Locally Yours: Local farmers deserve spotlight as much as top chefs

By: Carol Arnold
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Why don’t we ever see a television show called “America’s Top Farmers” or “Food Network’s Next New Farmer?” In this country we seem to have elevated the chef to star status, but we have left the guy who grew the food off of the podium. Of course I love and appreciate chefs and what they do with the food they are handed, but after spending 18 months with farmers I realize that what they do is nothing short of miraculous. Just last Saturday I spoke with Frances Thompson from Twin Brooks Farm about the fact that he has fewer watermelons because a flock of wild turkeys got into the watermelon. Claudia and J.R. Smith from Blossom Hill have been fighting to keep deer from their melon patch. Dan Macon’s Flying Mule Farm sheep get out and Bob Sorenson from Coffee Pot Ranch is struggling to find a reliable butcher. Bob Edwards of Highland Farms can’t plant greens because he is struggling with toxic run-off into a creek that runs through his farm. Water prices are sky high. The struggles are too numerous to mention but you get the idea. It is a miracle there is any locally produced food at all. And that is the simple truth. It is a miracle that we have farmers and ranchers in our community who are willing to risk the challenges posed by weather, drought, animals, and, most of all, by humans, to produce fresh-picked, flavorful, food for us season after season. So cheers to our celebrity farmers. The next time you talk to one at the farmers’ market, please say thank you! This column marks the beginning of the end of summer. Last Saturday I asked the farmers and other vendors at the market about their favorite summer recipes and meals. It was a very instructive process. If you want to know more about eating seasonally, talk to a farmer. Frances Thompson ate a half a watermelon for lunch the other day. Several farmers eat tomatoes like they are apples. One farmer, Ginger Armstrong from Snowy Peaks, enjoys locally grown tomatoes for three months and then doesn’t eat them at all for nine months; she won’t buy them from the grocery store. Almost all of the farmers listed watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches and sweet corn as the foods that say “summer” to them. We will have tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet corn at the market through September. Peaches are week to week and we are nearing the end of watermelon season. Even as we say good-bye to the bounty of summer, the apples are ripening and the mandarins are waiting for those cold fall nights to turn from green to orange. The following are a few of the farmer’s favorite recipes. There were several themes in the types of foods that they eat during the summer. Most were not cooked, most provided quick energy, and most were very light. You can find the ingredients for these recipes at your local Farmers’ Market, held 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at the jury parking lot, and 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays at DeWitt Center. Carol Arnold is the general manager of the Foothill Farmers’ Market Association. She can be reached at Village Salad (from Boorinakis-Harper Farm) 4 or 5 firm ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks 1 large cucumber, sliced 2 red, yellow, red or green peppers, diced 1 small red onion, sliced 16-20 Greek olives 1/3 lb. feta cheese, crumbled 1/4 cup each olive oil and red wine vinegar (use less vinegar if you like a milder dressing) Salt, pepper and dried oregano, to taste Layer vegetables in a large bowl. Top with olives and feta. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar over, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oregano to taste. Toss and serve. Farmer’s Plowman Lunch (from Jim Muck, Jim’s Produce) 2 pieces whole grain bread, toasted 1 clove of fresh garlic, cut in half 1 tomato, sliced thickly Olive oil Salt and pepper Rub the toast with garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Layer tomatoes on toast. Salt and pepper to taste. Cut in half and enjoy. Ron’s Squash and Onion Sauté (from Four C Sons Farm) 1 Walla Walla onion, sliced thinly 6 summer squash, such as zucchini, sliced thinly 1 tablespoon butter Layer squash and onion in a large frying pan. Dot with butter. Cook slowly on low heat until onion and squash are translucent. Do not allow vegetables to brown. Tomato Onion Tart (from Ueki Gardens) For 8-inch pan 1 recipe pie crust (Bob Roan uses the Betty Crocker Recipe) 1 large sweet onion, sliced thinly 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 2 teaspoons butter 1 basket large cherry tomatoes, halved 6 oz grated mozzarella cheese, divided use (or any other cheese you have on hand) Pre-bake pie crust for 8 minutes at 450 degrees. Use butter to sauté/caramelize onions. Add vinegar to the onions during the last few minutes of cooking. You can also add additional veggies, if you like. Spread two-thirds of the cheese in the bottom of the pie crust. Place caramelized onion mixture on top of the cheese. Lay sliced tomatoes, cut side up, over the onions. Top with remaining cheese. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees.