Food has always been a huge part of my life. Ask any of my friends or family: I love to eat but also I enjoy learning about what I am eating. After taking a new-age organics course at Penn State, I became fascinated with buying local, not mass-produced products. This new interest led me to shopping at farmers markets.
I happily discovered Mt. Lebanon has two local farmers’ market: the Lions Club Farmers Market in the United Lutheran Church’s parking lot on Wednesdays and the Mt. Lebanon Uptown Farmers’ Market on Saturday along Washington Road. Each farmers’ market hosts about 20 vendors that sell goods from meat to yarn to organic vegetables. Families come to do their weekly shopping and many even stay for dinner, grabbing a grass fed hamburger and fresh lemonade. “It’s a Mt. Lebanon feeling kind of place,” Alex Parrish, director of the Lions Club Farmers Market, says.
The farmers market experience is not just about eating but interacting with the farmers who create these products. Diya Nagara, employee of Goose Creek Gardens at the Wednesday market, informed me of the separation that people feel from their food. When people buy food from supermarkets, they do not know where the food came from and their mind removes that what they are eating from the animal or plant the created it.
When buying from a farmers market the customers know it is fresh and they know they can personally ask specific questions about the food they will eat. In addition, shoppers can even receive advice and recipes on what to do with the various products. It gives the customer the opportunity to really appreciate the whole experience of eating.
Talking to the farmers is enjoyable and informative. Here are some of the people I met at the Mt. Lebanon markets this summer:
Francesca Howden: creator of La Vigneta Winery
Francesca Howden is the creator of La Vigneta Winery, the urban micro winery based out of her house in Brookline. She attends the Saturday market regularly.
The winery has two batches a year, one batch with juices from Chile and the other from California. This distinguishes Howden’s brand from many other wineries that only have Pennsylvanian grown grapes. The Pennsylvania law changed recently that allows the wineries to import juice and grapes from other states and sources.
Howden became passionate about wine making through her father who made wine while living in Sicily. “It turned from a hobby into a small business,” she said. Howden combines her father’s traditional techniques with modern research. “It’s a science now. It’s organic chemistry,” she says.
Her business uses fresh-pressed juice that has been fermented, then stabilized and clarified. Afterwards they filter the contents. Each type of wine has its own process and its own period of developing. This year she made 53 cases and has 75 aged cases in bulk. Since the business is so small, her products are made with a lot of attention, avoiding the impersonal mass-production. The beauty of wine is trying different types and brands so tasting continues to be fun. “All taste a little bit different,” she says.
Howden started the practice four years ago but did not sell her product until two months ago because of the amount of time it takes to make the wine. She sells at farmers markets and wine festivals in the area. The Pennsylvania law limited her sales to only the state. But she loves the local atmosphere of the markets and enjoys interacting with the shoppers and meeting the other vendors. “Seeing the expressions on [the customers] faces and seeing they like it is so beneficial,” Howden says.
Howden inspires to one day buy a larger location and farm to grow a crop and have a winery and tasting room. “We’re starting. We don’t have a whole lot but we will make it happen.” Her husband and family make her business possible, she says. Each person has his or her role in the creation from the label to the making of the equipment.
Besides running her business, she has a full time job and is also a mom.
Holly Herbold: owner of Her Bold Farm
After six generations of prior Herbold’s family members running the Her Bold Farm in Cadiz, Ohio, Holly Herbold took over her family inheritance with a six-person crew. “Seven generations, how could I not?” In the 1800s after the Homestead Act, the Herbolds took over the 188-acre property.
Now the farm has 10 buildings including multiple barns, a smoke house and a greenhouse. Herbold describes her operation as a “truck patch farm” meaning she sells from her pick up truck. At the Wednesday Lions markets that Holly travels to she sells certified organic vegetables, a variety of meat including goat and beef, honey and chocolates. “I feel like I belong in this community, the community of farmers market.”
Herbold continues with this life style because of the joy she gets from selling her products and “closing the gap” between people and their food. She likes teaching her customers and employees about the healthy, fresh food, life skills and sustainability. “Provide empowerment, those ah-ha moments,” Herbold says. Whenever she sells something she knows the family is eating something healthy that she helped create and it is her way to give back to the community. “It feels like coming full circle.”
Herbold believes that organic is not just better for the people who eat it but also the environment where it is grown. When using chemicals, the growers kill the soil and have to constantly buy more chemicals for a short grow. “It’s not a cycle of life, it’s a cycle of death.” But organic produces a healthy soil that contributes to the natural environment. “You take you take you take. You have to give back. It’s perpetuating the cycle of life.”
Rebecca Bykoski: creator of Heart of the Earth Granola
Heart of Earth sells noshy granola that is not crunchy but chewy. The Wednesday farmer’s market vendor offers a range of flavors including coconut-pineapple, cherry and chocolate. Although it goes well with yogurt or milk, on its own it’s still perfect.
The business owner, Rebecca Bykoski, created the brand in May because of the lack of tasteful options in grocery stores. “I would buy granola and not really like it,” she said. After some internet research, spying around for inspirational mixtures and trial and error recipes, Bykoski decided to make her own granola to fix her problem. Eventually the project evolved from personal sizes to selling at the market.
Her location of creation is at the restaurant Calabria’s Restaurant where she also works. During the making process, Bykoski simmers the moist part of the granola before pouring it onto the dry ingredients. When combined she presses the ingredients together before baking. She said the hardest part of making the granola was discovering the perfect baking time so it does not become too crunchy.
Bykoski is studying for a degree in sustainability at Duquesne University and for her masters in environmental science and management. The name of the company was inspired by her passion for environmental science and sustainability. “A lot of the ingredients are from the heart of the Earth,” she said.
She decided to encourage the love of earth and sustainability through her product because of the plummeting health of the planet. “Not enough is being done to change what is happening to our earth,” she says. “[We have to] try to preserve what we do have left.” The bags that she sells the granola in are compostable and made from recycled material. She only purchases locally and in bulk to be eco-friendly.
Bykoski is “a one man operation.” Although she enjoys the markets, she is swamped with schoolwork and will only be going to the next farmer’s market. Although, she is looking for a local store to sell her merchandise since she has loyal customers.