An Interview with Co-Intern Angela Fortino (via email)

As a Real Time Farms intern, I have a family of 16 other bloggers from around the USA on the same autumn mission- building an interactive map for farms, markets, and restaurants (and anyone who patronizes these places) via the RTF website and blog. Last Monday, I met a small group of these interns, and as a first conversation, swapped some questions with 24 year old Angela Fortino, a RTF hire from rural Michigan.

Angela writes from Chicago now, where she’s put her Master’s degree in Urban Planning to work at an urban design company called Open Office Studio. She comes to Real Time Farms with a long-time interest in what has come to be called “food transparency.” As a child, she watched her family’s grocery with curiosity: “I was curious where the shipments of produce really came from and wondered why my dad always went to Lansing to pick up meat orders. “

During undergrad at Western Michigan University, Angela got to explore the origins of food more closely as she enrolled in classes about food systems and the environment- not only that, but she participated in the college’s community garden. Since then, Angela’s had a hand in a local co-op in Ann Arbor and market-hops in whatever city she’s a part of, as well as keeping her own container-garden. Currently, she’s thinking about buying a share with a local farm: “I miss my food co-op and am investigating which CSA makes the most sense for me and my housemates!”

When I asked what, besides local food and urban spelunking, Angela enjoys spending her time on, she answered with a common hobby- biking! “I love to ride my bike – there is something very rewarding about being quick and sometimes faster than cars and also being connected with people walking. The air, smells, and sounds while biking is so invigorating for me that I tend to find myself stupidly smiling while biking…. “

As to that…me too!

 


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Working with Rittman Orchards has afforded me more opportunities and revealed to me more knowledge about both the practice of farming an America’s ever-growing foodie movement. Since starting to help Matt and the rest of the Vodraska family in 2009, I’ve learned more about farming practices, farm bureaucracy, market policy, fruit seasons, and apple varieties than I ever could simply by participating in the urban-agricultural world as a customer. Information aside, I’ve enjoyed some exposure to worlds otherwise fairly untouchable: I’ve spent time working down at the farm, gotten to see the kitchens of several high-volume, fine dining restaurants while making deliveries of fresh produce, and had the opportunity to meet other market vendors in a more personal way than I would had I not taken a position helping Matt with his market sales three summers ago.

As of a month ago, I can also thank Matt, indirectly, for the opportunity I now have to work as an intern with a company called Real Time Farms. During one of our Saturday morning markets, just after the rush of mid-morning market-goers, Matt and I met a pair of traveling musicians, on a 100-market tour of the United States. Lafe Dutton approached us at our stand, explained his goal (to play with Coco Kallis at 100 farmer’s markets across America over the year) and interviewed Matt about his family farm. Before leaving, Lafe snapped a few pictures and told us about Real Time Farms, and when I went home, I did some research, finding the RTF blog and a post calling for fall interns.

So I applied for the position, sending along my resume and a letter about why I value food transparency. A few weeks later, I got a happy reply from Lindsay Partridge, director of the internship program, and after a phone interview and a brief wait, I was part of the Real Time Farms autumn internship team!

The coming months promise to be busy- in addition to balancing part-time work and part-time school, I’ll be exploring the Cleveland foodie scene and Northeast Ohio farm culture, taking time to tap out my experiences for share on the RTF weblog.

I’m excited to meet people- albeit electronically- from all over the country, not to mention to meet (or meet more completely) folks from my hometown, as I wander my markets with greater mindfulness.

 

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Christmas came and went, and if I thought that the month was busy right up to Christmas Eve, I had a surprise in store. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, relative to work, pushed all of my buttons and then pushed them again, like a little kid in an elevator car.

I’ve got a job at The Greenhouse Tavern in downtown Cleveland. My position as pastry chef is a new deal for me, and I’ve not been at it that long- only since mid-September, really, and the day-to-day of a cook in the fine-dining world is just starting to make itself real to me. Fun as it is to play with flour (and collect a paycheck for my kitchen musings, to boot) it’s an overwhelming thing to be the sole commander of a busy kitchen’s dessert menu. I had no idea what the holiday would be like, and I was drastically under-prepared for the New Year’s Eve prepwork necessary to throw the party we were going to throw.

I put in nearly 19 hours on December 31st. I clocked in at 7 am and didn’t leave till after 1:30 the next morning. I missed a rare winter day with temperatures in the 50’s, and I toasted the birth of 2011 in the basement, the smell of the sautee line burning in my nostrils as Chef Sawyer called out tickets, holding a champagne flute in his free hand.

