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Farm to Table conference kicks off ‘Buy Local’ campaign

April 14, 2018
Lettuce and Swiss chard growing in vertical channels at Hillside Orchards in Mt. Pleasant Township.

Erin Hart, executive director of Farm to Table Western PA, is on a mission to expand efforts to link Western Pennsylvania consumers to the best sources for healthy foods and healthy lifestyle choices.

At the 12th annual conference April 14-15 at David L. Lawrence Convention Center, “Buy Local” is not only the weekend theme, it’s also the mantra for a year long initiative that celebrates the connections made by supporting local farms, food producers, wineries, distilleries and breweries.

The kickoff celebration this weekend will feature exhibitors, speakers, cooking and gardening demonstrations, food and spirits tastings and an optional Sunday brunch.

Farm to Table’s “Buy Local” campaign will extend beyond the conference to focus on regional farms and businesses and improving healthy food access to underserved communities.

“Consumers are looking for healthy food or convenient food,” Hart says. “We would like to build an intersection so that all Western Pennsylvanians can have food that is both healthy and convenient, regardless of their zip code or income. Our expanded role will include promoting ‘Buy Local’ throughout the entire 29 counties of Western Pennsylvania.

“In addition, we are working with innovative organizations such as 412 Food Rescue, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh and Black Urban Gardeners who are addressing food deserts, food rescue and workforce development.”

Diverse exhibitor line-up

Exhibitors will come from throughout the region.

Frankferd Farms

Jeremy Ferderber, vice president of sales for Frankferd Farms Foods Inc., Saxonburg, is one of the conference exhibitors. He will be offering samples and selling products such as pancake mix, granola, cornbread and/or scones from the family’s organic farm in Middlesex Township.

“Supporting local businesses is an obvious good thing for local economies,” he says, “but beyond that, it’s important to know and understand where our food comes from, so that we can make more educated choices in the foods we eat and feed our families and customers. In a world where nearly every industry is utilizing more and more online purchasing, the disconnect between people and what we consume is ever-growing.”

Eat the Butter

Jenni Calihan of Fox Chapel will be sharing details of her Eat the Butter nonprofit, which advocates for “vintage eating” — simple, whole-ingredient foods rather than processed food products made from flour, sugar and refined vegetable oils “that many experts believe contribute to modern chronic diseases.”

“Getting back to real food not only keeps us healthy, it keeps more of our food dollars with local farmers rather than out-of-state food processors, which is good for Pennsylvania,” says Calihan, who will have copies of her cookbook, “Dinner Plans: Easy Vintage Meals,” for sale.

Hillside Orchard

Jason Pavlocak, owner of Hillside Orchards, Mt. Pleasant, will have a selection of micro greens, including sunflower, peas, cress, broccoli and kale, as well as “living lettuce” from his aquaponic greenhouse, fresh basil, mint, chives and wheat grass available for purchase.

“As a local grower, it is great to be able to provide healthy foods to our communities,” he says. “It is important to know where your food comes from and how it is grown.”

Food grown in Hillside Orchards’ aquaponic system is not sprayed with pesticides and no chemical fertilizers are used to supply nutrients to the plants, Pavlocak says. “It’s a closed greenhouse ecosystem in which we feed the fish, the fish feed the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. It’s 97 percent water efficient and all components are able to be used over and over again, making it very environmentally friendly.”

He says support for local farms is important in creating jobs, and “as we gain customer base and can provide year-round supply of lettuce, vegetables, herbs and micro greens, we will need additional delivery drivers, greenhouse employees and sales staff to manage the products.”

Kingview Mead

Scott Neeley, owner and head winemaker at KingView Mead, Pleasant Hills, was a new Farm to Table participant in 2016. He says his business has grown more than 100 percent since then and he will be featuring his award-winning mead (honey wine), wine and hard cider.

“Especially for mead and our use of honey, there is a direct impact (of the Buy Local movement) to everyone around us,” he says. “As we support local beekeepers through donations and purchasing honey, those same bee hives pollinate all of the gardens and farms around Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania creating more food and beauty. We like to say ‘Drink for a Reason, Save the World’ and we want to start that here.”

Speakers

Among the lineup of speakers will be:

• Dr. Ilona Berkoben, of IHB Consulting LLC, Lower Burrell, “Food Quality & Organics.” Her presentation will focus on links between chronic diseases and diet, quality of our food, inflammation, prescription to achieve optimal health, and why eating locally grown food is important. “Basically my message is hope,” she says. “I want people to realize there are different possibilities available and regardless of the situation we are in, we can change it.”

• Dr. Monika Juszcyk, of Dr. Monika Functional Medicine and Ageless Living, Saxonburg, “Subtle But Strong: Keys to Lasting Energy and Vibrant Health.” She will discuss the process of inflammation, insulin dysregulation as a main culprit of chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s, dementia and cancer, and less stress as a practical tool for healing and transformation.

• Joe Beaman, director, Food Services, Deer Lakes School District, “Bringing Local Food to Your School: From Philosophy to Practice.”

New conference events

Expanded children’s programs include a kids cooking class with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, a local food challenge with American HealthCare Group, “Hip Hop and Grow” with Fresh Camp, and paper pot-making class with North Hills Community Outreach.

A new Sunday brunch from 9 to 11 a.m. April 15 is sold separately from conference registration and will feature vendors, tastings and demos.

Last Call Happy Hour on April 14 will showcase local distillers, wineries and breweries and “tasty bites” from food vendors. More than 5,000 people attended last year’s two-day event.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.