Producer of the Week: DAJ Mushrooms

Just-harvested mushrooms from DAJ Mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Just-harvested mushrooms from DAJ Mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

If you want to learn how to grow mushrooms, you need to ask an Accounting major. More specifically, you need to ask John Davidson, the owner of DAJ Mushrooms. John graduated from Widener University in 1991 with a degree in Accounting. Soon after, he started to grow shiitake mushrooms and put his Accounting degree to work as a business owner.

John has been growing mushrooms for over 20 years. “All my adult life,” he said. It’s also a practice that began when he was 13-years-old. “At that time, my after-school job was working for my cousin on a mushroom farm,” John explained.

Today, on his own mushroom farm in Avondale, Pa., John produces 55,000 pounds of cremini mushrooms, 45,000 pounds of portobello mushrooms, and 1,000 pounds of shiitake, oyster, and maitake mushrooms each week.

In order to grow this many mushrooms, John uses a nutrient-rich compost blend that provides a fertile environment for their growth. “Everyone thinks that mushrooms are grown in horse manure,” John shared. That’s a common misconception.

“Our compost is 95 percent made up of a mix of wheat, straw, and hay. After that, 3 percent is manure, and the rest is a blend of cottonseed hulls and cocoa bean shells,” John stated. “Also, we do not apply any chemicals to our mushrooms. No fungicides or pesticides.”

In many ways, mushroom growing is environmentally friendly. “We use all the waste from other types of farming. We use straw from the racetrack, as well as the cottonseed hulls and cocoa bean shells to create a really enriched soil that is high in nutrients and great for gardens,” John said.

At DAJ Mushrooms, everything is grown inside in a controlled environment. In the summer, John brings the temperature down to 55 degrees. Mushrooms thrive in this setting. As John explained, mushrooms are not grown from seed. They are a fungus that starts and colonizes with no root system to start from.

There is plenty to learn about mushroom growing, and John enjoys educating the public on the process. “What I like most about being at the market is talking to people about mushrooms,” John said. “They always enjoy learning about the growing process. Once I tell them, I like seeing their reactions.”

These days, John’s nephew works the UM Farmers Market booth for DAJ Mushrooms as John tends to the business. At the market, patrons keep him busy requesting cremini mushrooms, mostly. John likes to encourage people though to try the mushroom mixes and get introduced to new varieties they haven’t tried in the past.

When patrons do buy their mushrooms at DAJ’s booth, John offered a few tips on keeping them fresh. “Never store mushrooms in a sealed plastic container,” he said. “Once moisture gets on them, they go bad quickly. Instead, place them in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator or in a container that can breathe.”

The mushrooms that John sends to the UM Farmers Market are picked fresh that morning. The average shelf life of a mushroom is a week to 10 days. Buying them at the market ensures that they’ve been harvested that very morning for a deliciously fresh flavor. John also advises when you cook mushrooms, don’t submerge them in liquid. They will absorb it, which will compromise the quality of the dish.

With these tips in mind for storing and cooking mushrooms, be sure to visit DAJ Mushrooms this week – and every week – for the finest mushrooms any Accounting major can grow!

PRODUCER’S SPECIAL: Stop by the market booth this Saturday for the “Sauté Special.” It’s a good sampler mix of cremini (baby bella), shiitake and oyster mushrooms. It normally sells for $9, but this week, it will be on sale for $7.

Producer of the Week: Jack’s Farm

Jack's Farm“We’re USDA Certified Organic,” said Dan Heckler. “It’s just the right thing to do when it comes to producing food.”

Dan and his wife, Deb, own and operate Jack’s Farm. Over 15 years ago, they started their Pottstown farm from scratch to offer certified organic, non-GMO vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. Their children provided the impetus to follow these strict farming practices. “Having children really  made us both stop and make more deliberate choices in how we’re farming,” Dan shared.

