During my travels to 46 states over the past two years, I’ve explored Illinois cornfields, watched an oyster harvest in Connecticut, and admired beet fields in North Dakota. I’ve toured a rooftop farm on a Brooklyn high-rise, and marveled at fresh vegetables grown in truck containers in the remote Alaskan Arctic.
These are the places where it all begins, so that Americans have safe and affordable food, from the farm to the plate.
So when local author and chef Jonathan Bardzik invited me to the USDA cafeteria for a lunch-hour cooking demonstration, I grabbed my apron and joined him as his “Sous Chef for the Day.”
Bardzik has created more than 600 recipes using fresh produce from local farmers markets. With an audience of the USDA workforce and even tourists visiting from the National Mall, we prepared a delicious menu of minestrone pasta, eggplant and tomato soup, green beans with pistou sauce, and mesclun with honey crisp apples and cider vinaigrette.
While cooking, we discussed how FSA provides a critical financial safety net for farmers and ranchers that ensures what they produce reaches the marketplace and ultimately to the table.
I highlighted how the workhorse of the FSA portfolio, our microloan, of which 25,000 have been issued in just three years, has been a real game changer for farmers and ranchers, especially those who participate in farmers markets, urban agriculture, or as suppliers of locally sourced food.
We also discussed the FSA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which, by helping farmers replace environmentally sensitive farmland with grasses, shrubs and trees, has done tremendous work to enhance air and water quality, prevent soil erosion, and create habitat for waterfowl, wetland and upland species.
It wasn’t long before our guests attending our cooking demonstration were able to try all four of our freshly prepared recipes – with the Chef even offering cards so that guests could recreate the recipes in their own kitchens.
And with my mini-apprenticeship drawing to a close, I thanked Chef Bardzik for the opportunity to join him in our own “farm-to-plate” adventure here at USDA.