By Marilou Shea
This column is exclusively about one of our universally favorite things: food.
It contributes to our economy in all kinds of ways, from agriculture, processing and manufacturers, to talented entrepreneurs, cultural heritage, restaurants, food trucks, farmers markets and farm-to-table efforts.
Farm-to-table is a cool concept but it needs clarification. Simply put, it’s a buying-selling scenario that enlists growers and an identified outlet that eliminates a middleman, enabling the grower to share or sell the freshest produce or commodities directly to the ‘consumer.’ The recipients of this freshness include you, me, restaurant chefs, farmers markets and food trucks.
Do you know how many commodities, or crops, are grown in Benton or Franklin or Walla Walla counties? I didn’t either. Thank goodness Perry Beale at the state Department of Agriculture tracks this information. He reports conservatively that more than 200 different commodities are grown in these three Mid-Columbia counties. It’s an impressive variety.
Here’s how it breaks down by county: Franklin: 89 commodities; Benton: 64 commodities; and Walla Walla: 64 commodities.
All told, there are about 300 different crops produced statewide.
Who are the players in the local farm-to-table landscape and how can you enjoy the fruits of their labor? More and more consumers are interested in buying local and asking for it at stores like Albertsons and Yoke’s Fresh Market. And the stores responded. They are doing a better job at identifying in-season, locally-grown produce. I’d love to see them take it a step further and add the name of the farm and its location to their produce signs.
While there are local eateries that do source locally, it’s tough to find them unless you’re in their dining room in front of their menu or food truck or run across a column like this.
Here are a few I’m familiar with: LuLu’s Craft Bar and Bistro, Carmine’s, Clover Island Inn Crow’s Nest, Cedars Restaurant, Fredy’s Steakhouse, and Bin No. 20 at the Pasco Red Lion. Food trucks that source locally include Dovetail Joint, Doggie Style Gourmet, Fresh Out the Box, Fast & Curryous, Kindra’s Wok n Roll, and Swampy’s BBQ and Catering.
Kathy Hansen is a farm-to-table guru. She’s a grower, entrepreneur and manager of the Market at the Parkway in Richland. On market Fridays you’ll see several chefs troll her vendor stalls. They’ll pick up, squeeze and sniff the juiciest, freshest stuff to stuff you with over the weekend. She and partner, Tomi Ott, are co-owners of Plow to Plate with T&K. Their concept is simple. They bring you right to the source—in the midst of fields of corn, apple orchards or nut farms, rain or shine, they host an incredible dinner on real china, courtesy of local chef talents such as Josh Duquist from Tagaris Winery, Chris Nokes of Thomas O’Neil Cellars or Jason Savely of Frost Me Sweet Bakery & Bistro. The chefs love it because they have creative reign to highlight the local fruits or vegetables in season and pair them with unique main dishes that feature local meat sources for an organic local experience. They pair only local beverages too: brews and wines to complement the meal and sometimes lavender lemonade.
Essentially it’s a blank canvas for these culinary artists and consumers are eating it up. Diners love the genuine experience of dining with the growers who grow the food they’re about to feast on. They get to pick fruits or veggies too that on-site chefs grill to perfection, while answering their questions and providing tips and tricks. It makes for a fascinating, one-of-a-kind farm-to-table experience. Check out Plow to Plate with T&K at plowtoplatewithtandk.com or on Facebook for more information. The 2017 season starts in July. Tickets are $100 per person and include transportation.
Pasco’s new farmers market manager has experience at several Portland restaurants and Intel’s food service team. Besides eating his way around the Tri-Cities, Damien Davis has some lofty farm-to-table plans in the works with two goals in mind: to provide another revenue stream for farmers at Pasco Farmers Market and help to build a tighter Tri-City food scene.
Davis wants to produce “produce fresh sheets” at the farmers market just as they do in upscale restaurants to highlight a seafood catch-of-the-day and share those on Facebook, via email and online.
He’s also interested in launching a Pasco Farmers Market community supported agriculture, or CSA, program just for chefs. Chefs could pre-order produce, which would be packed into boxes on Saturdays so they could just swing by and pick up their bounty at the farmers market to use in their kitchens. Davis reports that he has 13 farms interested in such a program, including Aichele Farms, Crafton Farms, Pat-N-Tam’s and Schreiber Farms.
Re-located to its original roots in downtown Kennewick, the Historic Kennewick Farmers Market is one of two local farmers markets besides the Pasco Farmers Market to accommodate state welfare recipients with its Fresh Bucks program to get as much fresh produce into the hands of low-income individuals and the elderly as possible. If you qualify for Fresh Bucks, for every $5 spent with Fresh Bucks, you get an additional $2 so $7 total to spend on more fresh herbs and produce. Though about half the size of the Richland Market at the Parkway, there’s something to be said for staying close to its roots by offering pretty much just awesome, wonderful produce without a lot of fanfare. Simply, literally, it’s farm to table.
[panel title="About Marilou Shea:" style="info"]
Marilou Shea is the director of the food incubator Pasco Specialty Kitchen, creator of Food Truck Friday and Mobile Vending University and board advisor at the Washington State Food Truck Association.
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