A commitment to organic agriculture is a commitment to preserving the environment. In order to abide by this commitment, farmers who seek the USDA Certified Organic designation must adhere to a number of organic standards. These include avoiding chemical fertilizers, using organic seed, welcoming regular on-site inspections, keeping detailed crop records, and much more.

“It’s really the only farming method where the rules are public and the standards are routinely checked by a third party,” Dan said.

Dan credits his crew of dedicated farm hands with the growth of Jack’s Farm. “You know, the myth of the ‘dumb farmer’ isn’t true,” he said. “There’s so much planning and foresight, plus physicality, needed in this business that it’s not for the faint of heart!”

Dan learned this himself from a very young age. “I grew up in a farm situation,” Dan explained. “My Dad raised antibiotic-free turkeys for Whole Foods. It was a large-scale agriculture operation.” Dan’s Mom also grew up on a dairy farm in central Pennsylvania.

Despite its name, Jack’s Farm isn’t named for a specific “Jack.” Instead, the name is meant to signify a farmer’s need to be a “jack of all trades” to farm successfully. Dan is one of these “jacks,” using his multiple skills and talents to grow the farm business.

“For me personally,” Dan said, “I am using virtually every one of my talents from planning to mechanical inclination to research and customer service.”

You can find Jack’s Farm at the UM Farmers Market every Saturday. All of Dan’s products are popular among market patrons. Be sure to check them out and see this commitment to sustainable farming practices for yourself.

“We love our customers!” Dan said. The feeling is mutual!

Producer of the Week: Livengood Family Farm

The Livengood Family Farm stand at the market.

The Livengood Family Farm stand at the market.

You might say it’s called Livengood Family Farm for a good reason. The Livengoods have been been in the farming trade for generations. “My grandmother was raising items in the homeplace,” Dwain Livengood said. “My Mom was raising and selling at the market when she was young, and my Dad had a peddling route.”

Dwain can remember being in kindergarten in the early 1980s and working alongside his parents, Earl and Joyce Livengood, to sell their vegetables at a roadside stand. Today, the Livengoods are busy growing and selling their produce, meats, and other products like broths, salsa, and meat snacks at a number of farmers markets in the region.

At the UM Farmers Market, Dwain has noticed that patrons here favor an even split of both protein and produce. “Our customers at the market have a good appreciation of our meats and the vegetables to go along with them,” Dwain said. “Our beef snack items are particularly popular, too.” These products would include their beef jerky and snack sticks that are sweet and delicious.

While Livengood Family Farm has been a producer with the UM Farmers Market since it opened in 2009, many patrons might not know the farm was certified organic in the early 1990s through OCIA (Organic Crop Improvement Association). “We know the ins and outs of organic certification,” Dwain said. “We are not currently certified, however, because all our sales have become retail-based, and we found we can easily talk to our customers about our farming practices and answer their questions first hand.”

Of all the work to be done on the farm, Dwain is especially passionate about raising livestock. “All our dairy animals and cattle are pasture-raised and grass-fed,” he said. “My siblings and I did 4-H. When I graduated from high school, it was just at the beginning of the grass-fed movement locally. We grew with that movement.” Dwain’s love of tending to the livestock now fuels his days. “I’m almost full-time here on the animals,” he said.

As an inaugural producer with the UM Farmers Market, Dwain and his mother Joyce have watched our market grow. He remarked about our entirely community-organized volunteer staff saying, “You are unique; no doubt.” It’s this grassroots effort that Dwain attributes to the success of our market and his business at the market. “We see a good amount of customer loyalty based on the community feel,” he said.

We’re grateful to have Livengood Family Farm and all our producers as part of this community!

PRODUCER SPECIAL: This week you can stop by Livengood’s booth at the market to take advantage of their sausage special! Buy one pack of sausage grillers and get the second pack 50% off. These grillers are perfect for your outdoor barbecue or inside in the oven if you want to escape the heat outside.

