Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Busboy

Know Your Farmers Market Farmers

Recommended Posts

I like talking to farmers. Despite the fact that I am, at best, bleary-eyed and undercaffinated most weekend mornings, and that it's been damn near thirty years since my brief turn in the Ag trade, I inevitably find myself in conversation with the people on the other side of the folding table at the markets. And, while the conversations tend to begin with food, they tend to go off in any which direction after a while -- the rising cost of bribery caused by the dollar's decline; the relative benefits of the "Chinese bus" vs. the "Jewish bus" between Washington and NYC; market gossip; why there aren't any peas today (pickers hate picking them)....

Not surprisingly, these folks are charming, fun, and know their stuff when it comes to dinner. I'm hoping to translate some of that into this thread: some combination of humor and wisdom, plus any encouragement I can generate for folks to get out and support our local farmers.

And, I'm hoping that some of you will pitch in, too. There's a lot of markets in the DC area, a lot of people that you know better than I. Get a camera. Find out why they chose a life that involves getting up so damn early every morning. Tell us about their products, and how to cook them. Talk about philosophy and history. Or whatever. People who choose to spend their lives bringing food grown with passion and extraordiary care into our back yards usually have something interesting to say. Let's make sure they get heard.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Toigo Orchards click me

Takoma Park, MD Farmers Market

Clarendon, VA Farmers Market

Falls Church, VA Farmers Market

Annandale, VA Farmers Market

Arlington, VA Farmers Market

Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. Farmers Market

Some people are born farmers, some people achieve farming, and some have farming thrust upon them. Though he grew up on property he currently farms in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, Mark Toigo of Toigo Orchards is of the third type: his farming career began in earnest only when the mid-eighties recession reduced the marketability of his aerospace engineering degree to roughly the same level as that of last week’s raspberries.

gallery_7296_1270_206180.jpg

A victorious Mark Toigo, with long-time co-conspirator Lynn Bretz (of horseradish mustard fame) in the foreground.

Aside from the early hours – Mark is rumored to be more of a late-night type than your average orchard owner – he appears to have few regrets, though, regarding the unexpected career move. And, if you’ve seen him behind the stand at the Dupont Circle or the Arlington Market, it’s difficult to picture Mark – who was once upbraided by the Dupont authorities for playing a Reservoir Dogs-type soundtrack for shoppers in search of organic freestones -- with a pocket protector and necktie, anyway.

Mark began motoring down from Shippensburg with fresh fruit in the mid-80s, long before the farmers market movement caught fire, delivering directly to high-end restaurants. “I’ve known Ris [Lacoste] since she was a line cook for Bob Kinkead,” he says. Unfortunately, “there was no real demand for what we were selling,” from the general public. “We were getting by, but we weren’t really making a living.”

gallery_7296_1270_17188.jpg

Market volunteer Donné, friendliest person in Dupont Circle on Sunday mornings. Perfect top, too.

But then, in the early 90s, things began to change. “People started saying, ‘let me try that tomato with the bumps on it,’” and Mark found himself cutting short Friday night post-harvest recreating to drive to the Old Town Alexandria Farmer’s Market, which opens at 5:30 AM. “I’d have a couple of burgers and drive down, I’d get there about 2:30 AM and just sleep in the truck until it was time to set up.”

The business has changed since then, with a growing number of farmers markets creating welcome outlets for quality produce, but demanding changes in the way farmers planed and harvested. No longer could a large crop be taken in over a couple of weeks and sold in bulk to wholesalers. Now, farmers had to generate a steady supply of good food at retail volumes, to even out ugly fluctuations in cash flow.

It used to be that farmers specialized – and in between crops they had nothing to sell. “We used to have three seasons: berries, pitted fruits and apples.” So Toigo, like other operations, diversified. “It used to be, you had two or three varieties of peaches and peach season lasted a month. Now, we have seventeen varieties of peaches and the season lasts from June until September…people are planting eight different varieties of peas.” In addition, Toigo offers hothouse tomatoes and cucumbers off-season, and prepared foods -- including apple butter, a fiery salsa and the legendary “Lynn’s Horseradish Mustard.”

