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Farm to Fork: Food bloggers, local growers form mutual system of support

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Growing up, there was always a fresh bundle or collards or a small bin of pears, pecans, satsumas or figs on our table — and these were only the goodies from our yard and neighbors across the street. Our meals were prepared around whatever was harvested, and I try to continue that tradition with my family with our backyard garden. I also carry the value of looking out for my neighbors in tough times, and this year has been especially hard on small businesses and small farmers. Buying local allows me to pay it forward in more ways than one. When is the last time you shopped your local farmer’s market or produce stand BEFORE heading to the grocery store to grab your cooking essentials for the week?

The farmers’ markets of agriculture-rich, Southern Maryland are like many across the nation: powered by small and medium-sized family-owned farms and growers. The markets here are more than just a place to source fresh fruits and vegetables. They are the heart of the community — meeting spaces where relationships forged form an authentic ecosystem of mutual support that empowers everyone. Customers benefit with better quality food on the table. Small-scale farms, through direct sales and subscription options like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), earn the capital, support, and priceless word of mouth needed to grow their businesses.

Like many, I’ve spent the pandemic sharpening my culinary skills with the help of Tasty and YouTube videos, Instagram posts, and food blogs. Earlier this year, I came across a farm-to-fork Instagram post by a local Southern Maryland food blogger, Meg Gebreselassie. Meg’s blog, Omnienthusiast, has been a staple for me as I’m shopping local markets, stretching meals, and trying to minimize food waste from my own kitchen table.

Omnienthusiast recipes are built around locally grown, seasonal produce, pasture-raised meats and other value-added goods, always with a nod, tag or link to the farm families who produce it. I reached out to Meg to learn about her connection to the small farm community and why she intentionally uses her food blog as a platform to amplify their products.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by OMNI•ENTHUSIAST (@omnienthusiast)

“Previous nonprofit work on food and environment issues introduced me to the ‘Buy Local’ movement several years ago,” Meg said. “The possibility that all, or most, of the food on my dinner table could be sourced locally was a paradigm shift that stayed with me and evolved into what today is a meaningful way I get to connect with and support my community,”

This kind of organic word of mouth marketing is powerful. Studies show that more than 90 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. So when local influencers highlight the bounty of local farms through market hauls, cooking videos and recipes, they beckon new customers into the fold.

A new Omnienthusiast recipe for smothered pasture-raised pork chops with rosemary, wilted greens, roasted murasaki sweet potatoes, and onion micro greens is one of Meg’s appetizing creations — fancy and festive enough to upgrade any dinner table (full recipe at the bottom of this article). If you look close, you will see that she sourced three local, small farms for the ingredients: Pork chops from Bowling Green Farm; Red Tree Farmstead baby mustards, mizuna, arugula and purple sweet potatoes; onion microgreens from My Mustard Seed LLC.

rosemary-pork

The mutual benefit of having local, fresh products available through both farmer’s markets and subscription services is the inspiration for Meg’s food blog. Small consumers such as Meg are the backbone of many small farm operations. The reaction from these three farmers to the influencer, social media, and blogger marketing like Meg’s is positive and welcomed.

“Small consumer orders and local farmers’ markets are everything for us. It is essentially 100 percent of our business,” said Derek Turner of Bryantown, Maryland’s Bowling Green Farm. Derek along with wife Beth and children Ruby and Luke are raising heritage pork and chickens entirely on pasture and woodlands that have been in their family for 200 years.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Bowling Green Farm (@bowlinggreenfarm)

When Red Tree Farmstead, in Charles County, Maryland launched a bi-weekly delivery service to customers beyond Southern Maryland, Meg noted that several of her Omnienthusiast readers became new customers after repeatedly seeing her praise new generation farmers, Becky and Mark’s products, on her blog.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Rebecca Cecere Seward (@redtreefarmstead)

Woman-owned and minority-owned My Mustard Seed LLC is an organically grown microgreens operation in Southern Maryland.

Co-founder Tresor Thomas says, “The driving forces of our work are building a solid foundation for our family, providing fresh sustainable products and doing our part in healing the environment, the markets bridge the gap between local producers and the community and offers us a chance to engage with consumers on a more personable level. We believe this builds lasting relationships and trust that is not often obtainable through larger businesses.”

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by My Mustard Seed, LLC (@mymustardseedrefuge)

This year has been especially tough on small businesses and there is no end in sight. In about a month, we will wish away a year of social unrest and social-distancing and welcome in 2021 with hopes for restoration and relief. On Dec. 31, the impacts of COVID-19 will not disappear with the drop of a sparkling ball in New York’s Times Square, so taking care of our families, friends and neighbors will remain a priority in our communities. ‘Tis the season to Be Kind and Buy Local. Are you doing your part?

 

Savory Smothered Pork Chops w/ Wilted Greens and Sweet Potato

If you are a frequenter of farmers’ markets like me, you know that autumn gives us seasonal gifts of some of the most delicious greens and root vegetables — stuff you usually can’t find in supermarkets!

This dish pairs a tried and true recipe for smothered pork chops with creamy roasted murasaki sweet potatoes and quick wilted baby mustard greens and baby arugula!

The flavors on the plate is what makes this special — a triple dose of savory//spicy//sweet. The pork chop gravy, built with homemade bone broth, onion, thyme and rosemary + a little red wine elevates this to the best kind of comfort food. If you can’t find the purple-skinned murasaki sweet potatoes, orange sweet potatoes are a perfectly fine substitute.

Ingredients

– 4 Bone-in pork chops, about 1-inch thick
– 1/2 cup baking powder
– 3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
– 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
– 1/2 teaspoon + crushed red pepper
– 1/2 lemon
– 1/4 cup red wine (optional)
– 2 sprigs thyme
– 2 sprigs rosemary
– 1 sweet onion, sliced
– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 2 tablespoons flour
– 2 cups beef stock
– 2 cups tender baby mustard
– 1 cups tender baby arugula

Spice mix

– 1 teaspoon seasoning salt
– 1 teaspoon black pepper
– 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
– 1 teaspoon garlic

For the pork chops and gravy

Preheat oven to 350 degrees f. Season each pork chop liberally with salt and black pepper. Add the baking powder to a small bowl and stir in Spice Mix . Dredge the chops in the baking powder mix.

In a cast iron pan over medium-high heat, add vegetable oil. Sear the chops for 3 minutes on each side until golden brown, then remove from the skillet to a plate and set aside.

Now, to build the gravy, in the same pan, add the rosemary, thyme, onion and garlic and cook about 3 minutes. (If your pan is getting dry, add another tablespoon or two of oil) Stir in the flour and cook another minute. Stir in the stock and wine (optional) making sure to scrape up any bits from pan bottom, and cook another minute. Add the chops back to the pan, cover and move to the oven for sauce to thicken, about 15 minutes.

For the roasted murasaki sweet potatoes and greens

Wash, quarter, and toss sweet potatoes in olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes or until tender. They will be cripsy outside and creamy inside. Sprinkle with salt upon removal from oven.

Wash the baby greens and add them to a pan with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt, crushed red pepper and fresh lemon juice.

Serve alongside smothered chops and gravy.

Cooking notes

Keep in mind that once you remove the pork chops after searing, you are essentially adding flavor with the veggies and building a quick roux by adding flour to the veggies and oil.

If subbing orange sweet potatoes, you may need to roast 15-20 minutes longer. Check periodically for doneness.

 

Bea Wilson is a diversity strategist and agricultural professional passionate about the next generation of agricultural leaders. She owns IDEATION308, a diversity consulting firm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Twitter: @IDEATION308 

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