- EAT LOCAL: On the Fourth in Argenta.
The Fourth of July is traditionally the biggest harvest day of the year, according to farmer and local foods advocate Jody Hardin. The peaches are in. Big watermelons. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. Big ears of corn. Snap and pole beans. Summer squash. Okra's just starting to come along. And the tomatoes, oh Lord, the tomatoes. All that translates, at least in Hardin's experience, into the biggest sales day at Arkansas farmers' markets.
On Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., he and an enthusiastic group of locally minded chefs, farmers and merchants come together to celebrate all that Arkansas bounty at the inaugural Argenta Foodie Festival at the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market, between Sixth and Seventh Streets on Main.
It's Hardin's latest idea to further the local foods movement. For the last four years, he's maintained a locally grown food basket subscription service. Last year, he and a group of farmers broke away from the market in the River Market to form the CAFM, which Hardin emphasizes is “source-verified,” a response to a claim he and others have made that Little Rock's market is filled with sellers who buy wholesale from national distributors. Late this month or in early August, he'll open up a local and organic foods oriented grocery in downtown North Little Rock, where he's already started making pasta and bread for area restaurants.
The Foodie Fest brings together 14 local chefs, who'll sell an assortment of dishes created chiefly with local produce, meat or other product. A sample list of offerings will make your mouth water — pulled cabrito goat gyros, fruit sorbet, smoked corn on the cob, tomato and green onion quiche.
Perhaps the area's most respected chef, Lee Richardson of Ashley's, says he's participating as a show of support for the local growers, whose labors fill his menus.
“It's food that's grown for quality as opposed to shelf stability and product stability. And it's not about going out to earn a great living. The people who do this are precious. It's very important for me personally and my family and for me professionally.”
Richardson is offering fried green tomatoes with pepper relish, chicken and andouille gumbo and a watermelon granita (“kind of like a slush,” he says).
Chef Jason Godwin, of Simply the Best Catering, is serving peach shortcake and horchata, made from Arkansas rice. Working with local farmers has been enlightening, he says.
“Even growing up in Arkansas, even though I've been in food, I haven't been this close to the farming aspect. The lines of the season start to blur when you're not up with the farmers and seeing what they have week to week.”
The festival, in Hardin's conception, will become the signature event of the fledgling Farm to Chef Network, through which he's hoping bridge the gap between local chefs and local farmers by getting them together regularly to talk about wants and needs and process and growing seasons and such. So far, the response, from both sides, has been enthusiastic, he says.
Organizer John McClure says that while it may sound like hyperbole, Taste of Chicago, the massive annual food fest in the city's Grant Park, is a model.
“We're going to build this thing and take it to the next level.”