Local farmers, local foods: Sampling excellent treats

Posted on June 9, 2011

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I had forgotten–I forget everything–that the Elk Rapids Farmers Market was beginning last week. Fortunately the farmers remembered, and there they were, the early birds who have things to sell at the beginning of the Food Season. Luckily I was passing by.

I talked to Carolyn Royal, who had quantities of herbs from her Sage Meadow Farm, and her friend Phyllis Wells from the Wells Family Farm CSA, who sold out of lettuces. (That’s Carolyn on the right and Phyllis on the left.)

Carolyn teaches all kinds of herb classes, including one on medicinal uses. (Steep fresh echinacea leaves in vodka to make a tincture that clobbers viruses and eases sore throat. Make tea from valerian leaves to soothe anxiety.) I’m going to visit Sage Meadow Farm to interview her and we’ll have a whole story, shall we? And then along about November we’re going to talk to Phyllis and Mike Wells about cold storage. Lots to look forward to.

One of the great joys of the Farmers Markets around here would be the samples. On offer last Friday in cunning little containers:

Yogurt smoothies from Shetler’s. They come in nice glass bottles with a $2 deposit on them, just like all the other products from the family dairy.

Morsels of gluten free pot pies and pasties and lemon bars from Dennett’s Farm.

Piping hot slices of spicy brats on toothpicks from Gallagher’s Centennial Farm. Those were just the thing to take the chill off the morning. That’s Joanne Gallagher dispensing those lovely samples.

Wine jellies from Gayle Gallagher’s Stone Cottage. Here, try a bit on a cracker. Go back and get another little slice of brat from Joanne. Yup. Nice combination. You will notice that the jelly labels say “Made in a home kitchen not inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture.” That is because the jellies were made (in Gayle’s nice clean kitchen) under the Michigan Cottage Food Law. It’s complicated, like all food regulations, but in brief it allows individuals to sell homemade products like baked goods and jams directly to the public on a small scale.

Gayle’s husband Joe was tending a booth for their cousins, Chris and Pennie Halpin. Over in Kaleva, at The Land of Goshen, the Halpins milk their goats by hand, make exquisite cheese, and gather eggs from cage-free hens. They have quail and ducks and geese too. I don’t believe I’d ever seen quail eggs before. The goat cheese was very, very good.

I came home with a little container of that goat cheese, with sun-dried tomato mixed in. I bought a package of Joanne Gallagher’s brats, some delicate lettuce from Wells Family Farm, a bottle of Shetler’s raspberry yogurt smoothie, and, um, a small package of trail mix. Ben McMurray mixes this up in his kitchen to raise money to support his Ironman Triathlete training.

All of these people will be back tomorrow, and the Friday after that, all summer long. Most of them are listed in the latest edition of Taste the Local Difference, an admirable publication by the Michigan Land Use Institute.

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