Homegrown harvest

First Harvest Festival celebrates local food

ISHPEMING — You wouldn’t have found french fries or pork rinds at the first-ever Harvest Festival, unless someone smuggled them in.

However, you would have found fresh tomatoes and seasoned local meat dishes.

The event, which was sponsored by Partridge Creek Farm Sunday at the Ishpeming Elks Club, featured local food producers, food tastings and vendors with sustainable goods.

Partridge Creek Farm, based in Ishpeming, is a nonprofit educational farm dedicated to improving local access to fresh produce, creating a healthier community and educating people on local food systems.

PCF Director Dan Perkins was pleased with the inaugural festival, as were other people who attended it.

In fact, one woman came up to him and asked to borrow $5.

“I don’t have enough to buy my worm poop,” she said. “I owe you.”

In case you’re not familiar with that substance, waste from redworms is used to make vermicompost, which is added to soil to enrich it and allow plants to grow better.

The festival, though, was varied in what it offered.

MSU Extension was on hand to lead children’s food activities, Perkins said, as were people familiar with preparing food.

“We had six local chefs working with about 12 different farms of local produce,” Perkins said. “Every piece of meat, every vegetable was included. There was nothing from outside our little area in terms of food.”

No vichyssoise was served, but that didn’t mean the food was basic and bland.

“It was haute cuisine,” Perkins said. “Totally top-notch food all the way through the day.”

Drew Barker of Skandia works for Mother Mary’s Canning Company, whose commercial kitchen is in downstate Cheboygan.

The company was one of the vendors at the festival.

“We’re family owned and operated,” Barker said. “Everything we can is grown right here in Michigan. We get all of our produce in a jar within 24 hours of harvest — and absolutely nothing artificial in anything we make.”

Its most popular product is pickled asparagus, samples of which were ready to be tasted at the festival.

Mother Mary’s also makes cranapple chutney, pickled beets, asparagus salsa, applesauce, barbecue sauce and other products.

If anyone wants to try out a Mother Mary’s food item, Barker said the company usually is at the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market, which during market season runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at the Marquette Commons. Online sales are run through its website at mothermaryscanningco.com.

Marquette mushroom enthusiast Joe Lane, who was an intern at Partridge Creek, displayed an exhibit on PoHu mushrooms, an oyster variety.

“We’re looking at adding different nutrients and what not, like fertilizers from different sources, and seeing if we have a different, better, nutrient density in the mushrooms,” Lane said.

The display certainly was eye-catching.

The oysters grew out of bags containing a substrate of wood and straw. An independent variable was just plain straw, as well as plain wood, with fertilizers added, he said.

Mushroom spores, Lane explained, are to be thrown on fertilized straw. Then the mushroom fruiting bodies will be tested for their nutrient densities.

“The whole beauty of mushrooms is that they grow on what we consider waste products, hydrocarbons that we don’t really know what to do with, some of which is fuel,” Lane said. “So, if we can grow highly nutritious mushrooms on a low budget and bring them into communities like this, you can have Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ — quality food brings quality people.”

Another exhibit focused on companion planting, which is the intentional close planting of different plant species to enhance growth or deter pests in one or both plants.

The purpose of a local study is to determine whether planting Genovese basil with tomatoes positively influences growth or lessens the amount of insect damage in a plot. The study’s implications could be used to boost tomato production and offer a natural pest deterrent in lieu of dangerous pesticides.

More than food, though, was displayed at the event, although what one Ely Township man is undertaking could help the local food supply.

Aaren Joki runs Metsami Creations LLC in Ely Township, with finely crafted woodworking products a big part of his business.

However, Joki is big into sustainability as well, creating “vermiproducts” that act as natural fertilizer and heating his worm farms with the waste heat from his lumber mill.

Joki is using the skills he learned at home as compost site management contractor — on an industrial scale — for Partridge Creek Farm.

“The product I made at my house had more sand, and we’re trying to correct that,” Joki said of the vermicompost on display at the festival. “This is the best right now.”

Perkins plans to hold another festival.

“We’ll do it every year,” Perkins said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.