After the overwhelming success of Oglebay Institute's "Farm to Table" event last year, hosting another this year was a "natural." Eriks Janelsins, director of Schrader Environmental Education Center says, "I had many people tell me that it was their favorite event of 2011. We anticipate building upon that success and have planned for a bigger crowd and included more features to help participants gather ideas for utilizing local products in their meals at home."
Support for local and community food systems not only makes sense when it comes to health, but economics as well. According to a recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine, northern Ohio is making a name for itself in this realm. Around $15 billion worth of food is purchased annually - in restaurants and stores - in the Greater Cleveland area alone. The author points out that most United States metropolitan areas average only two percent when it comes to buying from local food producers. Purchasing five percent more food locally would mean a $750 million dollar boost for the area's economy. An analyst speculates that increasing the local food segment by just 25 percent could create 27,000 jobs and add $125 million in tax revenue.
An increased interest in and support for buying local has spawned some innovative business ideas in Cleveland, also. A family farm went bankrupt when industrial agriculture took over the corn, soybean and wheat markets. Left with six acres, two brothers began growing heirloom vegetables for chefs and restaurants. The business is now a supplier to 1,500 American restaurants, from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to New York City and sends heirloom fruits and vegetables to restaurants in 11 other countries.
A table of fresh herbs greeted guests at last year’s “Farm to Table” afternoon at Stifel Center. Growers will be on hand again with their wares Aug. 19.
Growers at the “Farm to Table” event may surprise guests with some more interesting flavors and produce from their Ohio Valley farms. They’ll also have suggestions on how to use them.
Charlie Schlegel from Ye Olde Alpha grills some gourmet tacos at last year’s “Farm to Table.” He’s planning on more Mexican fare this year.
Another Cleveland food business is based on a CSA (community supported agriculture) model that growers use to supplement farmers market sales. This woman puts together weekly produce packages using several farmers' wares and delivers them to specified pick-up points in the city.
Many studies have shown that by buying from the community, those dollars stay IN the community, circulating up to seven times. Transportation costs are lower when vehicles travel shorter distances, not to mention the decrease in fuel usage and emissions from delivering from South America, or even California, to within a 100 mile radius. Fruits and vegetables picked within the last 24 hours are healthier than those picked several days ago and crated cross country in a trailer on the back of a semi.
How can one support local agriculture here? Most obviously, buy from farmers markets or from local farmers. The food is fresh, grown in these ancient soils on relatively small, family farms without the use of heavy pesticides and additives. This is your neighbor's livelihood.
Many restaurants now purchase products from local growers, especially during the summer months. Because of daily availability, menus may actually use items in daily specials offering diners eclectic and fresh choices.
"Farm to Table" on Sunday, Aug. 19 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Stifel Center will give attendees an opportunity to meet some area farmers, to meet some area chefs who buy local and to taste the results of all of their labors. Guests can stroll the lawn at the Stifel Center, listening to music played by Roger Hoard, and find out how they can use featured items in their own kitchens.
Miklas Meat Market in Wheeling is funding this year's "Farm to Table." This event is a collaboration of Oglebay Institute, West Virginia Northern Community College Culinary Arts Program, Wheeling Farmers Market and Ohio Valley Farmers Market.
Chefs and restaurants scheduled to participate include Charlie Schlegel/Ye Olde Alpha, Chef Martin Galloway/Wilson Lodge at Oglebay Resort, Chef Christian Kefauvre /West Virginia Northern Community College and Diane Conroy/The Cookie Jar.
"Last year's event was so much fun and really highlighted how fortunate we are to live in the Ohio Valley," adds Janelsins.
Tickets, $15 per person, are expected to sell out. For more information, call the Schrader Center at (304) 242-6855.