What A Saturday! Ongoing and New Kentucky Food Delights

Early fall in Kentucky: sweet, crunchy, crisp as this Reed Valley Orchard caramel apple. On Saturday, October 5, 2013, both established and emerging Kentucky agriculture filled my day. And my mouth.

Established? Lexington Farmers Market (since 1975) and Reed Valley Orchard (celebrating 25 juicy tart-sweet years.) Emerging? Community Farm Alliance's first Beginning Farmer conference at Kentucky State University's Center for Sustainability of Farms and Families, and indoor aquaponics exemplar FoodChain's special Oktoberfest day (with West Sixth Brewing), raising money for a new fish baby nursery. Oh, and my first taste of FoodChain tilapia, cooked whole at Smithtown Seafood. Unforgettable.

The day began, as all great Saturdays do, at the 38-year old Lexington Farmers Market. I bought brisket from sixth generation Elmwood Stock Farm and shiitakes sold at long-time wonderful Blue Moon Farm.

This week the Market showcased peppers as far as the eye can see. The 2013 peppers helped inspire plans for a Taco-Tortilla version of Cornbread Supper. (Every Monday, 6 PM: you are always invited.)

Next, a 40 minute drive west on I-64 to check out the Beginning Farmers event. I pulled up next to a grove of pawpaws (Lewis and Clark liked them), a fruit native to Kentucky and of particular interest to Kentucky State. I opened the car door to a scent like tropical sweet wine: ripe pawpaw abundance.

Indoors, experienced farmers talked with new farmers and future farmers about record-keeping and capital, land access and retail vs. wholesale. "Best thing I've ever heard," one participant told me, about young Barr Farms farmer Adam Barr's session, "How Proper Record-Keeping Saved My Farm."

Good conferences connect good people. Here Bethany Pratt, new manager for the new Berea College Farm Store, meets Jim Mansfield of Four Hills Farm, acclaimed producer of superb New American Lamb (Katahdin, delicious.) Take note: Bethany wants to connect to more Kentucky farmers and food producers interested in selling at the new store. Contact her at 859.985.3685 for more information. Sidenote: Agriculture and food production at Berea College is both established and emerging. We may talk more about that some time.

All through the lovely overland drive on US 460 from Frankfort to Russell Cave Road (KY 353), I anticipated the taste of Reed Valley Orchard apples. I had never been to the Orchard's annual Country Festival, and had no idea what to expect. How about a crowd of hundreds, all the Reed Valleyians I love seeing at the Lexington Farmers Market, apples (forty-eleven choices) and pears (four kinds) as far as the eye can see, pumpkins, hand pies, cider, and more than 60 dulcimers, playing You Are My Sunshine, and My Old Kentucky Home—"the AAB form," with singalongs? So sweet it brought tears.

Savoring Kentucky has written about Reed Valley Orchard many times, including these three posts: Lessons from Apples, Reasons for Loving Reed Valley Orchard, and How Does All That Flavor Get Into That Apple???

We love this place and the people who work there. And, of course, it's a different kind of love, but among many apple favorites, we especially love Gold Rush apples, the long keepers. These late-ripening fruits not yet quite ready for picking, but here they come.

The light gray rain at Reed Valley Orchard morphed into a monsoon as I drove back to Lexington to visit a farm where the weather never changes. Just as decades-old orchards yield splendid fruit, so can indoor, water-based agriculture produce fish, green plants, herbs and micro-greens in a quick, constant, water- and energy-sparing cycle.

The FoodChain farm, located in a formerly decaying, empty commercial bread factory in Lexington, presents such a different notion of "farm" that even 60 dulcimers might not render it familiar. Yet this space, where fish feed plants and plants nurture fish, offers a new model for intensive Kentucky food production. Here farm manager Mims Russell explains the all-important scrubbies to FoodChain visitors, and a tour guide shows the strong roots the green plants develop in the nutrient-rich water in FoodChain's plant beds.

FoodChain inspires wonder, and has its own growing fan base. Saturday's purchases and donations went toward establishing a new fish hatchery. You can still help here.

What does FoodChain's tenderly raised tilapia taste like? Sweet, like Kentucky crappie in the spring, but with a better flesh-to-bone ratio. Tilapia can taste a bit muddy, earthy, brackish, and that was what I expected. Is it the green FoodChain plants' water-cleaning power that yields FoodChain tilapia's clean, fresh taste? Maybe I'll have to taste a few more to find out for sure....

Thank you to all the established and emerging farmers and food producers, the teachers and learners, the experimenters and the experienced food providers now at the top of your game. Thank you for an unforgettable Saturday.

Elmwood Stock Farm sponsors Savoring Kentucky. 

Rona RobertsComment