Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Importance of Urban Farmers Selling at Urban Farmers' Markets

Now that the farm market season is hopefully upon all of us, I'm going to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart and that is the importance of urban farmers actually selling at urban farmers' markets. I know this sounds like a no-brainer. However, there is a major urban farmer contingent, who thinks and acts otherwise. My friend, Gabe, likened it to one of those rock bands that puts out album after album and never tours.

In this blog, I will discuss how urban farmers' markets affect economic development, local food access, and the basic reasoning as to why some urban farmers ignore urban farm markets. But not in that order. Also to my discredit, this is all my opinion and none of it has been quantified (Sorry, I've been watching way too many X-Files lately, and perhaps is also the reason that I think the City of Cleveland is gunning for my farm).

In the insider world of urban farming, there's a lot of discussion as to how a farmer makes the most sales (and subsequent money) with the least amount of work. It's the classic efficiency scenario that corporations and MBA programs use to rationalize all sorts of stuff. Most of these discussions eventually lean towards restaurant sales being a far superior means of earning money than selling at farmers' markets in the inner city.

And in my experience, this is completely true. Selling a whole cooler of 20 heads of lettuce at $2.50 a head is a pretty awesome feeling. It normally only takes about ten minutes of transaction time, plus gas and driving expense, and it often leads to other sales. In modern capitalism, this approach is heralded.

Let me clarify. I sell to restaurants for the money. I sell at urban farmers' markets for the people. Arguably, the two main tenets for urban farming are economic development and healthy food access. I believe that the practice of urban farmers only selling to restaurants is detrimental for long term economic development and healthy food access for all people. For all people being the key phrase here.

The next statement may shock and offend some people. I think it has been alluded to many times over, but never formally stated. Food should not be about class. However and unfortunately, food is about class.

Let me clarify. I love my restaurant sales. They seriously add-up. But when I make those restaurant sales, I know it's doubtful that any child, let alone an economically disadvantaged one, or even an economically disadvantaged adult will ever eat any of my produce at that restaurant. This is by no means the fault of the restaurants. I feel like they are the very necessary glamorous public relations part of the whole local food scene.

This is why I also sell at an urban farmers' market. You literally have no idea who your clientele will be. I've had city attorneys, lots of single moms, every once in a while, children (especially when I have Mexican Sour Gherkins). The age and racial diversity at Gordon Square Farmer's Market is almost as diverse as Gordon Square itself. The opportunity for the public (especially the economically disadvantaged) to randomly see other members of the public making mostly cash money out of local resources can be inspiring to others in the economic sense.

Seeing is still believing, and that's why being seen at a farmers' market is important. Otherwise, these folks riding the bus are just seeing a farmer work/sweat their crop to no readily seen cash benefit. Which in the words of my mom, "looks like alotta work."

In addition, if as an urban farmer, you want to be supportive of the whole social justice/healthy food access issues, then it is also necessary to sell at urban farmers' markets and food desserts. For most micro-scale farmers, this is the only way to access many of the government/agency food assistance programs. The corollary to that is these urban farmers' markets are the only ways some individuals (with or without assistance) access anything close to fresh produce. Blowing people's minds with a literal rainbow's array of grape tomatoes with the exception of the color blue is an equally great feeling as the $50 restaurant sale.

Farmers' markets have been part of close-knit, interwoven communities since we've stopped hunting and gathering. Middle-eastern medinas and Europe's very artisanal craft food stores are lingering examples of this in modern day. It is something that seems rooted into us. The general camaraderie and technique-sharing, and capitalistic benchmarking are all side effects of farmers' market participation (the same can also be said about sunburns).

Lastly, I've also heard that the want for anonymity is another seemingly valid reason to not sell at urban farmers' markets. To me, this is a completely valid argument as long as it is not inversely negated with incessant Facebook updates.

That's basically it. The picture up top is of my dad and I last father's day weekend at Gordon Square. This week (tomorrow) I will have have soil blocked-beets (they're long and thin), the last garlic scapes, green onions, the last of the speckled like a trout lettuce, Red Russian and Lacinato kale, and my first chard. Food to the people!

Friday, June 10, 2011

What's a Garlic Scape?

In my quest to educate the public in order to increase my sales, I feel that I need to bring the garlic scape into the populist's light of day. Thereby in this blog, I will attempt to answer the question, what is a garlic scape?

Simply put, a garlic scape is a young and ideally still tender flowering stalk of the garlic plant. For years now, garlic scapes have enjoyed popularity amongst the elusive foodie crowd. But now more and more, regular folks and off-the-grid types are getting into this under-utilized, near equal form of garlic.

To me, a scape looks incredibly similar to a curled green snake. As such, that first photo is called, "Darth Vader Under the Influence of Medusa," which is really just a silly way to highlight a $2 bundle of Old Husher's Garlic Scapes. The second photo up there is of the garlic scape in its natural environment. As folklore goes, it is said that you harvest a garlic scape after the weight of the flowering structure (the snake head thingy) weighs enough to curl the scape downward. Subsequently, the garlic scapes in the photo are ready to be harvested and sub-subsequently have been harvested since said photo has been taken.

Blah, blah, blah, enough of the history lesson already, what's a garlic scape taste like? Unsurprisingly, garlic scapes taste a lot like regular garlic, just a little bit mellower. That being said, if you were to make raw garlic scape and almond pesto (recipe to follow), you'd still be able to ward off vampires and future lovers for about six hours.

In terms of usage, the garlic scape is extremely versatile, just like its regular bulbed form. Often a puree is made and simply tossed in pasta. Or scapes can be chopped up and used in stir-frys or omelets. Garlic scape and almond pesto is downright amazing and can be used on sandwiches, as a chip-dip, as a pasta sauce and so forth. If you're getting a hankering of an inclination to get out the food processor and hear it go "v-r-r-r, v-r-r-r (with rolled r's like you took German in high school), then here's the recipe.

Garlic Scape and Almond

  • 10 garlic scapes
  • 1/3 to 1/2C parmeson
  • 1/3C slivered almonds (toasted if you want to get crazy)
  • olive oil to your preferred consistency (a 1/2C is a good start)
  • Salt to taste from the sea or otherwise (this is for the people!)

Food processorize, or Blenderize, or Mortar and Pestle-ize (in which case chop everything up fairly fine first) all the above ingredients. Adding the olive oil slowly to desired consistency. Enjoy.

Thank you for reading Garlic Scape 101: What's a Garlic Scape?