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Monday, May 23, 2016

THE FLAVOR OF HOMEGROWN

AREA FARMERS’ MARKETS LURING PEOPLE OUTSIDE AGAIN FOR FUN, FAMILY AND ADVENTURE

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AREA FARMERS’ MARKETS LURING PEOPLE OUTSIDE AGAIN FOR FUN, FAMILY AND ADVENTURE

North Louisiana has a bounty of markets from which to choose for those looking for farmfresh meats and locally-grown produce.

Today’s farmers’ markets, however, offer much more. More like old-time soirees, markets combine healthy food and lifestyle choices with the great outdoors.

Chef Holly Schreiber, owner of Sainte Terre, has worked with some of New York’s most discerning foodies, but it is the locallygrown, farm-fresh bounty in her hometown, Benton, that has her gushing about food. Schreiber was one of the vendors at the grand opening of the Benton Farmers’ Market last Sunday, and she will be back for a few select Sundays during the season.

Beyond the desire to get healthy, there is a nostalgia attached to home grown foods in North Louisiana. “I always think about when I was growing up,” Schreiber said. “My great grandmother had this huge garden right in the middle of Bossier City, and we’d go help pick corn and pull potatoes out of the ground. We’re so agriculturally-based here, but we don’t do that anymore. These farmers’ markets make it easy for us to get back to our roots.”

Schreiber never got a chance to sit down at the Benton market last week. “We did crepes and ice cream and got a huge response, way more than we expected,” she said. “I saw so many people I know, like past brides.”

Schreiber talked about the summer tomatoes and peaches as if she had a schoolgirl crush. “And Courtney McCurrey’s amazing strawberries we had last weekend were like sugar,” she said.

Fresh local foods make cooking easy.

Even beginning cooks can plate a wonderful meal with a few ingredients. “You can keep it simple with locally grown foods,” Schreiber said. “You don’t have to mask things or work really hard.”

Ellan Cathcart, the director of the Benton Farmers’ Market, said the park-like setting and family-friendly atmosphere there are a big part of its charm. “We have great variety with about 60 vendors,” she said. “We are unique because we are only open on Sunday afternoons. We do have some farm crafts and vintage crafts, but we keep those limited to things in common with farming.”

“We see so many kids here,” Cathcart said. “Visitors are so health-conscious about where their food and meats come from, and parents are trying to expose their kids to good choices. But we also have a cow train, and that’s always popular with the kids.”

One of Cathcart’s notable new vendors is Belle Hembree Farms from Oil City. The family offers Berkshire pork, duck and quail eggs, pastured duck, rabbit and goat. “They are also also selling bone-broths from beef and chicken and heirloom vegetables,” she said.

A list of vendors and events, as well as a map to the Benton Farmers’ Market can be found at www.bentonlafarmersmarket. com. “We have so many actual growers and farmers,” Cathcart said. “And these are some of the hardest-working people you’ll ever meet.”

When you talk to farm families, there is an emotional element attached to what they do. One of those family-run farms is Craig Smith’s Smith Family Farms. Craig’s mother, Laura, spoke about their family embracing his love of animals and the outdoors after he started his own business. Above the sound of braying lambs – or “bottle babies” – in the background, Smith said, “Craig got his degree in animal science from Louisiana Tech, but it was at Caddo Magnet High School where Robert Trudeau had him do a research project, and Craig chose goats. It went on from there to sheep, then to cows.”

It was when Craig expanded his business that his family came on board. “Everybody in the family started helping,” Laura said. “It’s all about the farm. You’re on call all day, every day. It changes how we do vacations. But all my kids have gotten involved in it. Everybody works and puts their heads together.”

Jason Anderson with Anderson’s Produce and Plant Farm in Coushatta is a vendor at the Shreveport Farmers’ Market. Anderson said it can be difficult, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s been challenging with all the water this year,” he said. “A lot of my stuff is behind because of it. But when I opened my farm stand yesterday, people were as excited as I was about it and came out to get fresh produce.”

Anderson said he likes eating the freshest produce, too, but for him, it’s about giving local chefs and cooks something wonderful and locally-grown to put on their tables. “I am creating food,” he said. “But it’s also the simplicity of it. There are no politics involved. I was just back there in the field looking at the cantaloupes, and they have baby cantaloupes on them. It’s just the whole awesomeness of it.”

