 2006 12:00 am