Now Serving: Affordable Produce and Food Demonstrations at Pittsburgh’s Farm Stands

I’d be curious to know what percentage of the U.S. population consumes produce, at least a few times each year, that comes directly from the grower.  In Southwestern Pennsylvania, with the abundance of area farmers’ markets, CSAs, roadside stands, and tourist farms where people can pick their own, bypassing the big-box super markets seems as easy as pie.  In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine not being in touch with the growers of my food.  But, still, there are probably quite a few people who are stuck in their shopping routine and dare not stray from the super market aisles.  And, more notably, there are many others who simply do not have access to farm-fresh foods.  Consider the elderly who have a hard time getting out and about.  Then, of course, there are the poorer members of the population, young and old.  As is the case in most of the country, Pittsburgh has its share of the haves and the have-nots, and the gap between the two is likely widening as unemployment remains high and social services wane.  That, combined with a lacking public transit system and the fact that pre-packaged, processed ‘foods’ tend to be cheaper than the real thing, makes it difficult for some families living on public assistance to maintain a healthy diet.

In order to help bridge the gap for some people without access to produce directly from the farm, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank operates the Farm Stand Project, a program to sell fruits and vegetables, primarily from local farms, at low prices in some urban communities.  The program is open to everyone, not just the less fortunate part of the population, but the shoppers can pay with either cash or vouchers provided “to income-qualified seniors and WIC families, which can only be used to purchase produce at certified Farmers’ Markets and, through USDA authorization, [the] Farm Stands” (http://www.pittsburghfoodbank.org/programs/farmstandproject.aspx). This means that affordable, healthy food is making its way to some of the people who need it most.

My neighborhood happens to be one of the lucky communities that gets a weekly visit by the Farm Stand Project.  The operation is set up in the parking lot of a community center which houses programs, such as meals and events for seniors, a pre-school program, and a daycare.  The same cheerful faces greet Farm Stand shoppers each week, ready to help the regulars and newcomers sort through the bounty.  Though the food is not being sold directly from the farmers, these knowledgeable and eager intermediaries take it just one step away.  In addition to making such wonderful food accessible, the Farm Stand Project also provides educational information, recipes, and occasional demonstrations and samples of healthy recipes using seasonal produce.  During a recent visit to the farm stand, I sampled a Corn and Apple Skillet, which was super easy and flavorful, using just four ingredients — onion, banana pepper, corn, and apple (plus oil, salt, and pepper).  You can find the full recipe here.

When I made it, I took it a step further and served it tossed with some homemade croutons, flavored with fresh dill and rosemary.   Just prepare the croutons ahead of time.  Then toss the corn mixture and croutons together while still hot.  Or you can serve them separately to be mixed at the table.

Whether you are a farmer, a regular visitor of your local farmers’ markets, or a novice to farm-direct foods altogether, take the time to enjoy the fresh, seasonal produce that you have available.  And don’t forget about those in need.  If you can, make a donation to your local food bank — it’s something you’ll never regret.  Visit Feeding America’s website to find food pantries in your area.

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