Toigo’s specialty is fruit, with not only those peaches predicted this year, but significant accumulations of plums, apples, nectarines expected before the summer is out, as well as heirloom tomatoes and the occasional cucumber.

This weekend’s forecast calls for a good chance of berries.

gallery_7296_1270_41108.jpg

Giving free advice on tomato-growing.

And the long-range forecast is for pigs. Not content with heirloom tomatoes, Toigo is in the process of putting heirloom pork chops into production. If all goes well, young Gloucester pigs will be loosed in the orchards this fall, to fatten up on windfall apples before being brought to market just in time for holiday feasting -- bringing the distinct taste of apples and traditional techniques to a pork butt near you.

In the mean time, ask Mark what to cook for dinner. “The biggest problem at the market is that newbies don’t ask enough questions. It’s not just a zucchini, it’s a specific variety. If you’ve never been a grower and you’ve never looked at a seed catalogue, you don’t know the differences – this one’s starchier, that one’s sweeter – so ask someone. We like to talk about what we do.”


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

nicely done, charles


If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Cool, Charles, and I couldn't agree more. Having photographed farms, farmers, and farmers markets for about five years now, I find that the farmers I know are some of the most interesting, thoughtful, and well-educated people I've ever known. They do what they do because they care so much, so I have yet to meet an apathetic or complacent farmer, either. I suspect you know exactly what I'm talking about.

I am really looking forward to getting back East soon and meeting some of the farmers I know only by name in your neck of the woods. Next week, I'm going to New York, New Jersey, and possibly Vermont and New Hampshire to see what's up there.

It would be so great if, instead of knowing who the stupid celebrity du jour is, or the latest sordid murder on national news, if people knew their local farmers and sang their praises.

You might want to invest in a wheelbarrow. When the farmers find out that you're promoting them, they'll send you home with stuff. (Hint: show up at the end of the day and rent a forklift. :laugh:)

Right on, dude.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've had good conversations with many of the farmers at Arlington Market. :) They know me on sight now. :)


-Jason

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am so glad you started this thread, Charles.

BTW, Toigo comes to Mount Pleasant as well when they are fully staffed with their stranded Czech workers who have not made it past the consular officer this year.

I like talking to farmers.  Despite the fact that I am, at best, bleary-eyed and undercaffinated most weekend mornings, and that it's been damn near thirty years since my brief turn in the Ag trade, I inevitably find myself in conversation with the people on the other side of the folding table at the markets.  And, while the conversations tend to begin with food, they tend to go off in any which direction after a while -- the rising cost of bribery caused by the dollar's decline; the relative benefits of the "Chinese bus" vs. the "Jewish bus" between Washington and NYC; market gossip; why there aren't any peas today (pickers hate picking them).... 

Not surprisingly, these folks are charming, fun, and know their stuff when it comes to dinner.  I'm hoping to translate some of that into this thread: some combination of humor and wisdom, plus any encouragement I can generate for folks to get out and support our local farmers.

And, I'm hoping that some of you will pitch in, too.  There's a lot of markets in the DC area, a lot of people that you know better than I. Get a camera. Find out why they chose a life that involves getting up so damn early every morning.  Tell us about their products, and how to cook them.  Talk about philosophy and history. Or whatever.  People who choose to spend their lives bringing food grown with passion and extraordiary care into our back yards usually have something interesting to say.  Let's make sure they get heard.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Although not part of any farmer’s market, some of you may be interested.

My family had been a part of a coop organic farm run by Leigh Heuter of Bull Run Organic Farm (check out their web site http://www.bullrunfarm.com/) for the past 3 years. We are not doing it this year. My wife just could not go to pick up the vegetable with two kids in tow.

I miss it already, and I know I’m going to really miss it when fall rolls around. Leigh has weekly drop off around NOVA. We use to pick up at the dog park next to east falls church. We also go to the farm a few times year. I get to pick vegetables with the kids, check out real farm animals (the variety of chickens really amused the kids), pick pumpkins from a real patch in the fall, and pick eggs out of a hen house. It’s not the farmer’s market scene but it may be something many of you may find of interest.

Hopefully both kids will be walking and behaving next year, so we can get back into the coop.

