If possible, I have become a bigger fan of the store as they have teemed up with the Culinary Guild of New England to feature a series of speakers who are wonderful chefs and people who care about good food.
I recently attended a lovely event in which they hosted 3 fascinating people: Chef Peter Davis of Henrietta's Table and author of "Fresh and Honest;" Jennifer Verrill Faddoul, from Verrill Farm (and baker of their incredible scones); and Janet Christensen of the Boston Public Market. Each person spoke for 10 minutes about their passion and connection to local and sustainable foods, and then we all enjoyed some treats that were prepared by Chef Davis from his book.
I took so much away from the evening, but each speaker had a few particular gems.
From Peter Davis: first, I was fascinated by the concept of his book. In "Fresh and Honest" he features interviews with farmers and purveyors that grow the products that he uses at his restaurant. He then matches them with a dish. For example, he served us spinach salad (from Sparrow Arc Farm in Maine) with chevre from Westfield Farm, along with pumpkin soup with sugar pumpkins from Verrill Farm. He shared his years of trying to rely on local producers for his restaurant, as well as his connection to the working farms in New England. He also highlighted farms that have an educational bend, such as The Farm School in Athol that allows city kids to spend time on a farm and, in Chef Davis words, "It transforms the kids that are there. The class bully becomes the quietest one and some other kids goes right in there and just start milking the cows." I asked Chef Davis how he responds to people that believe that local food, being more expensive, is elitest. He noted, "It isn't that much more money because the quality and shelf life is so much better. If you buy mesculun at the supermarket, it can become compost in 3 days. But buy it at a farmer's market and it is good for a week. Also, the fresher items are, the healthier." On a practical note, he pointed out that you can buy a significant amount of root vegetables at farmer's markets and farms such as the Verrill Farm now and store them in a cool place to use all winter. He reminded us that by shopping at the farms and farmer's markets, we are directly supporting farmers. As he pointed out, "farmers are up from sunup to sundown plus. Everyone thinks that farmers take the winter off. But they spend all year planning." Finally, I was intrigued by his point that it matters less whether a farmer is organic, than getting to know the individual farmer and washing greens well. As Chef Davis pointed out, the regulations around getting organic certification are so complicated and expensive, that great farmers use organic methods without the term.
Jennifer Verrill gave us a direct sense of the work on the farm. She grew up on the farm with her parents, Stephen and Joan. I didn't realize that Verrill Farm actually consists of 140 acres of farmable land, and 100 acres of conservation land. But it did help me to understand why the land surrounding the farm is so beautiful. She described the evolution of Verrill from a dairy farm, to a farmstand, to the addition of the bakery, to the recent opening of their new farmstand. (The first collapsed in a fire last year.) She also shared her tips for encouraging children to enjoy their vegetables: take kids to farms, bring them to festivals, let the dig and get dirty, compost at home or at school.
I was captivated by Janet Christensen for a few reasons. First, this unassuming looking woman is the foundation of so much, yet unlike many stars, I doubt that more than a handful of people know her name. Yet I came to realize that she is one of the core (if not THE core) figures in the creation of so many farmer's markets in Massachusetts. She has worn more hats than I could ever do, including being the education director at the Mass. Dept. of Food & Agriculture, Food Editor at the Boston Herald-Traveler and the founding member of the Boston Public Market Association. The Association is trying to create a year round indoor Public Market, similar to Pike Place in Seattle, that can provide Boston residents with farm fresh goods through the winter and without having to battle summer rains. Janet Christensen pointed out that prices at a farmer's market are actually a "bargain" as farmers work so hard trying to "feed the nation." Janet educated us about the need for a winter market, the benefit of the farmer's markets in general and the complicated politics that accompany those endeavors.
I left the evening inspired by their words and commitment to providing our families with good food and am appreciative to the Booksmith for hosting the event.
Next up: On Tuesday, November 10th, Lidia Bastianich will be signing copies of her new cookbook, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy from 5:00 to 6:30 before she heads over to Alta Strada for a special dinner. Then, just one week later, on November 17th, Chef Barbara Lynch will have a discussion before providing a tasting of items from her new cookbook, Stir. This is a free event, but you are encouraged to call the Booksmith and RSVP.
Wellesley Booksmith, 82 Central Street, Wellesley 781-431-1160
Henrietta's Table, 1 Bennett Street (in the Charles Hotel), Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-661-5005
Verrill Farm, Concord