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Food & Drink

Farm to Table conference highlights Western Pa. food sources

| Tuesday, March 15, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Emerald Valley Artisans has participated all 10 years of Farm to Table.
Emerald Valley Artisans
Emerald Valley Artisans has participated all 10 years of Farm to Table.
Food sampling from vendors is a big part of the 10th annual Farm to Table conference.
Farm to Table
Food sampling from vendors is a big part of the 10th annual Farm to Table conference.
EcoJarz is a first-time participant in the Farm to Table conference.
EcoJarz
EcoJarz is a first-time participant in the Farm to Table conference.

Erin Hart has been motivating consumers to “Keep it Real, Keep it Local” since she organized Pittsburgh's first Farm to Table Conference in 2007.

A decade later, people not only are getting the message, they're running with it.

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined that our nation's eating habits have improved significantly — and people are eating out less, says Hart, director of Health Benefit Services, American HealthCare Group, sponsor of the conference.

Locally, attendance at the food conference — which showcases local farmers, food producers, health and wellness professionals and chefs — has increased from 300 its first year to more than 6,000 in 2015. March 18 and 19 will bring the 10th edition of the event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

New to the conference will be a Real Meal Purveyors food court for vendors who are interested in showcasing their products and providing meals for visitors.

“We wanted attendees to try as much local and real food as possible so they can incorporate these food businesses into their daily life,” Hart says.

Among the exhibitors who will be returning for their 10th year with the conference is Emerald Valley Artisans of Scenery Hill, Washington County. Spokeswoman Alisa Fasnacht says the event is a valuable one for families.

“Our participation gives us a chance to move past any barriers that prevent consumers from learning more about us as farmers and producers, while allowing access to fresh, wholesome, nutritious food,” she says. “During the event, everyone is moving closer to their food source and reconnecting with their roots. This is a necessary and powerful part of building a better food system.”

Emerald Valley will offer 12 varieties of artisan-crafted aged cheese and five cheese spreads. It will debut a new variation of its ricotta chiesi infused with black truffles, which will be served as part of March 18's food tasting.

Participating in Farm to Table for a fourth year will be Carbonara's Ristorante, a family-owned restaurant in Mt. Lebanon that specializes in authentic, homemade Italian cuisine. Gabrielle Carbonara says her workers will offer samples of the establishment's three all-natural, gluten-free pasta sauces: garlic marinara, tomato basil and meat sauce. They'll be selling homemade meatball and hot-sausage sliders, penne pasta with a choice of sauce, cheese pizza, side salads with homemade Italian dressing and non-alcoholic beverages.

“Farm to Table truly embraces and supports small, local businesses, and their events have allowed us the opportunity to share our product with a wide range of old and new customers,” she says.

In addition to food, the conference will feature exhibitors displaying and selling cooking products and accessories, such as EcoJarz of Freeville, N.Y. Aziz Lani says the company is young and focused on challenging the concept of throw-away culture.

“We've been creating the highest-quality mason jar accessories since 2012, and this is our first time attending the Food to Table Conference,” Lani says. “We think it's a good opportunity for us, because food and jars are always paired, and so many of the people who really like our products are always interested in organic foods and sustainable living.”

Products range from fermenter lids to sealable drinking lids, stainless-steel straws and straw cleaners, kitchen gadgets made for mason jars and stainless-steel jar bands for canning.

Visitors to the conference will have access to information about local CSAs (community-supported agriculture) and food providers, such as Republic Food Enterprise Center in Fayette County, which sources local produce from multiple farms in Western Pennsylvania.

Spokesman Robert Junk Jr. says the center helps link the gap from farm to table by operating a Local Eats, Local Treats buying program, similar to a CSA.

“RFEC aims to help increase agricultural production and return on investment for farmers as well as increase the availability of healthy, local produce and products,” he says. They'll have more than 60 products at the conference, ranging from apple butter to oat scone and sweet-potato pancake mixes.

The two-day conference includes an exhibit hall with more than 150 local food vendors, speakers and demonstrations, children's activities and special events. A food tasting is planned for March 18. March 19 will feature a farm fresh breakfast, Burgh Bits & Bites private tour and Farm to Flask mixology event.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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