Writer and explorer. I have an undying love for travel, culture, people, animals and good food.
brendae has written 16 posts for Brenda Evans

Top 10 Foods to Buy at the Farmer’s Market

Keep in mind you can’t buy out of season items at the farmer’s market, but that’s for your own good. In season foods are more nutritious and down right taste better. Over the years some of my favorite farmer’s market purchases are the ones that are consistently bursting with flavor and super cheap. Plus no matter where you’re from, your local market will likely have these staples.

  1. Tomatoes – They really do have more flavor. After having perfectly ripe tomatoes, store bought ones just taste watery. And because they grow so abundantly they you get some serious bang for your buck in peak season. Buy up and can them or make marinara.
  2. Apples – They may not be as big as the roided up WalMart apples, but they come at a great price. I discovered that the U of M has an apple breeding program near me so there are varieties I’ve never even heard of before.
  3. Squash – There is a variety fitting for each season so you can always find some at your market. If they are being sold in bundles you can get a good price by asking for just one or two.
  4. Kale – I was turned on to kale after I first got it at a farmer’s market. I absolutely love it now who would have thought it’s so good for you.
  5. Honey – Locally made honey has been said to have build up an immunity to allergies. While this belief has been debunked, there are still many who swear by it.
  6. Eggs – While you can definitely tell the difference in the vibrancy of the yolk, what’s most important to me is being able to talk to the farmer. I like to know how the hens are kept (cage-free/free range) just for my own peace of mind. 
  7. Cheese – Okay, so maybe I just like sampling all the varieties. But as with eggs, I like to be able to talk with the farmer about how the animals are raised. It tends to be richer as well.
  8. Blackberries – If I’m being picky here, I’d actually rather harvest them myself. Look for farms near you that offer this option. It’s fun and you can snack along the way.
  9. Spinach – The leaves are enormous compared to the store bought version and contrary to what you would think, I’ve noticed that it does not wilt as quickly.
  10. Baked good – This one might just be my bias from the Athens Farmer’s Market, but if you have local bakeries, I promise you they do it better than Schwebel’s. While it was much more expensive for me, that helped to limit me from eating it all at once.

New Location

Sadly, I have moved on from Athens, OH. While I am pretty sure I won’t ever find another local food community quite like that of Athens, I am ready to see what Minnesota has to offer. The state lays claim to a life expectancy well above the nation average and it shows. It is refreshing to see so many people staying active outdoors, especially bikers, and countless retirees bee-bopping around like they’re younger than me.

Minnetrista, MN

Maybe there’s something in the air, or maybe it’s the 10,000 lakes that urge people to get out an enjoy their lives. Either way, it’s a great place to live. It is far more enticing in the summer though so I may be running for my life when the Minnesotan winter rolls in.

I have moved back in with my parents (like many college graduates) and am floundering to begin my next chapter in life. One thing that has remained steady through my college career and post grad life is my love for good, local food. While spending a month with my sister in north-eastern Ohio I went to the Hudson Farmer’s Market due to the suggestion of a friend. She very enthusiastically stated that it was better than the one in Athens. She lied. She lied big time. The only thing that was better was that you can bring your dog.

With much lower expectations, I went to the Mound Farmer’s Market two weeks ago here in Minnesota and it just made me miss Athens. While it was small, it had a much better selection of produce than the Hudson one. I was satisfied but it has inspired me to go on a mission and find the best farmer’s market Minnesota has to offer in the Lake Minnetonka, Minneapolis area.

We’ll see.

Finger Lickin’ Good

Kiser’s BBQ Shack has patrons salivating every Wednesday and Sunday while waiting for their order of the famed beef brisket.

Barbara Fischer, journalist, professional chef, food blogger and producer of the documentary Hand to Mouth, had nothing but praise for Kiser’s.

“The menu item I love, crave and wait for is the beef brisket,” Fischer said. “Cut into thick slices, Texas style–brisket is the best of the best as far as I am concerned. Tender, juicy and full of the very nature of cow, I eat brisket sans sauce and with reverence.”

