Dollars and Sense at the Farmer’s Market

Farmers Market Season is upon us!

And I love it.

I love the energy at a Farmer’s Market.

I love the people watching.

I love checking out the unique, artisanal products or heirloom produce that I could never find at a normal grocery store.

I love it all.

This morning Adam and I ventured out to our local Farmer’s Market.

It was a quick trip as we had some landscaping work to do back at the homestead. (… Work that made us realize we really are adults as our alma mater is celebrating its biggest spring event with the bars opening at 7AM.)

The Farmer’s Market didn’t have many produce vendors present thanks to the chilly, late spring we are experiencing. But, we did pick up some bratwurst from a local pork producer. They seemed like a great idea for dinner after a day of working in the yard.

As Adam paid the vendor $15.60 for the ten brats, I thought of the most common question and biggest complaint I always tend to hear in regards to local meat: Why is it so expensive?

Last year, after a trip to the Farmer’s Market, I came home with a free range whole chicken. I was excited about this bird. The vendor was full of information and clearly very passionate. And, I wasn’t sure that I had ever had a free range chicken. I kept reading the taste was amazingly different in comparison to a normal chicken breast at the store.

I also had never cooked a whole chicken. So, it seemed like a fun challenge and I couldn’t wait to see if I could taste a difference.

Adam was excited too… and then he asked how much it was.

I had not told him because in the back of my mind I knew how my [insert nice way to say “tight ass”] husband would react.

And, I was right.

The word “ridiculous” was used often and before I knew it he was researching how to raise meat chickens.

God love him and his “Why pay someone when I can do that” attitude…

Proof of this attitude?  His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio.  So happy to give it a little character.

Proof of this attitude? His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio. So happy to give it a little character.

So, in early September, we became the proud owners of fifty free range broilers.

The babies from last September.

The babies from last September.

Adam created a “chicken mobile” out of a large wagon. The top of the wagon had bedding, water and feed. Then a little ramp gave the chicken’s access to the ground so they could roam and snack on grass and bugs. We could move the wagon around the yard so the chickens wouldn’t eat one piece of land to entirety.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

We thought it was going to be great. Easy, too. We would have little, happy, free range birds and, in a couple months, a freezer full of organic, natural roasters for far less then we could purchase.

Right?

Wrong.

Okay, not totally.

In the end, the chickens came out great. They taste wonderful. We have enjoyed sharing them with family and friends and love how one bird can make us a couple meals.

However, they were a lot of work.

They required our attention twice a day, everyday.

They ate a ton. They drank a ton. (Note: Getting water to chickens on a cold, dark late November morning? Not exactly fun.)

There was quite a bit of cost to get started and the butchering at two bucks a pop added up fast. (… Although, that was worth every penny, in my book.)

When it was all said and done, Adam and I sat down and went over all our expenses. There was the chicken mobile, the feed, the equipment like heating lamps and water dispensers, the bedding, the butchering, and our labor.

We realized, using basic economics, if we were going to sell them at a market, $20.00 per chicken really isn’t that “ridiculous.”

As consumers, we have not just a choice, but also a voice.

And for the last sixty years or so, American consumers have voiced that meat should not only be available for every meal, it should also be cheap.

It started with fast food. We want a cheese burger for a buck. Five chicken nuggets for 99 cents.

And, it’s now what we see in the grocery store and that is why a $20.00 chicken has such a sticker shock.

We are lucky, in a sense, that in America meat is so widely available and isn’t going to break the bank. In fact, out of all the countries in the world, American’s spend the least percentage of their income on food.

However, farmers feel the backlash of the availability of the cheap food, even though our society demanded it, and some farming practices are coming under fire.

Farmers are smart, resilient and able to adapt. That is what they did and they will do it again, if that is what the market demands.

However, thanks to my food service role in K-12 education I know the reality is that the cheap, widely available meat is likely here to stay. And, I could never completely go over to the one side of this agriculture fence and say “Organic or BUST” because there is not just a huge market, but a need.

I know that I am incredibly fortunate that I am able to make a choice when I purchase food for Adam and me. And my choice in purchases is reflected in my belief to support local growers.

I am also fortunate to have a voice.

