Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 13, 2014

From The Farm: Learning to love local produce

Local columnist

---- — “What do I do with that?”

It's the question my business partner, Jess Piskor, and I most often answer at farmer's markets.

Be it beets, fava beans, greens or yellow carrots, I love that question. It gives me an opportunity to wax poetic about a dinner that I made in the past few weeks. What I ate, how I would have changed it and how I hope the market goer will take it for a spin.

And that question is the impetus for this column, to explore the foods available at local markets and hopefully to excite people into shopping locally and creating dinner from the best of our agricultural community.

Knowing where your food comes from and whose hands grew it, makes me excited to eat it and share it with my family and friends. I’ve often found myself announcing before each dinner, which foodstuffs came from our farm and have yet to receive an eye roll for my pride.

The second goal for this column is to do a little showing — showing different cooking techniques applied to the same piece of produce to yield a different result.

We have a finite number of fruits, vegetables and proteins locally produced. For me the glory of food is not in the sheer number of raw inputs, but in how you can take the best of what’s around you and reinvent it time and again. And understanding basic cooking techniques makes creating dinner easier, faster, more fun and tastier.

Tastier not because you found the perfect recipe — perfectly memorized and perfectly cooked — but because you learned how to make the food bend to your tastes.

You’re in charge — not the cauliflower.

Cooking can be intimidating and it is embarrassing watching a loved one swallow hard and claim "I'm not that hungry anyway."

Similarly, the idea of reinvention is important to me because, truth be told, sometimes cooking is no fun —especially if you feel like you stink at it. It can be a chore just like sweeping the floor or going for a run — I’d rather take a hot shower and a nap.

But choosing to cook often leaves me feeling good and happy that I contributed the time to the task, even when I don’t feel like making dinner. I may tend to prioritize cooking over most things, but the ability to reinvent produce that I've seen before inspires me to make the next meal and the next after that.

It is like a gustatory runner’s high.

Hopefully my experiences taking food from the farm to my table will help inspire you to do the same.

Abra Berens is a farmer and chef who specializes in Midwestern food. She splits her time between the farm she co-owns, Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport, and Chicago where she works as a chef. For more information about Berens and her farm go to