Producer of the Week: Greg Laut, Balloon Artist

Greg Laut creates a balloon figure for a young market patron. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Greg Laut creates a balloon figure for a young market patron. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

What do unicorns, swords, flowers, laser guns, and strawberries all have in common? Can you guess? Well, when they’re expertly crafted out of multi-colored balloons and amazingly life-like, they have the balloon artist Greg Laut in common.

“I was introduced to balloons in my high school’s juggling club,” said Greg. “The sponsor of the club’s wife made balloon animals and she showed us how to do a few of the basic shapes.” Greg’s knowledge and skill level increased with more formal training over time.

Greg believes anyone can learn his craft. What it takes, he shared, is “determination and a bag of quality balloons purchased off the Internet.” For anyone who has ever had a bad experience trying to inflate and twist balloons into figures, this insight may seem improbable. Yet, Greg encourages people not to get discouraged. “Most balloon kits bought in stores come with bad balloons which tend to set you up for failure,” he said.

Using his high quality balloons, Greg produces a wide range of figures that delight UM Farmers Market patrons of all ages. Some patrons request figures that are reasonably straight forward; however, some patrons make rather interesting requests. “I have a bunch of strange requests for balloons,” Greg said. “The one that sticks out to me the most is a double helix, requested by a very intelligent little girl who looked to be about 10 or 11-years-old.”

Whatever the request, Greg really enjoys his artistry. “My favorite thing about doing balloons is undoubtedly the little and big smiles I see when people are given the finished balloon.” That’s because Greg produces remarkable balloon creations that delight patrons every time.

PRODUCER’S SPECIAL: In honor of the July 4th weekend, you can request a patriotic-themed balloon creation from Greg. Please be sure to stop by and say hello to him!

 

Producer of the Week: Nurturing Nature Farm

Cathy Olsen used to dream of having a farm to grow herbs and flowers. “I’ve always loved to grow things and dig in the dirt,” she said. Three years ago Cathy’s dream became a reality when she started Nurturing Nature Farm.

Cathy helps a patron at the market. Photo by Copper Lantern Pictures.

Cathy helps a patron at the market. Photo by Copper Lantern Pictures.

Cathy not only likes to dig in the dirt, she also likes to make one-of-a-kind creations from the items she grows. From her beautifully painted gourds to her wood plank flower holders, it’s clear that Cathy is an artist at heart. “I love to draw, and now I find I can combine my interests in art and growing. It really makes me smile,” she said.

“I also really like this market,” Cathy said. “I like that I can make something different and bring it here.” Cathy values the fact that the patrons are so friendly and eager to talk with her about her flowers, plants, and artistry creations.

Cathy uses organic practices to provide fresh cut flowers and fresh herbs. “I think it’s important that people have a source of herbs that are pesticide free and organically grown,” Cathy shared. Of all the herbs Cathy sells at her booth at the market, basil is the number one seller, followed closely by cilantro.

Pay Cathy a visit on your next trip to the market. You’ll get to experience her creative artistry and be inspired to dig in the dirt yourself!

PRODUCER SPECIAL: This week Cathy is offering two of her strawberry plants on sale for $5.

Producer of the Week: Sweet Tree Artisan Roasters

Sweet Tree artisan coffees. Photo by Copper Lantern Pictures.

Sweet Tree’s coffees. Photo by Copper Lantern Pictures.

“We think of coffee roasting as an art,” says Pete Pijanowski, a volunteer who works for Sweet Tree Artisan Roasters. “We are extremely dedicated to our product, and we always bring the best quality product to the market each week.”

You can find Pete and these products at the Sweet Tree market booth every Saturday. These days Pete is selling a good deal of nitro cold brew coffee, which makes sense given the recent spike in warm temperatures. “Cold brewing is a process of grinding the coffee and pouring in cold water. You let the grounds sit for 20 or more hours so you get a concentrate out of that. Afterwards, you water it down, keg it, and charge it with nitrogen gas,” Pete says. “It’s a process, but the end result is well worth it.”