Beef Brisket with Mac and Cheese. (Photo Courtesy of Kiser’s BBQ)

According to Sean Kiser, owner of Kiser’s BBQ, the smoker can hold so much meat at a time making the brisket a specialty item.

Kiser’s is home to the authentic low-and-slow, pit-cooked but has also remained uniquely Athens by sourcing local ingredients and staying involved in the community.

While all the produce is sourced from local farmers only about 15 to 20 percent of the meat can come from local farms due to the quantity demanded.

“Why not tap into that source?” Kiser said. “We love to be able to use it.”

Community Action Tuesdays are another way they stay tied to Athens.

“We donate 5 percent of our net sales that day to any given local charity or organization,” Kiser said. “We fell in love with Athens and we love being a part of this community.”

According to Kiser, they are looking to move to a full-service location soon to meet the demands of their restaurant but will remain in town.

If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging to cross off your bucket list, you can always opt to participate in the Boss Hog Challenge.

“It’ about three pounds of food in 30 minutes,” said Kiser. “There is about a 20 percent success rate, so it is doable.”

Sean Kiser and his wife are fellow Ohio University alumni who loved Athens so much they decided to stay and open a restaurant.

This happens quite often here; students graduate and look for an opportunity to make Athens their home.

The town is one that is hard to leave. But if you are leaving, make sure to have a taste of the food that the community has to offer.

Pizza Night

*This story is also found on Bobcat Bucket List.

There is no need to settle for Pizza Hut or Papa Johns on a Friday night when Della Zona offers some of the best pizza in town.

This one night a week restaurant lures in students and locals alike and satisfies a craving that you didn’t even know you had.

Pizza Night. (Photo Courtesy of Della Zona)

Meaning “from the region” in Italian, Della Zona stays true to its name.

According to head baker, Bob O’Neil,Snowville Creamery milk is used to make their own mozzarella cheese and Shade River organic tomatoes to make the marinara.

“It’s not what you would expect or what you would get from any other pizza place in town, in Ohio or most of the United States,” he said.

Almost all ingredients used at Della Zona are local.

According to O’Neil, he even freezes or brines the out-of-season ingredients, like peppers, to use throughout the year.

The seasonal specialties change every week and are definitely the “must try” items on the menu no matter what they are. There are always three options and each one is as good as the next.

“People treat this as a specialty,” O’Neil said. “They just don’t miss Friday night.”

Sure getting out to East State does mean getting off the couch, but the people at Della Zona are warm and welcoming and will treat you like family.

If you really do just want to stay in and have a night alone, you can always order the pizzas for carry-out.

Because the store is only open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays it can get pretty busy, but just bring a bottle of your favorite wine (it is BYOB) a few good friends and treat yourself to the crostini while you wait.

“People treat this as a specialty,” O’Neil said. “They just don’t miss Friday night.”

O’Neil promises that it is well worth the short wait.

“Go for a walk in the neighborhood and when you come back we’ll have your table ready for you.”


Documentary to tell Athens’ local-food story

A locally produced film documentary aims to tell the story of Athens County’s unique local-food economy.

The Athens-based Trout/Fisher Productions is producing the two-hour feature documentary called “Hand to Mouth: The Athens, Ohio Food Cycle.”

The film will tell the story of the interconnected farmers, food artisans, restaurants, and consumers that provide the framework for the sustainable local-food economy in Athens.

Daniel Trout, left, and Barbra Fisher, center, film an interview with Natalie Woodroofe for the documentary “Hand to Mouth.” Heather Irwin is on the far right.

“Contrary to popular belief, not all farmers want to make the biggest buck possible,” explained Barbra Fisher, the writer and producer of the project. “They want to get their food out there to as many people as possible. It takes innovation and it takes thought,”

Riding the wave of popularity of local food movements and food documentaries, Fisher and her collaborators hope to share the uniqueness of the Athens local-food scene with a wider audience.

