Last month I spoke at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle with a great group of women all dedicated to local food. Audra Gaines Mulkern, the creator of The Female Farmer Project and the Oxbow box project, Greta Hardin, author of “Cooking Your Local Produce: A Cookbook for Tackling Farmers Markets, CSA Boxes, and Your Own Backyard”, and Megan Boyce Jacobs, one of the Directors at Oxbow Center and Organic Farm. We had a great time talking about food and farming before the official speaking began, I really enjoyed the passion that all of these women brought to the table hoping to inspire people to eat locally grown and raised food but more importantly on this day to try to inspire bloggers to write about eating local food. Our topic was Cooking Backwards, a concept both Greta and I wrote about when we took part in the Oxbow box project ( My blog post for this project is titled Eating locally grown food will make your stronger, smarter, more beautiful, and possibly funnier. Two posts back if you haven’t read it). Cooking without a recipe, cooking intuitively, cooking in season, all of these topics were a part of our conversation. I wish I had a transcript of all 4 speakers because we worked together to make a informative plea to this audience that cooking with local ingredients is not hard and not fussy, its everyday food that nourishes both you and your community.
Personally the conference helped me realize how much more I want to reach out to our CSA members, and farmers market customers, really anyone who is interested in listening and create more conversations about the food we raise and how we all are cooking it. People have a wealth of knowledge that they don’t really think about, but when you put all of that knowledge together there is endless possibilities of how we can help one another. Our good friends and loyal Green Bow Farm customers, Erin and Scott came up with this idea of people sharing their food evolution. It’s still in the works but I would like to find a way to have people share their story about their relationship to food and how it has evolved over time. Sometimes it can happen because you start a family, a serious health concern, or you read about factory farming practices. For a lot people there is a moment where the food on their plate and how it effects them and the environment starts to play a role in what kind of consumers they are, and its usually anything but passive. Over and over again we have had people tell us at the market that they can’t buy one of our pasture raised chickens because they have never cooked a whole chicken. So we have worked diligently to educate people about easy ways to cook a whole chicken and make it an everyday food. Or to talk to them about how to make one chicken into 2 or 3 meals. So I have been starting a dialogue with our CSA member asking them to send me pictures and recipes of what they make with their box of grass fed meats and sharing it on social media with the people that follow our farm. It has been great getting so much feedback and hearing from people who are as excited about the food we raise as we are. So here is a transcript of my talk at the IFBC, I hope you enjoy and I would love to hear from you if you have a food evolution to share.
“Hello Bloggers. First I would like to thank Audra for inviting me to speak here today and also for the opportunity to take part in the oxbow box project. Both of these things have helped me solidify why local food is important to me but more importantly why it should be important to you. I may be a little biased, I’m a farmer. My husband and I raise chickens, ducks, turkeys, sheep, and cattle on pasture in a way that we feel is giving back to the land and creating healthy soil. We sell our eggs, grass-fed meats, heirloom tomatoes, and honey at farmers markets, to our csa members, or right off the farm when people come to visit. We get to meet pretty much everyone we are raising food for, so there is nothing anonymous about the work we do. It also happens to be one of our job perks. We get to talk to people face to face about how we raise our animals, why we do what we do, and teach people how to cook the food they are buying from us.
The oxbow box challenge appealed to me because its a box of veggies you pick up and you have no say in what goes into it, because the farmer has decided all of that. Oxbow farm invites bloggers to take one of these boxes and write about the food that they make with it. I had all sorts of grand plans about writing several brilliant recipes and taking gorgeous pictures of the meals I made. The thing is– I don’t cook like that. Not only am I a full time farmer, but I am also a mother to three small boys under 7 years old. My days are full of farm chores, keeping up with my very active kids, office work, planning farm projects with my husband Matthew, changing diapers, and washing eggs, lots and lots of eggs, so there isn’t a lot of time for meal planning most days. Everything is done on the fly. So, unintentionally, I have learned to cook more intuitively by looking at what’s in the fridge, pantry, or garden and throwing together whatever we have for a meal. So instead of writing recipes, I just documented what I ended up making that week. However, I also wanted to take the challenge up a notch. I wanted to try to make 10 meals for around 100 bucks for our family of 5. So I added to the box of veggies one of our pasture raised chickens, a couple dozen eggs, a few things from our favorite farmers market vendors, pantry staples like grains and yogurt and made the 10 meals with only these ingredients.
One of the complaints I hear all the time about eating local and sustainably raised food is that its too expensive and its too time consuming to make meals from scratch. I would like to dispel this myth because I think with a little practice, cooking simple healthy meals for our families is obtainable for everyone.
It seems like a daunting task, but it’s how our family cooks, all the time. We are new farmers, and one of the biggest lessons we have learned is how much work goes into growing and raising food, so we try our hardest not to let anything go to waste. I started the Oxbow Box week off with a quick veggie scramble, sauteing torpedo onions and dinosaur kale in butter and then throwing in a generous amount of dill and sharp cheddar cheese. It was nothing special, not a very photogenic meal but it was quick and easy to make with no complaints from the boys, which these days is how I judge if a meal is successful.
The next couple of meals are what really set us up for the week. I took most of the dill that was left and made a large amount of dill yogurt dressing, adding some garlic, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper. That was the dressing for the smoked salmon salad we had with one of the most gorgeous heads of red bib lettuce I’ve ever seen, but the dressing was also used in three other meals that week and also used to just dip veggies in for a snacks. The next meal was a butterflied chicken that was smothered in butter and fennel fronds, and roasted on top of a bed of fennel and onions. I took the backbone and neck and started making a large pot of broth that was then used in two more meals that week. The chicken was mostly eaten that night with a big salad and homemade croutons I make with the ends of our loaves of bread, and I took what was left of the chicken meat and made a pasta dish with it. After all that, there was something left that in a lot of kitchens might get tossed out, but I think it is one of the best parts–the fat. The chicken had been covered in butter and fennel fronds and was slow roasted, so what was left at the bottom of the pan was pure gold. A mix of rendered chicken fat and butter with bits of roasted veggies stuck to the bottom. I scraped up every bit I could and saved it in the fridge not knowing what I was going to do with it. It ended up being the base for one of the tastiest frittatas I’ve ever made. You’re probably starting to see where I’m going with this and the importance I place on using up every bit of food you can. It not only saves you time and money, but you get to be creative with your food on a daily basis AND have fun doing it. Most of the time.
Local food and the Farm to Table movement is often associated with beautifully prepared food cooked in beautiful settings, but really its not all that precious. It’s the food that most people cook everyday to nourish their families and themselves. They have a limited amount of time and if they choose to spend it cooking, they are most likely looking for the freshest and tastiest ingredients they can find and it doesn’t get any fresher or tastier than cooking with local food. Cooking this way is not a new idea and there are probably tons of people out there that are doing this, just not that many people talking about it.
This kind of cooking is not always sexy, photo worthy, or even successful-I have to expect that things will sometimes not turn out the way I planned or sometimes be a total flop. Being a farmer, especially a new farmer, I have come to expect and sometimes even appreciate the uncertainty of success. When you’re a farmer you have no control over the weather, how the animals are going to behave, when they birth, whether anyone will show up to the markets to buy food you have worked so hard to raise, or if you will have the funds you need to get the next season off the ground. You just have to show up everyday and make the most of what you have. We trust our instincts and learn from our mistakes day after day.
In both farming and cooking it all goes back to my favorite Arthur Ashe quote “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” “