While Sweet Tree’s cold brew coffee is a favorite among market patrons, they also have many other popular artisan coffees from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and more. “We’re 100 percent pure coffee,” Pete says.

Sweet Tree has been in the roasting business since 2013. Local owners Ian and Melissa Kingsley began roasting coffee as a hobby. “Ian then made the mistake of letting his friends try his coffee,” jokes Pete. “They loved it so much they urged him to share it with others as a business.”

Coffee roasting is a passion for Ian and Melissa. Stop by their booth at the market to talk with them and with Pete, and while you’re there, ask for a cup of their nitro cold brew coffee. It’s a great way to satisfy your coffee craving and beat the heat!

PRODUCER’S SPECIAL:  Any two bags of coffee for $24. Some single origin whole bean coffees you may want to try include Ethiopian Burka Gudina (cherry notes, cocoa, full body), Sulawesi Toarco (buttery body, spice, tomato), Kenyan Kihenia (strawberry, candy-tart), Sumatra Peaberry (vanilla, melon, grapefruit, earthy), and Rwandan Misozi (pleasant complex notes of honey, raspberry, tangerine acidity).

Producer of the Week: Peach Bottom Farm

Peach Bottom JarsBroccoli. Cauliflower. Cucumbers. Eggplant. Red and black raspberries. Spaghetti squash. Strawberries. Yellow and red cherry tomatoes. Zucchini. Peach Bottom Farm offers this alphabet of in-season produce at our farmers market from May through November.

“Here you can shop all season long,” says Jonas Miller, owner of Peach Bottom Farm.

Jonas and his wife Sarah have been in business since 2001. It’s been their philosophy and practice to keep their farming pesticide free. “We believe in only spraying with organic solutions,” Jonas says.

If you stop by Jonas’ booth at the market be sure to try some of his canned items as well as his fresh produce.

“People like our Traffic Jam,” says Jonas. “It’s packed with four fruits…cranberries, strawberries, cherries and rhubarb.” In addition to Traffic Jam, patrons also like Peach Bottom Farms’ Chow Chow jarred mix. Chow Chow is a tangy blend of carrots, beans, pickles, peppers, celery, kidney beans, onions, lima beans, cauliflower, sugar, water, vinegar, turmeric, and celery seed.

This week, as well as every week, visit Jonas’ booth to sample his alphabet of fresh and jarred items, not to mention his delicious baked goods!

PRODUCER’S SPECIAL:  In honor of being selected producer of the week, Jonas will offer his spring onions at the discounted total of $1.50/bunch. While you’re there to pick up your spring onions, don’t forget to purchase Jonas’ fresh strawberries in honor of this week’s Strawberry Festival.

Producer of the Week: Hippie Soap Company

Handcrafted speciality soaps from Hippie Soap Company. Photo credit: Copper Lantern Pictures

Handcrafted speciality soaps from Hippie Soap Company. Photo credit: Copper Lantern Pictures

Hippie Soap Company is a new producer this year at the UM Farmers Market. In fact, they’re a new company entirely.  “We had been buying craft soap from other vendors,” said Stephanie Oram, co-owner of Hippie Soap. “We read books and blogs on soap making and decided to start our company in September of last year.”

Stephanie and her business partner Henry Toroni make a number of handcrafted soaps, lotions, and lip balms. In their first visit to the market, they found their unscented lotion bars, as well as their Moroccan Mint, Lavender, and Patchouli Tie Dye soaps sold very well. “We’re still learning what our most popular products are going to be,” Henry said. By talking to patrons, they learned a great deal about people’s allergies to certain scents. This information was valuable, they said, because it will help them think about the products they produce for the market.

Henry and Stephanie were drawn to the UM Farmers Market based on its proximity to their business. Once here, they found they liked the setting and the patrons. “It was really nice meeting people from the neighborhood today,” said Stephanie.