It’s hard fucking work. I had no idea, until that week, and that service, how difficult. I needed a week to begin to feel like myself again, and my body fought me on my first few days back to work. My confidence was shattered after five days of sobbing and stressing over the sheer volume, not to mention difficulty, of the items we’d chosen for dessert specials. I’m not sure it’s back up to par. Still, every morning, I get up, get on my bike, and head off to the ovens to parry with pastry and chase whatever greasy glory comes at the end of this job well done.

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September 27-28

Cleveland sports a familiar grey this morning, and I’m watching an infinitesimal drizzle from a downtown café. After an uncommonly sunny summer, the return of sluggish skies and disintegrating temperatures feels a little like a post-vacation let down.  The street offers an unflattering vantage point as the hems of my jeans soak up dirty water; every building wears the same blank stare against the gray, and behind the rain-specked lenses of my glasses, it doesn’t really matter how the skyline looks anyway. Sometimes somber weather diffuses the glow of the good things about this town, but even as rain collects on the trees lining the sidewalks outside, I’m feeling rather fond – perhaps even proud of- where I’m from.

There is a growing interest amongst Clevelanders in their hometown. More and more people are asking about its history, brainstorming about its future, and reveling in the offerings of its present-day entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, farmers, and chefs. The glamour of an imported product seems to be dimming in the excitement over the term “home-grown,” and this enthusiasm has affected our perception of this oft-drizzly city in some striking ways.  Known widely for the industrial landscape of the flats or for the blighted, abandoned warehouses and homes scattered throughout the county, Cleveland is beginning to add some splashes of green to its concrete jungle.

Farmer’s markets have grown in popularity and number. More people boast memberships to Community Supported Agriculture programs, bringing home weekly prizes of fresh produce from the farm they’ve signed up with. Area restaurateurs are forging relationships with growers to bring in the freshest food, producing dining of the absolute best quality- the words “local” and “seasonal” can be found on menus all over greater Cleveland. Urban gardens are popping up almost as fast as local foods are finding their ways into the city’s kitchens. From multiple-acre fields to modest rooftop plots, plants are taking root in places once known only for brick walls and sidewalks- and people from all walks have access to the fruit of these city plots through programs like Lakewood’s LEAF or via partnerships between WIC (Women, Infants & Children) and the North Union Farmer’s Market.

Veteran market goers and new shoppers alike get to enjoy Northeast Ohio in a particular way. The arrival of spring means not only that daylight inches further and further into the evening, but that offerings from local farmers begin to change. The excitement over new crops might be the most telling indication of the city shedding its winter coat. Last year’s storage crops give way to bright greens, tender brassicas, and stalks of rhubarb; garlic scapes and strawberries follow, and as the season picks up heat, snap peas and blueberries animate urban shoppers right into the advent of summer’s prize: peaches. Today, Clevelanders have bid farewell to soft summer fruit and now begin to tote home hearty winter squash, piquant concord grapes, and apples with names and flavors unheard of in any supermarket.

Autumn is coming in, invited or not, and this morning it’s caught the Erie lakefront under a soggy quilt of clouds. My shoes are soaked and my shape is barely discernible underneath fall layers. Still, however discouraging, the spitting rain hasn’t interrupted the steady current of anticipation I feel for the next farmer’s market. Reminders of failed industry and faulty planning are interspersed now with hints of a new kind of development, and those bright little flashes of green are igniting a curiosity in Cleveland as an agricultural contender. The excitement can only grow as people learn just what our land can do- replacing steelyards with cropland will cultivate not only produce, but pride.

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Playing with Yeast

This was my first play-date with yeasted bread in a few years. I used a pretty basic recipe with pretty basic ingredients, kneading some cooked millet and ground roasted almonds into the dough before letting it rise.

I think the taste could have been improved with a longer proof time, or more salt…

but the texture was great, it toasted up and paired really well with jam and almond butter, and it made my house smell awesome.

plus, kneading gave my lazy arms a workout.

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There’s a sloping backyard on W. 11th street that’s strung up with chicken wire, dappled with old water barrels, and streaked with beds of hot peppers. Just over the footbridge that spans 490, this little patch of green abuts a house of similar eccentricities- a front porch littered with ancient brooms and tomato plants, its beams painted bright colors over the gray of aged wood. I took a walk through Tremont yesterday, through the park and over the highway to a section of the neighborhood sliced from the main drag by an interstate and hidden by trees. I ambled past this house as a gentleman stepped out of a car in front, nodding hello as he stepped up to his door. I intended simply to continue on when he engaged me in conversation- and then my little urban hike turned into something of a farm tour.