“Athens is getting a lot more national recognition for what’s going on, so now is the time to strike,” said Daniel Trout, director and cinematographer for the project.

According to Trout, the idea was planted about seven years ago when he, Fisher and sound engineer Heather Irwin all attended a town hall meeting following the opening of Snowville Creamery.

All three had been good friends long before the beginning of the project, which both helped and hindered their collaboration on it. It took years of individual contemplation, they say, before they realized they could all fulfill their dream of working together on a local-food documentary.

When Fisher returned to Athens to start a family, she found people frequently talking about the uptown restaurant Casa Nueva and ACEnet, a community economic-development organization that focuses on technology and food sectors.

“That was sort of the crystallization; those were the two pivotal pieces right there,” said Fisher.

The food economy in Athens has continued growing since then, spawning numerous local businesses and restaurants.

At first, members of the local food community had their reservations about the film project.

Fisher recalled that some people feared the documentary mught be just one more university research project, or be put together by outsiders from Hollywood. Soon, however, she said, the community realized that the team could be trusted.

“These people are our neighbors,” said Trout. “We wanted to tell their story rather than having an outsider come in. We break bread with these people.”

“We’re all children of Appalachia,” added Fisher.

The group is aiming to share the model of Athens with other communities, so they can replicate it by choosing what works for them and creating their own food system.

“We all have lived in other places and have seen that other communities want to this kind of thing or that they don’t know they want to do it yet but have the pieces in place,” said Irwin.

The filmmakers noted that despite the county’s rich food economy, many of its residents still face hunger.

But according to Fisher, with a growing small business sector based on agriculture and foods there are more jobs to offer and more mouths being fed.

“It’s addressable, it’s fixable,” Irwin insisted of the hunger issue. “Food can be made accessible and affordable.”

Trout/Fisher Productions hopes to have the documentary spread across the nation to cities and towns that want a more vibrant food economy.

“We didn’t want this film to preach to the choir,” said Trout.

“And we didn’t want it to preach to anybody, because I don’t think that is an attractive way to get your point across,” added Fisher.

Fisher is funding the documentary personally and although it is not a cheap endeavor she keeps it manageable by working with a small crew.

“When it comes time for stuff that outsiders have to do (post production costs) like color-correcting the entire film to make it look uniform, that we will have to pay for someone to do,” she said.

Although the documentary is moving forward, production will not be finished until this summer.

All three agreed that shooting a two-hour feature is really intimidating, and that getting started was the hardest part.

The trio hope to screen “Hand to Mouth” on the film-festival and sustainability-conference circuits.

“The story that we’re telling is such a wonderful human interest story,” said Trout. “Here we are in one of the most economically depressed areas of Ohio and there is this wonderful thing happening.”

*This story was also published in The Athens News.

Town hall trumpets importance of local food economy

*This story was also published in The Athens News

Community members gathered Monday night to share stories about the local food economy in the Athens area.

The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) hosted the town hall gathering at the Athens Community Center for attendees to share stories and ideas and voice concerns about the local food economy.

“We probably have one of the most unique food economies in the country,” ACEnet Director of Programs Leslie Schaller said. “Whether we’re eaters, food or farm entrepreneurs, market partners or supporters, we all play a role.”

The open microphone format allowed for consumers and producers alike to communicate with one another, both giving thanks and calling for action.

Fluff Bakery owner Jessica Kopelwitz expressed her gratitude to all the producers she works with. The restaurant opened in 2010 in the ground floor of the office building at 8 N. Court St., Athens.

She said she and her husband returned to Athens after graduating from Ohio University, for the unmatchable food community found here.

“These people work so hard, and they provide everything that we have,” she said. “I feel a huge responsibility to this community to use our business as a voice both in Athens and outside our community for local food.”

A common request from most of the producers attending the meeting was a call for more investors.

Kurt Belser, the co-owner of the newly founded Wing Nuttery, emphasized that need.

“We need investment; we need investment capital; we need investors,” he said. “We need people to look at people like me and see value.”

John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza on East State Street in Athens, also offered a few ideas to strengthen the food community even further.