If you’re wondering, the name Hippie Soap came from Henry and Stephanie thinking about using the initials of their first names – H and S. That evolved into Hippie Soap “because making soap is a hippie thing to do,” said Stephanie. If you haven’t yet met Henry and Stephanie, please visit them at the market this week to browse their great selection of bar soaps, solid lotions, lip lotions, and men’s shaving soap.

PRODUCER SPECIAL: In honor of being selected Producer of the Week, Hippie Soap will be selling its lotion bars for $3. That’s $1 off the original price. Stop by their booth and take advantage of this special pricing!

Happy Birthday to Us!

UMFM Planning Committee members and market volunteers celebrate the market's 6th season of operation.

UMFM Planning Committee members and market volunteers celebrate the market’s 6th season of operation. Photo credit: Copper Lantern Pictures.

On May 30th, we celebrated the start of our sixth season of operation. The celebration included birthday cake that was cut and distributed by Erika Spott and Kelly Meneeley, the two originators of the Upper Merion Farmers Market and its first market managers. The celebration also included a gift to our patrons in the form of a UMFM Loyalty Card. Each week patrons can bring any market purchase to the UMFM Information Booth for a card punch. Ten punches earn the patron a prize from the market’s prize basket which contains sample items from our vendors, as well as market t-shirts, bags, magnets and more.

The market began in January of 2009. Spott and Meneeley started the UMFM by bringing together a group of 10 volunteers who were committed to serving the Upper Merion community through small business development and access to local, sustainable food choices. As a planning committee, the group raised money, found interested vendors, secured a market location, and began to spread the news about King of Prussia’s first farmers market. Four short months later, the UMFM opened for its first season in May 2009.

Today, many of those same volunteers continue to be active on the UMFM Planning Committee. Those original volunteers include Erika Spott, Eric Huhn, Tina Garzillo, Alice and George Koresko, Dawn Francis, Carole Kenney, and Lydia Dan Sardiñas, the current UMFM Market Manager. The planning committee has now grown to include new members as well, including Kristine Goodwin, Lauren Dare, and Maria Mengel. Several other dedicated individuals donate their time each Saturday to ensure the successful operation of the market.

The market has grown in operation from a dozen vendors at the start to more than twenty vendors today. Livengood Family Farm, Spring Creek Farms, and Peachbottom Farm/Wakefield Dairy were three original producers who remain with us in our sixth season. We also have local growers and producers of fresh flowers, speciality baked goods, honey, wine, pasta and spreads, meats, soaps, foods for special diets, and more.

All of us who volunteer our time to run the market amidst our daily full-time jobs are grateful for the community’s patronage and grateful for our vendors and volunteers who are like family to us. Thank you for being an essential part of the UM Farmers Market! As we celebrate our birthday this year, we also celebrate you for being with us as loyal customers and friends.

Producer of the Week: Mucho Bueno

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The guacamole-green Mucho Bueno food truck has patrons lined up for their great food. Photo Credit: Copper Lantern Pictures

You may have seen Patrick and Shannon Baudoin-Rea traveling around town in their distinctive guacamole-green food truck. Maybe you’ve tasted their signature sweet potato taco that was named by Zagat as one of the Top 10 Tacos in Philadelphia. Or perhaps, you’ve enjoyed their delicious breakfast tacos at the UMFM. To know them is to want to eat Mucho Bueno.

Patrick and Shannon started their business two years ago. “The joy of serving others is what got us into it,” Patrick said. “We love tacos and barbecue, so we decided to throw them together.”

Some of their most popular creations are the beef brisket taco, and the jump-off sandwich that includes chicken, bacon, and barbecue sauce. YUM!

Patrick and Shannon believe in supporting small local businesses like their own. “We use eggs from Peach Bottom Farms here at the market, as well as their tomatoes and other produce.”

Outside of the UMFM, you can find the Mucho Bueno food truck at LOVE Park, the Navy Yard, and Weavers Way Co-op. “This market is one of our favorites, though. We love the people, and how the people here appreciate us. We also love the great setting at the market.”