A2eatwrite: Local Love Fridays &ndash staying connected at the Community Farm Kitchen
But there were also families like the Wessel Walkers, who've lived by these precepts long before the rest of us got on the bandwagon.
Mary Wessel Walker grew up eating vegetables from the Community Farm, a biodynamic farm run by Paul Bantle and Anne Elder just outside of Ann Arbor. She also grew up eating meat from Ernst Farm. Community Farm is the oldest CSA farm in the area, and the Wessel Walkers were working towards the locavore movement long before most of us had any idea what that term meant.
Mary Wessel Walker grew up and went to Bryn Mawr, studied philosophy, came home and started work at Community Farm. She'd interned at the farm over a summer, and when she graduated from college, she returned to work there again. One fall day she was out in the fields with Annie Elder and some other farm workers and brainstorming began for what would become Community Farm Kitchen, which Wessel Walker now owns and operates.The premise behind Community Farm Kitchen is simple - Community Farm Kitchen is set up for those who love to eat fresh, organic vegetables, who want to be committed members of the Community Farm CSA, but don't have the time/energy/wherewithal to know what to do with their wonderful share of vegetables each week.
Mary Wessel Walker solves this for them by picking up their shares and turning them into a variety of vegetarian and/or vegan delights. The week I visited the Anthroposophical House kitchen, where Mary and company prep and cook their dishes, the menu included Zuccanoes (an old Moosewood favorite), gazpacho, "mashed potato supreme", zucchini-chard soup, and oriental green beans. Mary and three helpers were busy seasoning the soup, processing huge batches of the gazpacho, and prepping what appeared to be dozens of Zuccanoes. The kitchen is light and airy, and despite the relatively hard work on a relatively hot day, the mood was light, as well.
"You just missed our dancing break!" Mary greeted me as I walked in the door.
Sounds like a good time to me.
When Mary and I sat down over a phone call a few days later, she discussed both the delights and challenges of working within her particular niche. She loves the challenge of piecing together a menu each week - she sees this as a puzzle, realizing what ingredients she'll have available for each dish, finding the balance between creating a variety of dishes, keeping the extra ingredients economical, so that she can keep prices down, and balancing different tastes and needs among her clients. Her background in philosophy and liberal arts has helped - she's really learned how to think things through - and this is a skill she uses daily.
A big issue is seasoning - when you are cooking for toddlers and grandparents, those who like things fiery and those who can't tolerate salt or dairy, you have to be connected to your community base at all times. "It’s very important to me to really seek out feedback from people to make sure that people get a feedback sheet for each week. I’m trying to be really intentional about talking about what they like or don’t like. When people sit down to dinner - they’re not being food critics, they just want to eat their dinner."The reality is that her prepped foods may have to be adjusted for taste by the people who use her services - her meals come partially cooked or ready to be finished, with exceptions like the gazpacho and her ever-popular pesto. This also allows her clients to make that final adjustment to their own tastes.
As Mary's business has grown, she's begun to think about new directions. Last winter she created an 8-week baked goods CSA, and while the CSA factor proved difficult, she plans to sell her Community Farm Kitchen baked goods at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market again from around November/December throughout the winter. She's also starting up a new venture with Old Pine Farm (see The Farmer's Marketer's excellent article on Old Pine Farm to learn about Kris Hirth's meat CSA), and as she does with Community Farm Members, she'll work with Old Pine Farm members and provide similar services with their meat shares that she does now with the Community Farm vegetable shares. She's thinking about other farms she might work with in the future, but at the moment, one of the things that's really important to her is to spend some time each week in the fields at her beloved Community Farm. Staying connected to the land and farm that feeds her and her clients and that provides her livelihood, is just one of the ways that Mary Wessel Walker feeds those connections in her life.
Photos (from top): Mary Wessel Walker putting finishing touches on zucchini-chard soup, a bowl of fresh kale, Michelle Hartmann mixing up a batch of gazpacho, mashed potato supreme, the chore/menu board (all photos by Jennifer Shikes Haines).
Each Friday, I will be highlighting a small, local, food business.