Soup

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fantastic thread Charles.

I wonder if you were inspired by Tana Butler's blog? I know I was. I'm hoping to visit some local farms myself hopefully with Tana.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If I remember my stands correctly I bought some pretty nice tomatoes from Toigo this morning at Arlington. I wanted to be food-snobby and say, "No, this is too early in the season" but then I tasted a slice and said, "Tomato - welcome back to my life, it's been a long winter, hasn't it?"

Is the last week in May too early for a BLT? I don't know, but I'm going to find out this week.


Bill Russell

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Tana and JPW for the complements upthread. I hope it will get even better as I figure out what the hell I'm doing.

Fantastic thread Charles.I wonder if you were inspired by Tana Butler's blog?

Inspired? I think the word is "intimidated." :wink:

I've actually tried to sell some version of this story to the local papers a couple of times. Also, recently I've been trying to think of good threads that would bring eyeballs to the DC board. So, after the most recent rejection note I figured why not eG-iz it.

That being said, how could Tana's blog (click here) not be an inspiration? It's such powerful and beautiful work that it makes you want to enlist on the spot in the battle for family farms. (Also to go back for another vacation in Santa Cruz.) There's a lot of work to be done to change the way most people think about their dinner; Tana's doing it and it benefits all of us.

One thing I was pleased to here from a farmer I talked to this weekend is that, in her third year, demand for her stuff is up significantly, and more markets continue to open. This means that farmers have a better shot at getting the practical rewards that draw people into the business and keep them there, and the quality and variety available to us will continue to rise.

If I remember my stands correctly I bought some pretty nice tomatoes from Toigo this morning at Arlington. I wanted to be food-snobby and say, "No, this is too early in the season" but then I tasted a slice and said, "Tomato - welcome back to my life, it's been a long winter, hasn't it?"

Is the last week in May too early for a BLT? I don't know, but I'm going to find out this week.

I was at Buck's Fishing and Camping the other night, and they were offering "Toigo Tomato and Asparagus Salad." I'd say that if someone as persnickety as Carol Greenwoods is serving the tomatoes, you can do so, too, without fear of being unfashionably unseasonable.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If I remember my stands correctly I bought some pretty nice tomatoes from Toigo this morning at Arlington.  I wanted to be food-snobby and say, "No, this is too early in the season"  but then I tasted a slice and said, "Tomato - welcome back to my life, it's been a long winter, hasn't it?"

Is the last week in May too early for a BLT?  I don't know, but I'm going to find out this week.

Most likely greenhouse raised. At least that what Twin Springs had at Takoma. Not the same as a sun-kissed mid-July fruit, but good enough for the end of May.

They were the basis for my salad at the DR picnic.


Edited by JPW (log)

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Tree and Leaf Farms click me

Purcellville Farmers Market

21st Street, across from the train station and the Magnolia Restaurant.

Thursdays 4 pm-7 pm

Mount Pleasant Farmers Market

17th and Lamont streets NW Washington, DC,

Saturdays 9 am-1 pm

Clarendon Farmers Market (Starting June 4)

Clarendon Metro Park

The way the story usually goes is like this: talented girl from Farm Country packs up and moves to the Big City where, by dint of skill and hard work, she makes the big time, winning fame and fortune – or at least earning enough to pay Manhattan rents – perhaps on stage at Lincoln Center.

gallery_7296_1294_39563.jpg

Georgia O'Neal: so good, she can do it with her eyes closed.

For Georgia O’Neal, co-proprietor and chief marketing officer – that is, she’s the half that shows up on market day – the train ran the other direction. After practically growing up in Lincoln Center – across the street in O'Neal's, her father’s restaurant – and building a rep as rooftop gardener, she bought a one-way ticket for the wide open spaces of Loudon County, Virginia. There, she and husband Zachariah Lester now farm six acres, serving 35 members of the Tree and Leaf CSA and customers at two (soon to be three) markets in the DC area.

gallery_7296_1294_66005.jpg

They like to grow “obscure crops” because “at a lot of markets, one or two farms can dominate the big items, like tomatoes.” Tree and Leaf looks for less common produce to sell in addition to the old standbys. The season is early, yet, but look for Scarlet Queen turnips and baby carrots in weeks ahead, and expect something odd and minty – in addition to the calendula petals and chive blossoms – in the salad greens.

gallery_7296_1294_1566.jpg

Calendula petals at the ready.