A voice that wants to ask, if we really are spending so much less of our income on food in comparison to our peers around the world, couldn’t we ditch the amped up cable package and reallocate that cash to receive a product that supports the earth, local farmers, the local community and provides great nutrition?

I swung by the grocery store this afternoon and couldn’t help but check the prices on bratwurst. A package of five was for sale for just under six dollars.

I spent a whopping four more dollars for my ten brats.

Four dollars that might go back and help that farmer raise more pigs. Or pay his rent. Or send his kid to college.

Or perhaps its four dollars that will stay in my community supporting other small business like my husbands. Or the cute lady who owns this fun accessory boutique that sucks me in when I drop off my dry cleaning. Or the new bakery on the square that I haven’t been to yet, but sounds delicious.

Four bucks.

Four bucks is less than a fast food meal.

… less than my drink at Starbs!

Money well spent.

Becoming a Farm Girl: Part Two

Note: This is the second of a three part series to celebrate National Agriculture Day that will show my (non-traditional) journey to Agriculture. My hope with this story is to shed light on the many different faces of a “farmer” and how those who are not born into family farms can still learn, celebrate, find careers and purpose in this important industry.

Just days after my eighteenth birthday, I headed to college at Purdue University.

First football game!  Showing off our student tickets with my roommate, Sarah in our dorm.

First football game! Showing off our student tickets with my roommate, Sarah. Sarah was so nice and was also a member of Purdue’s Triathlon team!

Like many undergrads, my hometown bubble burst the instant I got to campus. (As it should.)

There were a few girls I made connections with on my dorm floor. But, for the most part they were pretty different. (… Think poor hygiene, curious sexual orientations, painfully shy, etc.)

I remember the huge sense of relief that came over me when I arrived at the orientation for sorority recruitment. Finally, girls that were friendly, passionate, motivated, and, not to mention, looked like they could be great shopping buddies.

Finally girls that made me feel more like me.

Throughout recruitment we were put in groups of about twenty girls and spent a lot of time in alphabetical order. I was sandwiched between a tall, beautiful girl named Amy and a tiny, peppy blonde named Kelsey.

Kelsey’s dorm was one building over from mine. She was a cheerleader and Homecoming Queen in high school. Amy and I quickly made the connection that our mom’s were in the same Purdue sorority only a few years apart.

Kelsey and Amy also found a lot of common ground. They were both from small towns in Indiana. Kelsey’s family had horses. Amy’s raised pigs. I listened as they talked about funny memories from the summer’s fairs where both of them participated in 4H competitions.

During their conversation, I was reminded of an English class as a sophomore in high school:

We were learning to write resumes and the textbook shared a few samples. One of the samples listed 4H as an activity. Our poor teacher had to explain the organization to the class full of “yuppie” teenagers.

I remember the sense of confusion and even giggles that day.

Sewing, farm animals, and pageants?

We all were certain this was the oldest textbook on the planet. 4H had to be something that was only around when our parents were kids.

Please. No one does anything like that now.

Back in the recruitment line, I looked at my new “friends” and thought “Huh… So 4H really is a thing…?”

I also remember thinking, “These girls are really nice and kind of remind me of my friends at home, but wow… we grew up so differently. Could we really be friends?”

At the end of the week the three of us wound up in the same sorority.

(And, to this day, they are great friends of mine.)

Bid Night 2005.  New members were in blue.  Kelsey is on the far left.  Amy is in the center right.  Yours truly has the big, blingy, white sunglasses on her head.

Bid Night 2005. New members were in blue. Kelsey is on the far left. Amy is in the center right. Yours truly has the big, blingy, white sunglasses on her head.

My first year of college wore on and I continued to meet new people and to learn new things about myself, the world, and others.

And it was in that first year, I learned that farming is far from backwards.

Many of the students at Purdue had parents who raised animals, were farmers, or had careers somehow related to the agriculture industry. And, many of these students were following in their footsteps.

In fact, one in ten students at Purdue were a part of the College of Agriculture.

Before college, I was led to believe that agriculture and farming was “old fashioned” and that it was not viable career. But, the young people in the College of Agriculture knew that the industry was diverse, growing and innovative. These future agriculture leaders were studying at Purdue because the future of the industry demanded higher education.

