Since the days of Lammas tide, the harvest has sparked agriculture-based celebrations. This weekend's Food For Thought Festival (Sept. 17, 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Martin Luther King Blvd.) is one contemporary version that has previously focused more on theory than on, say, cardboard baskets piled high with sweet corn. This year's FFT will take place without a keynote speaker for the first time in the fest's 13-year history. Previous years have featured such local/sustainable-food celebs as Michael Pollan, Frances Moore Lappe, Alice Waters and Gary Nabhan and such guest chefs as Deborah Madison, Rick Bayless, Odessa Piper and Mollie Katzen.
"We'd already brought in most of the thought leaders in this area," says REAP communications coordinator Erin Courtenay, and other possible speakers turned out to be both difficult to contact and pricey. Those at REAP decided to take a different approach, where attendees can "learn and work with their hands, even get their hands dirty,"" says Courtenay.
A workshop on apples will include a tasting and instructions on how to make your own cider press. Susan Troller, author of Cluck: From Jungle Fowl to City Chicks, will speak on raising chickens and how to choose good eggs. There will also be an organic garden exhibit, chile roasting, mini-hoophouse building workshop, and small farm animal petting area.
The Local Foods Chef Showdown at 11 a.m., led by Joan Peterson and Terese Allen, will feature Steven Buchholz of Crema Cafe, David McKercher of Mermaid Cafe, and Peter Robertson of R.P.'s Pasta making a dish on the spot using surprise ingredients from the Dane County Farmers' Market.
Local foods for lunch will be served by L'Etoile, LaFortuna mobile pizza oven, Paoli Bread and Brat House, Monty's Blue Plate Diner and Tex Tubb's Taco Palace. Eighty-some exhibitors will also be on hand.
If you missed your chance to sign up for a CSA share this spring, yet find shopping at farmers' markets prohibitive, the Growing Power Market Basket is another option. A basket of fresh produce costs $16, with foods sourced from local farms and small-scale wholesalers, including Badger Rock Middle School South Madison gardens and Robert Pierce's south-side farm. Want a basket for one week but not the next? No prob! Sign up by Wednesday, get the basket on Friday. Delivery is at the Crossing, 1127 University Ave., from 3-5 p.m.
A recent week's basket included a watermelon, apples, garlic, eggplant, a bunch of collards, a bunch of kale, bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, basil and a bag of green beans.
While the Growing Power basket program is not new, the distribution of the baskets on campus is. It's being spearheaded by Brian Schneider, an intern with Slow Food UW. "The whole point is the food justice issue," says Schneider, objecting to circumstances that make processed fast food cheaper than fresh fare. For more info, call Schneider at 608-712-4310 or sign up at doodle.com/ap2uev485p9idvam.
The Mermaid Cafe, 1929 Winnebago St., is now serving dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5-10 p.m. The moderately priced menu ($11-$15) focuses on seasonal produce and locally raised meats.
Palmyra, a Middle-Eastern restaurant from the owners of Shish Cafe, is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday at 6719 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave. in Middleton, formerly the site of Bean Sprouts. A new pizza venture is headed for 15 N. Butler St., formerly home to Las Cazuelas. Naples 15, original wood fired pizza and pastas by Salvatore Discala, is to open in December, according to a sign in the window.