I first started hanging at Tree and Leaf because, even when they had the produce that everybody else had, theirs seemed to come out of the ground a little prettier, with a little more taste – carrots of many colors (and the babies we ate last week); vast bundles of herbs; the skinniest little haricôt verts that blanched to a brilliant emerald green, beans Thomas Keller would have killed to stack delicately atop some crispy sea bass and vanilla cream concoction; and the 84-ingredient (give or take) bag of braising greens we served up with Steak Bernaise (see tarragon photo below) last Saturday night -- not a random heaping but surprisingly nuanced version of that springtime standby. It’s almost as though Georgia’s art school days find expression in the vegetables she grows….

…And also the market stall she keeps which, with its colored chalk and woven fabric and brilliant produce, feels like someplace you’d like to crawl into with a bottle of wine to relax and watch the people go by. Of course, this could also be related to the time she spent working with Martha. At any rate, I’m hoping Tree and Leaf will put out a t-shirt as cool as the wood-block style graphics that their adorn aprons and chalkboards.

gallery_7296_1294_49835.jpg

Husband Zach was as determined to leave the country behind as Georgia was to say “ciao, Manhattan” which is how he ended up at the Brooklyn Party where they met. Apparently he was persuaded that window boxes and rooftops simply didn’t supply enough acreage for what they wanted to do, though – or maybe he lost the coin toss -- and the couple left New York for work managing the produce, herbs and greens portion of an estate in Virginia’s horse country.

gallery_7296_1294_55036.jpg

Assistant Katherine Stewart loads the salad.

In 2002, they began selling their own stuff through the Tree and Leaf CSA, distributing a selection of the week’s produce to 30 shareholders. That year they also started selling at the then-new Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market. Fortunately for all of us they’ve been enjoying steady growth ever since slowly expanding their market activities and drawing more customers at the markets they already serve.

gallery_7296_1294_39716.jpg

"Give me all your lupines:" Tree and Leaf also offers flowers and petals.

Tree and Leaf grows organically, but haven’t been certified, something that seems less important this far from the world of agribusiness and large-scale farms. Not that the certified label can’t be helpful but – at the market – it’s people, not labels, that count: “it’s about knowing your farmer, knowing who you’re buying from.”

Georgia can’t get the city out of her system, though, she likes coming into town. “It’s very friendly…little kids run up and say ‘bye-bye farmers’ as we’re packing up.” And, ironically, “city people know more about the food and what to do with it,” than many of those who live much closer to the farms. And she likes talking to customers wherever they are, teaching and learning. The information exchange “works both ways.”

gallery_7296_1294_51852.jpg

Maybe it’s this weekly exchange that has helped Tree and Leaf produce such excellent produce, maybe it’s tricks learned growing snapdragons and ficus trees on co-op roofs, maybe it’s art school or Martha…and maybe it’s karma: how could someone who obviously enjoys her work so much fail to grow delicious food?

“What’s your specialty?” I asked. “We like to have fun.”

And for all the passionate ideology and elegiac prose surrounding food today, her words warm my heart. Above all, dinner should above all be fun. And, when you’re cooking food from Tree and Leaf, it pretty much always is.

gallery_7296_1294_41777.jpg


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If I remember my stands correctly I bought some pretty nice tomatoes from Toigo this morning at Arlington.  I wanted to be food-snobby and say, "No, this is too early in the season"  but then I tasted a slice and said, "Tomato - welcome back to my life, it's been a long winter, hasn't it?"

Is the last week in May too early for a BLT?  I don't know, but I'm going to find out this week.

Most likely greenhouse raised. At least that what Twin Springs had at Takoma. Not the same as a sun-kissed mid-July fruit, but good enough for the end of May.

They were the basis for my salad at the DR picnic.

The tomatoes ended up being a part of some really excellent Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, Cheese and Egg sandwiches. Good stuff.


Bill Russell

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...