They knew that there were jobs in agriculture that would put the over thirty different majors within the College of Agriculture, including Agriculture Communications, Agribusiness Sales and Marketing, Food Science and Engineering, to use.

The industry of producing, processing, and selling food actually makes up 15 percent of the American work force.

However, it also wasn’t too out of the ordinary for the students to be preparing to take over their parent’s roles on the family farm. Of the over two million farms that cover the nation, 97% of them are family owned and operated.

They knew that they were learning skills in the College of Agriculture that would help them feed not only America, but the world, as nearly a quarter of the raw US farm products are exported. These students were motivated and beyond intelligent.

But, they didn’t carry these facts around with them every day. At school, they were just fellow Boilermakers.

And at the time, I didn’t realize how much my selected course of study relied on the Ag Students.

I chose to study Hospitality Management thanks to a passion for putting on events. (…Thanks, High School 5K!) However, the summer before my junior year I studied abroad in Switzerland and was bit by the culinary bug.

Prepping an Apple Tart at a culinary class in a Swiss kitchen.

Prepping an Apple Tart at a culinary class in a Swiss kitchen in 2007.

This led me to Los Angeles for an internship the summer before my senior year. The internship was with a food service company that was contracted at a large corporation to handle the catering and cafeteria service.

As a Midwestern girl, I was beyond stoked for a summer in LA. I packed my bags and headed west with visions of hanging with surfers, spotting stars everywhere and becoming Lauren Conrad’s next BFF on The Hills.

I never in a million years would have imagined the group of people that I ended up spending a lot of time with in Southern California… Farmers.

In addition to the day to day tasks in regards to catering events and running a large cafeteria, I was asked to help with a handful of projects. One particular project was to create an onsite, bi-weekly Farmers Market.

The corporation valued work life balance and to support that my boss decided to bring the Farmer’s Market to work. The employees would have the opportunity to shop on their lunch hour versus giving up time at home with their families on the weekend.

I worked through our produce supplier to connect with growers located close to LA County. As I met with them to learn about their produce, I was so surprised to see the many different faces of farmers. Some were young, some old. Some men, some women. There were many different backgrounds, from Hispanic to Australian to American through and through.

But, they all had one common thread: They were so proud of the food they produced. And, they couldn’t wait to share it!

My conversations with these farmers left me energized and eager to do their products justice as I tried to sell them at the pseudo Farmer’s Market.

But, I didn’t have to try too hard. It was 2008 and SoCal was on the forefront of the organic, local, green, Farm to Fork movement. The farm fresh produce sold itself.

The market was a huge success. We sold out of everything each week. I loved seeing the corporation’s employees so thrilled to have healthy options to take home to their children instead of swinging by In-and-Out after work. I was also intrigued with how interested some of the people were in learning about the people who grew their food. And also, how they grew the food. They weren’t afraid to ask questions.

Lovin' Life in SoCal in 2008!

Lovin’ Life in SoCal in 2008!

That August I left LA to begin my final year at Purdue, convinced I would be back the following June to start my career.

But a couple months later, my plans began to change when a boy, named Adam, asked me to his fraternity’s dance.

… His Agriculture fraternity’s dance.

My First Local “Foode” Review

Written June 4, 2013

The first week of June, my work took me to Fredericksburg, Virginia for training.  Like any good foodie, the first thing I do is look up good local restaurants.  (Before hotel and flights, obvi.)  I added “locally sourced” to my searches and quickly came across Foode, right in downtown Fredericksburg.  It has a menu that changes every week with food comes from the Virginia region.  In fact, the website stated that 85-95% of the food served is from local farms or merchants.  The website also had a simple, rustic look that was beautiful.

And, let’s be honest, the name couldn’t be more perfect.  Foode for the foodie?  Sold.

I made plans with a sorority sister who recently moved to Washington, DC and she made the hour long drive south to meet me for dinner with her boyfriend, Mike.  (Thanks, Katie!)

My cab driver had never heard of the restaurant so we slowly crept up the main street in quaint, historic part of town.  We pulled up and the entrance looked like an alley.  Thank goodness, a simple green sign marked the restaurant, or we would have missed it.  Katie and Mike were already there and she texted to tell me she had already gotten a table.