“What would really help me would be a local meat processing place around here,” Gutekanst said. “And we’d love to have some sort of composite website.”

Gutekanst explained that being able to order the products from a website would offer the type of convenience that he seeks when ordering from a corporation.

As evidenced by comments at the town meeting, the Athens area food economy has taken on the life of its own.

Chris Chmiel, of Integration Acres Ltd., and self-professed pawpaw man, stated that there are a lot of other ways that the local economy can benefit from local food.

“If we think innovatively and broadly with food, we can see how it can reach through our community to not only benefit people with healthy food but it’s a great opportunity for other types of economic development,” said Chmiel, founder of the annual Pawpaw Festival in Albany and a Democratic candidate for Athens County Commissioner in the March 6 primary.

The 30 Mile Meal Initiative has cashed in on the unique food system of the Athens area and was even recognized as the top tourism marketing campaign of 2011 by the Ohio Travel Association.

“Our local food economy is a gem, and I know that there are people in communities across the United States that want to come and learn more about our local foods economy and how we do things like the 30 Mile Meal,” said Project Manager Natalie Woodroofe.

The meeting was not entirely celebratory; some attendees voiced their concerns about how proposals for horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and liquid gas in Athens County could damage their local-foods efforts.

Christine Hughes, co-owner of Village Bakery, Della Zona and Catalyst Café, highlighted the threat that so-called “fracking” poses, with potential contamination of soil and water supplies.

“Our whole food economy is in danger because of this industrial development,” she said. “Farming and fracking cannot coexist.”

Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery summed up the positive energy radiating through the room by looking to the future.

“There’s so much more for us to accomplish, but I don’t know what it’s going to be,” Taylor said. “Let’s never lose our sense of community, let’s never divide ourselves, and let’s always support each other.”

Schaller said she hopes that this will only be the first of many local food economy town hall meetings.

Wild Foods

Great Story from NPR: Foraging the Weeds for Wild, Healthy Greens

Athens local food economy

Eating locally grown and produced foods has begun to catch on as a movement in the recent years. “Think Globally, Act Locally” bumper stickers have begun to adorn cars and organic proponents are being swayed by the additional benefits but not everyone is willing to pay for those benefits.

As a largely liberal college town, Athens has not avoided the push to go local. In many ways, the city is coming out on top of the local food scene. With thriving companies serving local goods, plenty of farm land and numerous organizations dedicated to bringing it all together, Athens has all the makings of a successful local food community.

Despite the preparedness of the city to go local, not all consumers are willing to do so. Local foods can mean higher prices for certain items and sacrificing certain fresh items out of season.

These speed bumps along the way pale in comparison to the accomplishments that Athens, Ohio has been making over the past 38 years. The blended ideas of students, faculty members and residents have spawned many one-of-a-kind initiatives.

Kroger on State Street sells local products

The 30-Mile Meal project, headed by Natalie Woodroofe is the only known local foods challenge with that narrow of a radius. As a spin-off of the 100-Mile Meal Diet, this project is a “super-local” initiative to bring attention to all the city has to offer. Continue reading

Dining out in Athens

As with any diet, dining out can be difficult. Whittling  down the few suitable options on the menu can be disheartening and frankly not very enjoyable. Going out to diner is supposed to be a fun experience, and thankfully restaurants are more frequently tailoring their menus to suit their wide variety of guests.

Many restaurants are beginning to understand the benefits of integrating local ingredients, whether it be just the eggs or trying to source the majority of  ingredients locally. In Vermont, the golden arches of McDonald’s even took at shot at integrating local maple syrup into the menu.

Dela Zona located on E. State Street

Continue reading

Good Earth Farm Photo Essay

Good Earth Farm is a small farm located on Armitage Road in Athens, Ohio that invites volunteers to come join in the experience or farm life. All the food that is produced on there either feeds the many residents of the farm house or goes to local food pantries. This photo essay on Good Earth Farm shows all the elements that goes into making a meal on the farm.


June 2018
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