I opened the gate and stepped onto the property of Hooper Farm, led by the founder himself. Erich Hooper expressed his belief in community education as he pointed out the use of discarded items as planters, compost piles, fences and decorations- “the kids made this, the kids painted that.”  He showed me, as he led me around his property, all of his understated but enthusiastic projects. Hooper Farm is meant to engage wandering minds, just as it captured my ambling attention.

What looks from the street like a messy snarl of weeds behind a bent wire fence hides, at close inspection, the bright flame of cayenne peppers, little bursts of parsley and sage, and smooth globes of tomatoes. Chicken wire fenced off the garden from the lawn, which was marked up with trees and plastic  drums. Inside a live-trap was a renegade groundhog, pushed by construction from its usual haunts towards the city. Erich led the discussion, animatedly expressing his frustration with some of the gentrification and development of the neighborhood while I punctuated his statements with nods or one-word answers.

I was mildly horrified as he began to explain that Cleveland officials don’t appreciate the catch-and-release of rodents like the one slamming around in the cage before us; I begged in my head for Hooper to wait till I was gone to take care of the problem but witnessed a small-scale extermination anyway. I suppose most farmers are used to it- getting rid of a rodent problem, or putting down a sick animal, or slaughtering a pig for food. The action was so casually executed, it almost questioned my discomfort. I think most people just don’t think of pest control beyond calling  Orkin.

In a brusque way, he was amiable- the edge to his demeanor softened by the fact that he’d invited me to stop in the first place, sanded and smoothed with offers to return, and “take a pepper before you go!”So I hopped into the tangle of weeds and nightshades and walked gingerly up the garden, reaching into the mess of green for a perfectly imperfect chile and a handful of curly parsley.

Unceremoniously, the tour ended, and I walked away with my gifts and a story. Erich Hooper farms without monetary ambition. His plot isn’t tidy or picturesque, and the man himself lacks the same hip quality to many of the purveyors of this city’s local and organic food enthusiasts. The sides of his house are dedicated to the graffiti art of area teenagers. His tools and planters are all second-hand, largely made from items unused to dirt or seedlings. His yard- his farm- is a brightly colored, earthy smelling Pollock, unexpected on a walk that crosses highways and overlooks steelyards. It surprised me and it’s heartening to know that farm is there, a small and humble oasis in a patch of Cleveland that’s known mostly for its clash of old steel and ambitious gentrification.

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Apple Bread, incarnation #1

This fall, with access to so many different varieties of apples (through the farm job) as well as a cafe-bakery kitchen (through the baking job), I want to build some recipes that banter with whatever variety I use. I want to discover just what flavors are best suited to one another, spices heightening fruit- and then finding the perfect vehicle for it all. Some types, I know, are better sliced into pies than sauces, or dried into granola than eaten raw.

Here’s today’s first experiment. It’s an apple-almond bread, made with Golden Supremes- but only because I didn’t have any more interestingly flavored fruit in my fridge. I’d like to recreate it with some Ruby Jons later this week…

Apple-Almond Bread

1c almonds, roasted

1/4c coconut oil

1/2c maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 tbsp ground flax mixed with 3 tbsp water

3/4c almond or hemp milk mixed with 1 tsp cider vinegar

2 medium-large apples (plus an extra, for topping)

3c flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp cardamom

**preheat your oven to 325*. grind almonds in a food processor to a fine grain- add coconut oil and process again until relatively smooth. pour this into a large mixing bowl. add flax mixture, maple syrup, vanilla, and almond milk-vinegar brew. whisk until combined.

**core the apples, and cut into a few chunks- place these in your food processor and process to small bits. alternatively, use a grater and hand-grate the apples. add this to the rest of the liquid ingredients.

**in a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder & soda, salt, and spices. add to the liquid ingredients, stirring until all the flour has been incorporated.

**pour the batter into a large, oiled loaf pan- 10″ should do the trick. slice the extra apple into several thin disks and arrange them however you please on top of the batter.

**bake for 60-65 minutes, testing with a toothpick or a smooth-bladed knife for a clean removal. when done, let cool in the pan for 10 or so minutes- then remove and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

**this bread is fairly delicate- be careful when slicing. the crust wants to break away from the body of the bread, but with some gentle cajoling, you’ll end up with a beautiful cut.

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