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Jason Brady, and chefs Evan and Sarah Rich during panel discussion at the Farmers' Market Cooking Challenge.
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Farmers' Market Cooking Challenge
Foods made as part of the Farmers' Market Cooking Challenge.
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Farmers' Market Cooking Challenge
Organizers had estimated an audience of about 100 for the Farmers' Market Cooking CHallenge, but instead, more than 250 came to see and taste the variety of culinary offerings from 65 competitors.
Shreveport's food climate is changing, with a growing interest in locally grown food, farmers Evan McCommon of Mahaffey Farms and Craig Smith of Smith Family Farms told a panel at the recent Shreveport Farmers Market Cooking Challenge. Visitation at the Market is growing, vendors often sell out of at least part – and sometimes all – of their product lines, and shoppers ask for additional markets and sources of supply.
A surprising number of individuals had signed up to prepare a dish made from either tomatoes or squash, purchased at the Market, and present it at a recent contest. Organizers had estimated an audience of about 100, but instead, more than 250 came to see and taste the variety of culinary offerings from 65 competitors. Sarah and Evan Rich, chefs of Rich Table in San Francisco, and Jason Brady, chef/owner of Wine Country and Zocolo's in Shreveport, judged the contest, and then led much of the following discussion. Panelists and audience agreed that they want to see more food grown on northwest Louisiana farms.
Barriers stand in the way of developing a more vibrant food-growing community in the ArkLaTex. Asked what stood in the way of more food production by local farmers, Smith answered, "Profitability."
Farmers need greater profitability to grow more meat and produce. Like other small businesses, farmers divide their time between supply gathering, production, marketing, and delivery. Both Smith and McCommon combine marketing and delivery to an extent; they meet with consumers and sell product at the Farmers’ Market.
Time at the markets is time not spent in production, in supply pickup, or in delivery to customers. A service that would have the capacity to pick up seed, chicks, livestock feed, fertilizer, and other supplies for delivery to the farms might provide a partial answer to their time shortage. This type of service is exactly what McCommon would put at the top of his business "wish list," he said in a later interview. Farmers could consolidate their trips.
Another snag in their production cycle is lack of easy access to a US Department of Agriculture (USDA)-approved abattoir (slaughterhouse), a facility utterly lacking in Shreveport. The nearest ones are in Ruston and Calhoun, 69 and 85 miles away, respectively. Loading up livestock for the trip, delivering them, and picking up the consumer-ready product necessitates two round trips, if the abattoir has capacity to handle the farmer's needs. It may not have the ability to handle two dozen chickens, five cattle and a pair of hogs at the same time, regardless of whether that would fit the farmer's schedule.
Some other states have developed mobile abattoirs, compact enough to be transported from farm to farm as well as mobile vegetable and fruit processing stations, some even with their own flash freezing capability. Handling large animals, however, necessitates large refrigerated spaces in which several carcasses may be hung. And, to be sold to the public, meats must receive inspection from a USDA representative.
USDA Southwest regional administrator Bob Ludwig, another participant in the discussion, pointed out that his organization offers Rural Development loans, grants, and technical assistance for projects that improve rural economies. Perhaps an independent business person might be interested in developing this kind of community resource, or it could be the result of effort by a farmer-organized cooperative.
By Lani Duke