Anderson is one of 150 farmers, chefs and food artisans included in the Shreveport Farmers’ Market line-up, which is celebrating its 30th year in continuous operation. It is located at Festival Plaza in downtown Shreveport. The Shreveport Farmers’ Market is held 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays and 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays between June 4 and August 27. A list of vendors and special events is available at www.shreveportfarmersmarket.com.

Shreveport Farmers’ Market Manager Noma Fowler-Sandlin said, “The sheer size and variety of our market makes us stand out.”

New features this year include food and healthy-living demonstrations to be held under the Spring Street Bridge. “We’re utilizing that area to do three to five demos per day,” Fowler-Sandlin said. In addition to the canning and cooking demonstrations, we’ll also be offering Yoga, hip-hop dance and belly dancing. You’ll be able to learn how Bonsai trees are developed, and there will be something going on there all the time.”

The educational opportunities available for a generation of little couch potatoes have not been lost on millennials with kids, either. Danielle Richard said she likes the Shreveport Farmers’ Market as an easy summer family outing. “I love the questions that pop up with a 6-year-old and an 8-yearold in tow,” she said. “From the foods and veggies we see, to the people and unique atmosphere there is always something to be learned from the trip.”

“We even attempted to plant a very small experimental garden ourselves this year, and the kids immediately wanted to know when we could put all the fruit/veggies in a basket to sell,” Richard said, laughing. “I had to explain that ours was on a much smaller scale, but it was cool to see that they really got it.”

Just across the river, Bossier City hosts its own farmers’ market in the south parking lot of Pierre Bossier Mall, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through Nov. 19. The Bossier market offers homegrown produce next to plants, arts and crafts, food trucks and children’s activities. A list of vendors and activities can be found at www. bossiercityfarmersmarket.com.

The Provenance Homegrown Farmers Market in Shreveport is a neighborhood market that is open to the general public 4-8 p.m. Thursdays through June 16 and 7 a.m. to noon June 19. Provenance is located on the Southern Loop exit off Interstate 49 South.

Robyn “Lady-bird” Johnson lives in the Provenance community and has been looking forward to the opening of her neighborhood market. “Provenance is all about the green space anyway,” she said. “It’s not about having big yards. It’s about getting outside and visiting with your neighbors.”

“There are a nice variety of things to choose from,” Johnson said. “One of my favorite things there is this awesome tomato hummus. The goat cheeses in all flavors are wonderful and the tamales! I really love to taste all the samples before I begin shopping.”

Johnson also goes for the local honey and the fruits and vegetables. “You can really taste the difference in fresh,” she said. “The purple hull peas were wonderful last year, but I’d say the blueberries are my favorite thing. I freeze them for later to use in yogurt, cereal and muffins.”

The Provenance Farmers’ Market is open to the public, but it still has the air of a great big, well-hosted neighborhood party. “It’s just that transition when you realize school’s almost over and those lazy days of summer are coming,” Johnson said. “I coast out there and find my friends, and we get our chairs and our wine. My son loves it, too, and sometimes a little pick-up football game develops. I think we’re all hungry for that. We want to get away from GMO’s and get back to home-grown food. There are so many different flavors at this market. It’s very progressive for Shreveport.”

The Mall St. Vincent South Highland Summer Market is another neighborhood market, open in the parking lot of St. Vincent Mall from 5-8 p.m. every Friday through July 8. While visitors are getting their fix of fresh corn and heirloom tomatoes, they can take in one of the Chef Showcase demonstrations, featuring Cindy Johnson with Southern Faire, Panderina Soumas with Soumas Heritage Creole Creations and other popular area chefs. Chef Eddie Mars from the Petroleum Club will give tips on non-traditional grilling techniques. Gabriel Balderas with El Cabo Verde will demonstrate how to make fresh Mexican hot sauce.

The Children’s Culinary Corner will host demonstrations and cooking classes such as Little Market Chefs and Young Farmers, who will help children make their own potted vegetables to take home and grow.

One of South Highland’s most popular vendors is Amish Breads by Beverly, owned by Beverly Bryson. Bryson is originally from Pennsylvania and has a collection of Amish cookbooks with bread recipes so divine that she often sells out before the market ends. “My banana bread recipe is my grandmother’s, but I also change things up a bit,” she said. “My peanut butter pumpkin bread is one of my most popular loaves. It may sound strange, but it has peanut butter chips in it, and everybody loves it.”

Bryson described the farmers’ market experience as community. “It’s meeting new people and getting out and about,” Bryson said. “It’s just a good feeling.”

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