Farm to Table Conference

On Friday and Saturday of last week, Chef Monk and I traveled to Pittsburgh for the fifth annual Farm to Table Conference. More info here.

We attended several workshops and enjoyed food demonstrations by local food experts like Rhonda Schuldt, of Local Goodness, above, who taught us how to preserve food using methods other than canning.

Below are pictured of some of her cold pickling items from last summer’s garden. She was full of great ideas, and her enthusiastic presentation was fun.

At all the demonstrations, the audience was encouraged to line up for samples.

We toured the exhibit hall a couple of times, as there was a lot to take in. There were many farms offering early greens, eggs, milk and other products to introduce their CSA’s. The Women In Agriculture, PASA, Weston A. Price Foundation and many other local food and sustainable agriculture groups handed out information. I love the Edible magazines, wherever I find them, and was delighted to find Edible Allegheny there handing out copies of the magazine.

Sally Fallon was there signing copies of her book,” Nourishing Traditions.” I attending her lengthy lecture on the work of Dr. Westin Price, and she makes a compelling case for the 11 fundamentals of the traditional diets he studied. She is pretty convinced that raw milk and grass-fed meat should be part of every healthy person’s diet. As a strict vegetarian, this was an interesting course for me to take…I actually attended her eight-hour seminar a few years ago with some Amish friends, and knew that she really presents a fascinating lecture and point of view. As I am now much more informed on all aspects of nutrition, and as a mostly vegan eater, I was curious about the information as it relates to other current research. I did ask her what she thought about the question: why are humans the only mammals to drink the milk of another mammal as a primary source of nutrition after infancy, and what are the health implications of this practice? Her answer was that humans are also the only mammal to wear shoes and to live in houses, and cats and dogs both will lap up cow’s milk gladly if given it, and therefore we should infer that cow’s milk is ok for everyone to drink. As cats will also lap up antifreeze if allowed to, and dogs will eat just about anything, I was not satisfied with that unscientific answer, but time did not allow for a broader debate and I agree with her that if one is going to eat and drink dairy products, the better wisdom is to get local, organic and raw products whenever possible. I am sure there will be comments and other posts about this subject as the blog grows older.

This demonstration about using plant-based nutrition to fight cancer and other diseases was very well attended. The presenter, Leah Lizarondo Shannon, of The Cancer Project, had a vast table of veggies and fruits and juicers and the crowd was very eager to partake of all her nourishing offerings.

Chef Monk and a really cute baby listen to the presentation.

Friday evening the atrium area was transformed into a smorgasbord of local food, beer, wine, chocolate, desserts, honey, coffee…the fast flowing Allegheny River was just underneath us as we milled around the event. One of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants, Quiet Storm, a vegetarian/vegan cafe, was there, and I circled back to there a couple of times for some delicious quesadillas and black bean dip. The raw nut balls in coconut were simply divine. Chef Monk enjoyed several pâtés, a round of Thai soup, and some BBQ. He sampled a local beer, and we both checked out the amazing dessert stations. I really enjoyed the lemon-basil soy ice cream.

Chef Monk checked out the baklava. There were six different kinds, and all of them were delicious, and dripping with local honey.

On Saturday morning, I attended the networking breakfast, and had the good fortune of sitting down next to these wonderful new friends.

Ray and Haylee live in the southwest corner of the state, tend extensive raised-bed gardens to can their own food, and have many chickens. There are new chicks with a brood hen right now, and Ray installed a webcam in the brood house so they could check in on the babies by Iphone. Our world is an amazing place. Haylee told me about learning to butcher her own fowl, and how raising the flock has brought deep meaning to their food. They have observed fascinating behavior among their rooster and his “ladies”, and as many chicken owners report, they love to just sit in a lawn chair and watch the chickens to relax at the end of the day. They know that their chickens live a very good life, and then have one bad day – butchering day. She spoke so earnestly of the shift in her own thinking that has come as a result of taking on the responsibility of feeding themselves as much as possible, and how having the chickens has opened up a new part of their lives. They get fresh milk from the farmer down the road. They are living a local food life. I so enjoyed meeting these wonderful people and we will surely keep in touch.

After some more Saturday sessions, Chef Monk and I headed out to a local eatery to assess the impact the conference will have on our business. We stumbled upon a fabulous restaurant in the Strip district called KAYA, and the happy reggae music and menu offering posted outside drew us in. As I was exclaiming about how good the veggie burger sounded, some happy customers spilled out of the threshold and reported that it was indeed yummy. Served on an enormous platter with THE. BEST. EVER. sweet potato fries, the giant veggie burger did not disappoint. Stuffed with cheese and overlaid with a sunny-side up local and organic egg, and avocado, even the vegan part of me enjoyed every messy mouthful. Thankful for the oversized cloth napkin, I don’t think I made too much a fool of myself. Mr. Monk had a big burger, too, and reported that he was into every bite. He takes hot sauce with his order, so was happy when the cosmo-polit-man bartender returned with a delicious offering that was not tobasco sauce. We both enjoyed a cold draft beer, and generally agreed that we had a very productive and delicious encounter with local western Pennsylvania food.

This little guy was having an encounter with local food, too!

The Sustainable Kitchen has one more conference road trip planned for April, so check back in to find out where the big new food truck is headed.

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