Alex Jones, Farmstand Product Manager Last week, I had the good fortune to spend some time with my and my partner's families in Vermont (his) and Quebec (mine).
I was there for some much-needed chillaxing, but of course I also took the opportunity to observe (and taste) how food fits into the lives of our hosts. Seeking out local food is one of my favorite ways to experience a new place, and it's something to keep in mind as you travel to far-flung locales this summer.
I brought a little Philly up north in the form of a few treats from my preserving stash plus some goodies from Fair Food's pantry section. Our aunts are a healthy bunch, so I chose Simply Ghee, Soom Foods Tahini, and a squeezy bear full of Two Gander Farm's Buckwheat Honey. For a potluck offering, I packed wedges of Doe Run Farm's Seven Sisters, Yellow Springs' Fieldstone, Birchrun Hills' Blue, and Clover Creek's Mature Cheddar. Paired with apricot preserves and a batch of pickles I spiced up with Homesweet Homegrown's Smoked Habanero Peppers, the platter came in handy while we waited for the grill to warm up.
As life-affirming as vacations can be, my experiences up north reminded me how lucky we are in Philly to have local, sustainable food at our fingertips with a bustling farmers' market scene and several co-ops and natural food stores. But much of the local food I ate on my trip was homegrown rather than sourced from a retailer.
We were staying in rural areas, where homes are on big lots between miles of grazing pasture or corn and soybean fields, and just about everybody has a vegetable garden that dwarfs my 5'x10' community plot and a chest freezer in which to store the harvest. In rural Quebec, where my mom's family is from, your choices for fruits and vegetables are sad grocery store produce or your own garden. If you have the time and inclination, the choice is clear.
Gardens and farms were in full flush, as they are here in Pennsylvania: We picked beans on a family friend's farm on Lake Champlain and not one but two of my aunts sent me home with handfuls of freshly pulled garlic bulbs. Another gave me a bottle of her homemade blackcurrant wine, and yet another insisted on bringing over a loaf of homemade bread instead of the store-bought loaf we had brought for breakfast (I have a big family with serious homesteading tendencies). Local food was abundant, but it was the kind of stuff that couldn't be bought -- especially appealing when the nearest supermarket is a 15-30 minute drive away.
There are a few excellent food artisans in their area: We bought farmstead cheese at Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser, a successful Swiss-inspired cheesemaker who's employed cousins of mine at his counter for going on two decades, and picked up honey-garlic sausages at Charcuterie Frick, a butcher selling German-style pork sausages (made and smoked locally, at least).
One thing we noticed on our travels: Pennsylvania peaches were at every co-op and natural foods store we went to in Vermont, and even after a few hundred miles of transit, they were delicious. Back at my desk on Monday, missing cool nights and lakes and mountains, I ate juicy donut peaches from the Farmstand to cheer myself up.
When travelers come to Philly, a stop they're likely to make is Reading Terminal Market -- and amid the ice cream and cheesesteaks, our Farmstand is there to introduce newcomers to our region's local food community and agricultural bounty. Exploring that community is my favorite way to get to know a new place, and I hope Fair Food marks the start of that journey for many of our city's visitors.