Triangle chefs take farm to fork to picnic

jwise@newsobserver.comJune 9, 2013 

— Zane Sosna of Raleigh liked the short ribs with cream cheese but wasn’t sure what all else he’d had to eat Sunday afternoon.

“I don’t even know. My wife was putting it in front of me,” Sosna said.

Lori Foote of Durham liked what she had, too.

“Since it’s hot, this ginger gelato is really tasty,” Foote said.

Sosna and Foote were among about 650 patrons who spent several hours in an Orange County field, sampling food that was different, in some ways exotic, and exclusively local at the 2013 Farm to Fork Picnic.

It is an annual fete for what might be thought of as the home-grown and the home-cooked.

“It’s a celebration of our vibrant, thriving local food scene,” said J.J. Richardson, spokeswoman for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems of N.C. State and N.C. A&T universities. “And one to highlight the tremendous economic potential that local foods represent.”

The picnic paired up 34 farms from Wake to Randolph counties with 34 Triangle-area professional chefs to come up with something special for the occasion. Such as:

• Early-summer crostini and smoked-turkey sausage with quick-pickled fennel, by Peregrine Farm of Alamance County and Nana’s restaurant of Durham.

• A cold soup of fresh kale, chard, spinach and parsley with apple cider, by Good Heart Farm of Clayton and Raleigh’s Irregardless Cafe.

• Beef heart gyros with sprouted wheat pita, goat milk tzadziki, pea shoot, fermented radish and a baby arugula salad, by Bushy Tail Farm and The Eddy Pub, both of Saxapahaw.

• A pork hot dog in potato batter with vegetable dips and sauces, by Fickle Creek Farm of Efland and Panciuto of Hillsborough.

• Sweet-potato cake doughnuts with mint-cream filling, sorghum glaze and country ham, by Seeds and Rise Biscuits & Donuts of Durham;

• Escarole and white-bean crostini with feta and balsamic syrup, by Harland’s Creek Farm of Pittsboro and the Chapel Hill Country Club.

Not all chefs’ ingredients came from the paired farms, but all had local pedigrees: feta from the Hillsborough Cheese Co., or smoked bluefish from the Walking Fish co-op on Cedar Island, a regular supplier for Sage & Swift restaurant. Besides the farm-chef pairs, there were 13 “local-food artisans” with samples of their cheeses, breads, jams, peanut butters and chocolate preparations.

“We’re food preservationists,” said Mark Overbay, whose Big Spoon Roasters in Durham produces nut butters in atypical varieties: peanut-pecan, peanut-almond, peanut-cashew – even a “chai spice” blend he invented to give as favors at his wedding.

The “preservation” part comes in using local ingredients and traditional processing, said Overby, who was spreading sample on bread by Bread@Norton. Next to him were Hal Parson and Danielle Centano of Raleigh’s Escazu Artisan Chocolates, who were serving a cold chocolate drink made according to a Spanish recipe from 1631.

“This event is one of the premier farm-to-food events in North Carolina,” said Steve Tate, who runs the Goat Lady Dairy in Randolph County with his wife, Lee. Being in the local-food-conscious Triangle, “You get the very best vendors, the very best farmers and the very best customers,” he said.

Those customers pay $50 to $100 for tickets, for which they get all-you-can-eat sampling with proceeds going to the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the Breeze Farm Enterprise Incubator operated by Orange County. Both programs serve “folks who want to get into farming,” said Richardson, the CEFS spokeswoman.

“We’re drawing attention to local agriculture as an economic driver,” Richardson said, giving aspiring farmers skill training and access to land “to try it out and see if farming is for them.”

CEFS Director Nancy Creamer said there has been a resurgence of interest in farm careers in the past few years, largely among people who don’t have farming backgrounds. At the same time, the existing agricultural population is aging out – the average North Carolina farmer is 59.

Thus, there is a need to train a new generation to keep up a major industry and to feed the growing appetite for local, fresh farm produce and products.

Bringing attention to that is one reason for the picnic, Richardson said.

“It’s a really nice way to sample the local foods,” said Wayne Marshall of Cambridge, Mass. “I’ve never been to anything like quite this.”

He and Rebecca Nesson and their two children were visiting a relative in Burlington.

“She brought us along and it’s awesome,” said Nesson. “My favorite thing was the goat sliders from somebody over there. Those were amazing.”

They like the McRitchie Winery’s cider, too.

“We were just interrogating them about their cider. It’s delicious. We’re trying to make some cider, and they’re doing a good job of it,” Marshall said.

“Our kids are enjoying all the ice creams and gelatos and things. It’s nice it’s so friendly and open for kids,” said Nesson.

“It’s clearly – I don’t know – ” said Marshall.

“Vibrant,” Nesson said.

“Yeah,” said Marshall.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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