I walked through the threshold to find it was, in fact, an alley.  A really neat alley.  An alley of exposed brick, lined with live edge wooden tables and an open ceiling decorated with colorful, open umbrellas.  I joined Katie and Mike and they told me that there were tables on the inside, but they like this area better.  I didn’t fight it.  The space was so fun and it was a really nice night.

Colorful umbrella's made for fun, unique décor at Foode in Fredericksburg.

Colorful umbrella’s made for fun, unique décor at Foode in Fredericksburg.

Katie passed me a menu.  It was one page front and back.  The front was all the food options and the back showcased all the beverage choices.  Katie and Mike were already enjoying bottled IPA’s and the waitress was quick to see what I would like to drink.  I was still taking in the atmosphere and greeting Katie and Mike that I didn’t even have a chance to look, so I just asked for a glass of white wine.  She quickly returned with DMZ Chardonnay in a mason jar.  The mason jar matched the one already on the table which held a bouquet of basil, in place of the traditional floral centerpiece.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Making an entrée decision was impossible.  Everything sounded excellent.  I was drawn to shrimp and grits, but it seemed too heavy for the warm evening.  Same with the spring risotto, even though it sounded amazing with spring veggies like peas and asparagus.  Mike decided on the whole free range chicken, while Katie and I both opted for the grass fed beef burger.

Mike went inside to place our order, as food orders were not taken through the waitresses, while Katie and I caught up about her new job and life in the District.

Soon our food arrived.  My towering burger was complete with a zingy, seasoned aioli, pub chips for a crunch and homemade pickles was paired with thick cut fries.  The burgers came to us in small cast iron skillets lined with parchment paper, continuing with the rustic look.  I laughed at the lack of actual vegetable on my “plate.”  Here I was at a local restaurant, that receives products from local growers everyday (in fact, they even thank these local farmers and artisans at the end of their menu) and I wasn’t even eating one green item.  Oops.  Oh, well.  You only live once, right?!

As we ate I looked around the alley at the other full tables.  A couple, with their dog in tow, next to us who was splitting a few delicious looking appetizers, including the warm pimento cheese toast, over a bottle wine from Charlottesville, the home of University of Virginia. (Side note: UVA is my namesake.  My parents met there while in business school.  Not to mention, it was where my grandparents spent many years of their retirement.  So, good old C-Ville has a special place in my heart.)

On the other side of us was a family with young children.  I glanced at the menu and it looked like they had a great kids menu complete with traditional kid favorites like natural grilled cheese or hot dog.  This family was done with dinner and had moved on warm, homemade cookies complete with a tall glass of organic milk.

The inner kid in me thought that sounded like an amazing way to finish off the meal, but before I could make my ten-year-old request, Mike asked if we wanted check out the Capitol Ale House.  He said they are known for having a great selection of beers.  I learned that my dear friend Katie, who I used to go to with all my questions about wine, is now my girl to go to about beer too.  (In my opinion, everyone needs a friend like this.)

There, Mike and Katie helped me pick out a great wheat beer from Virginia as my beer palate has not gone much beyond Blue Moon.  They told me that there are a lot of brewery’s developing in the area and they were having a blast trying all the new and different beers.  Katie even had an app on her phone called “Untapped” to track all the different brews she has tried.

We finished our beers and decided to call it a night, even though it was still a little early.  I had to be ready for meetings beginning at five the next morning and Katie and Mike had an hour drive back to DC.  I headed back to my hotel satisfied, happy to have been able to catch up with a good friend, and with half of my wonderful burger left over to be lunch the following day.

Foode Quick Facts:

1006 C/D Caroline Street

Fredericksburg, VA 22401

foodeonline.com

No need to tip.  The staff asks that you just have a good time.

In addition to dinner, Foode also serves lunch and brunch.  The brunch on Saturday and Sunday sounds amazing.  Lots of free range egg options.  They are closed on Monday’s.

Many of the shops and Civil War tourist destinations in historic Fredericksburg close around five or six on week nights, so plan your visit accordingly.  So, get there early and work up an appetite while you shop.

If you would like to see what local producers Foode has vendor relationships with they are listed on their website.

Enjoy!  This is a great place with an awesome atmosphere and magnificent food.