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Local Food Week celebrates edibles less-traveled, and people who do the picking, pickling and preparing

I am the cheese



Canning. Growing vegetables. Making cheese. Raising chickens. If you're curious about urban homesteading, Local Food Week is your chance to pick up a few new skills.

In this, its third annual run, the food-centric fête boasts double the number of last year's events. And it's reaching beyond an early focus on farmers, ranchers and restaurateurs to include urban artisans and independent organizations.

"We've opened it up to the community," says Michele Mukatis of Peak to Plains Alliance, the coalition of community and agricultural leaders that organizes Local Food Week. "We've seen small folks doing great stuff."

These are people like "The Goat Cheese Lady," who discounted her cheese-making classes for the week, and the folks at the Harrison Urban Garden, who are opening their space to tours and classes. But you need not get your hands dirty to take part in the events of the week. As Mukatis says, Local Food Week's events are meant first and foremost to promote sustainable eating, and also to encourage us to have fun with our food. And there are all kinds of ways to do that, as illustrated in the demonstrations and film showing described below.

Farming the market: chefs' competition

On her first job as a personal chef in 2007, Hethyr Pletsch walked into her client's kitchen and discovered the stove was broken.

"My husband brought over our two-burner Coleman camping stove," the 34-year-old says, "and I made five meals with six servings each."

Since then, Pletsch's local business, Everyday Gourmet, has grown into a full-time gig. And she squeezes in a few hours each month to teach cooking classes. On Saturday, Pletsch will battle fellow chef Heather Mitchell, of Change Personal Chef Services, at a Saturday, Sept. 17, cook-off during the Colorado Farm and Art Market (CFAM) at the Margarita at PineCreek.

Mitchell, a 36-year-old certified natural chef, was inspired to start a cooking career after diet changes cured some of her own health issues. In 2010, she graduated from Bauman College, a holistic nutrition and culinary arts school in Boulder, and today, in addition to running her chef service, Mitchell teaches classes and staffs the information booth at both CFAM locations.

The Dueling Chef Challenge takes place on the Margarita's patio; first, the two contestants will cull the market, grabbing whatever goods inspire them, and prepare a prize-worthy meal in 30 minutes or so. (The details weren't firm as of press time.)

Pletsch's style leans toward ethnic cuisines rich with herbs and spices. She grew up "cooking and eating Italian," she says, adding that Italian dishes still are among her favorites. Mitchell has no firm game plan. She favors pure ingredients that are low on the food-processing chain, and she specializes in using raw, fresh foods.

A panel of three judges will select a victor based on which dish best uses market fare. But the spoils go to the audience — the inspiration for creating meals fresh from the market.

Calling all jarheads: classes in canning

Bonnie Simon quit a good job as a systems analyst with Progressive Insurance last March.

"I thought, 'Is this what I really want to do with the rest of my life?'" says the 42-year-old west side resident. Pursuing interests in cooking and urban homesteading, Simon launched Chickens in the Kitchen (also known as "Hungry Chicken Homestead"). Her plan: to bridge the gap between local farms and local dinner tables.

Simon hosts canning classes and parties, offers a produce prep service, and sells her homemade jams and muffins at CFAM's Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center location on Wednesdays.

Two years ago, inspired by friends who canned, Simon mastered the skill as she worked her way through the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. The book is something of a salve to those who've heard horror stories about canning gone awry — and food gone bad.

"Canning isn't as dangerous as people think," Simon says, adding that high-acid fruits and vegetables prepared in a hot water bath have little potential to spoil. "You just have to follow the steps."

The reward is food prepared the way you like it. For instance, Simon lowers the sugar content of her cherry-amaretto jam to let the fruit's flavor stand out.

"It's real food — no chemicals," she says. "It's not made in a factory."

This year, she expects to put up about 60 quart jars of produce — peaches, cherries, tomatoes, etc. — plus an ample supply of jams and jugs of fermented pickles.

For Local Food Week, Simon is teaching two water-bath canning classes, each $15: a demonstration at Ranch Foods Direct's North El Paso Street store on Saturday, Sept. 17, and a workshop at Gotta Love It Kitchen on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Attendees of the former will also get a $10 Ranch Foods gift certificate, but everyone who watches Simon work will take home a jar of produce and, presumably, a can-do attitude.

Organic made approachable: documentary screening

Organic food scores in the flavor and nutrition departments, which obviously betters those who eat it. But another of its benefits is usually never seen or even recognized by most of us.

"Farm workers' families have high rates of cancer," says Sari Schauer, community-supported agriculture (CSA) director at Grant Family Farms in Wellington. "They come from farms that have been heavily sprayed, and almost everybody you ask has someone in their family who has died of cancer."

In the 2010 documentary What's Organic About Organic? which was shown in April at Colorado Springs' Indie Spirit Film Festival, Grant Family Farms is one of the food operations filmmaker Shelley Rogers examines. In 1988, Grant became the first Colorado farm to be certified organic. Today it's sizeable at 2,200 acres, employing more than 200 seasonal workers, many of whom return year after year.

"Our workers know they won't have to work with chemicals," Schauer says. "Being organic is important to provide a better food future for us all."

What's Organic About Organic? explores changes in the organic industry as it has evolved from a farm movement into a major market force. The movie will be screened on Friday, Sept. 23, at the Equinox BBQ, a cook-out, potluck and discussion session hosted at Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, and co-sponsored by Ranch Foods Direct.

Melissa Marts, Care and Share's chief programs officer, says she chose the film to introduce the advantages of locally sourced food, since it frames the issues in an approachable manner. She says she hopes the film will garner support for her efforts to stock "better-quality food for those in need."

Bon appetit

Saturday, Sept. 17

Sunday, Sept. 18

Tuesday, Sept. 20

Wednesday, Sept. 21

Thursday, Sept. 22

Friday, Sept. 23

Saturday, Sept. 24

Sunday, Sept. 25

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