The New Albany Farmers Market

This afternoon Penny and I walked over to the initial New Albany Farmers Market.  The Market will be held between 4 and 7 p.m. every Thursday, from now until early September, in the Market Square area in front of the library.

The Market drew a good crowd and the farmers must have been doing a pretty brisk trade, because by the time we got there at around 6 p.m. some of the items were sold out.  We saw stands from many Ohio farming communities, including Hiram, Frazeyburg, and Fredericktown.  Items for sale included honey (with and without honeycombs), artisanal cheeses and meats, berries, ice cream, freshly baked breads (including gluten-free options), various kinds of vegetables, yogurt, sweet corn, and preserves.  The stands ran up and down both sides of the Market Square roadway, and it looked like organizers could squeeze in a few more if some other local farmers express interest.

I was tempted by some fresh goat cheese, but the varieties I asked for were sold out.  (The woman at the stand promised to have a bigger supply next week.)  Instead, I bought some Muenster cheese made from milk taken from 100% grass fed cows, and it is quite good.  If you live in the Columbus area and support the local sourcing of food, or if you just want to sample some freshly picked or home-cooked fare, the New Albany Farmers Market is well worth a visit.

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Artisanal Cheese And A Possible Future For Ohio Family Farms

The Kishmans have long owned family farms in the Vermilion area.  Kish’s Dad described himself as a “general farmer.”  He grew corn and soybeans, once kept a chicken coop, and tended to beef cattle because he loved being around animals.  The Kishmans were like many Ohio families who worked the land on property that had been in the family for generations.

Agriculture has always been a big part of the Ohio economy.  According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Ohio has more than 75,000 farms.  The vast majority of these  are family-owned operations, although some of the larger farms are owned by families through corporations.  The statistics also indicate that 2.7 percent of the farms in Ohio produce more than $500,000 in agricultural products.  Most farms, therefore, are smaller business operations. It is unclear how many of those farm involve “general farming,” as opposed to production of only a single crop.  And there are ongoing concerns about how those family farms are faring in an increasingly competitive where, in recent years at least, the credit that farmers need has become scarce and banks have been skittish about lending.

Recently I went to the North Market to buy some cheese and decided to buy an Ohio product.  The proprietor of the cheese stand at the Market recommended Blomma goat’s milk cheese produced by Lake Erie Creamery.  The cheese was extraordinarily good — and made me realize, yet again, that Ohio has a lot to offer, including great, locally sourced meats, cheeses, and produce for foodies and regular folks alike.

It turns out that Lake Erie Creamery is a husband and wife operation that produces artisanal goat’s milk cheese in Cleveland.  They purchase milk from a family farm in Portage County, make it into cheese in Cleveland, return the whey that is a byproduct of the cheese-making process to local farms for hog and chicken feed, and sell their cheeses locally.  Blomma is one of several excellent cheeses made by Lake Erie Creamery.

It’s a great story, and one that I imagine is duplicated elsewhere in Ohio.  It makes me wonder if the future of Ohio agriculture, in part, lies not in the general farming of the past, but in an artisanal approach where Ohio farmers — whose operations could easily be in urban areas, as is the case with Lake Erie Creamery — focus on growing or making one kind of food, be it cheeses, radishes, milk, beef, or blackberries, and make them the best products imaginable.  Americans have an appetite for high-quality food items and, as the booming “local-sourcing” movement indicates, they will pay a bit more for something that is fresh, high quality, and different.

I’d like to see the artisanal agriculture movement take off because it offers a model that will allow family farming, which has been such an important part of Ohio’s history and heritage, to continue.  And those family farm jobs can’t be moved overseas, either.

The Sweet Corn Season

Last night we visited Jeff at his house on Lake Mohawk, in Carroll County in the northeastern part of Ohio.  We had a fine home-cooked dinner that featured some fresh Ohio sweet corn, local grass-fed beef, just-picked blueberries from a nearby farm, and other tasty products of Ohio agriculture. Everything was excellent, but the sweet corn was especially spectacular.

We are in the midst of sweet corn season in Ohio.  I am not sure when it begins and when it ends, but July is prime time to buy a few ears of sweet corn at a roadside stand, prepare it at home as part of a cookout, and then munch the corn right off the cob, your teeth moving down the rows of kernels like a typewriter cartridge, with butter and salt dribbling on your chin.  The corn is so fresh that the kernels seem to snap off the cob, and so sweet that eating a few ears is like sneaking dessert into dinner. Ohioans proudly boast that their sweet corn is the best sweet corn in the country — and it is hard to believe that any sweet corn anywhere could be better.

Jeff also tipped us off to a new preparation method that we are going to have to try.  Traditionally, when you get the ears home you shuck the corn and spend a considerable amount of time carefully picking the silk off the sticky rows of corn kernels.  Then, you toss the corn into boiling water to cook.  Jeff’s method is to cut off the silk from the top of the ear, and then place the unshucked corn in the oven for cooking at about 350 degrees for twenty minutes or so.  When the ears are done, steam from the cooked ears has loosened the green sheathing and the silk and they supposedly slide right off.

Any technique that streamlines the eating of sweet corn is well worth learning.