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P. Allen Smith: Local Flavor

From farmers markets and you-pick farms to restaurants serving up dishes featuring local food, eating locally not only makes it easy to enjoy seasonal fare, but you’re also supporting small farms and the area economy by doing so.

With more than 50 farmers markets located around the state, eating locally continues to get easier, and there are so many great reasons to shop at your local farmers market! For one, I can find unique varieties of fruits and vegetables such as Indian peaches, ‘Silver Queen’ corn, rattlesnake beans and ‘Sugar Baby’ watermelons. I love the selection of potatoes available — ‘Yukon Gold’, ‘All Blue’ and some of those delicious fingerlings to name a few.

I often create my meal plans based on what is available from my garden or the farmers market. There is something about eating food that is in season that makes me feel more in tune with nature. Call me crazy, but an apple in May just isn’t as good as a fresh-picked apple in October. Of course, there’s more to the farmers market than fruits and vegetables; patrons will also find fresh eggs, homemade bread, honey and jams … even fresh-cut flowers and handmade soaps.

Shopping at the farmers market is also a community event. I feel more connected to my neighborhood after having spent the morning browsing through the open-air displays. I have the chance to visit with friends and neighbors and build relationships with the farmers. This way I know as much about how the food is produced as if I had grown it in my own vegetable garden.

This brings me to the larger issue to consider — supporting local farmers. I feel it is important to send my food dollars toward these people with whom I have built relationships over the years. This is my vote of confidence for family-owned, self-sustaining farms. By literally “putting my money where my mouth is” I help support my local economy.

Community supported agriculture programs, commonly referred to as CSAs, are another great way to eat locally. The idea behind a CSA is that individuals can purchase “shares” — usually a weekly or monthly box of produce, eggs, bread, meat and the like — that are paid for up front, which helps support the cost of operating the farm.

Although you don’t get to choose the exact contents of your regular CSA package, there are usually basic guidelines, such as a certain amount of fruits, vegetables, homemade and/or prepared foods like bread and pasta, and even meats and eggs. The benefits include having the opportunity to try new seasonal produce, eating fresh and, of course, supporting the area farmers.

I once asked a third grader where peaches came from, and he responded, “A can.” Having grown up in a time and place where everyone knew a farmer, I was more than a little surprised by the answer. This is why I’m glad to see a resurgence of you-pick farms popping up close to urban areas. Now there are new opportunities for people, especially kids, to harvest what they eat and learn about the benefits of eating local.

A you-pick farm is just what it sounds like: small farms where you can pick and take home produce. Some farms specialize in one or two items, such as peaches or blueberries, while others offer multiple crops over the course of the growing season. In the spring, look for asparagus and strawberries; summer brings peaches, blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes and raspberries; and fall, pumpkins, figs and apples.

Many people will first experience the flavor and freshness of local food when dining at one of their favorite restaurants. What was once something of a novelty — meat from a local butcher, tomatoes from a nearby farm — has become a mainstay on menus across the nation, including here in Arkansas. By sourcing their meat and produce from area farmers, chefs and restaurant owners get the same benefit we do when we go to the farmers market — they know where their food comes from, and they know they’re serving fresh, seasonal fare.

Known to many as the garden-to-table movement, this is something we celebrate at Moss Mountain Farm. Twice a year, we invite chefs who are pioneers in their own local food movements to participate in the Tale of Two Farms. It’s an exciting time to see what chefs from around the country create with what we raise here on the farm, from fruits and vegetables to heritage poultry and lamb. This fall we’ll welcome Peter Hoffman, chef/owner of Manhattan’s Back Forty restaurant. Chef Hoffman creates simple and delicious meals with ingredients sourced from local farmers. I’m looking forward to what is sure to be a remarkable feast!

Twice a year at the Garden Home Retreat we celebrate garden to table fare with the Tale of Two Farms. We invite chefs who are pioneers in their own local food movements to create amazing dishes with what we raise on the farm, and it’s always a delicious experience!

The Tale of Two Farms Harvest Festival Oct. 22 will benefit the Heritage Poultry Conservancy and The Oxford American Magazine. For tickets or more information, visit PAllenSmith.com or email gardenhome@pallensmith.com.

You-Pick Farms

High Orchard, just outside of Cabot
Hidden Valley Farm, Little Rock
Mountain Home Berry Farm, Mountain Home
Collins Round Mountain, Orchard, Conway

Local Food Restaurants

Little Rock
Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel
Boulevard Bread Company
Brave New Restaurant
The Root

North Little Rock
Starving Artist Café

Hardin Farms Market Restaurant 
Eureka Springs
The Garden Bistro

Greenhouse Grille

The Green Bean


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