Customers at Farm Girls Pub & Grub, in downtown Alliance, get much more than a tasty meal. Owner Abbe Turner can tell them which local farm grew the vegetables, what breed of animal provided the pork and beef, and most importantly, where it comes from (hint: everything comes from Northeast Ohio, with some items as close as 25 miles to the restaurant).
“The average carrot travels 1,700 miles to get to your plate and that’s ridiculous,” said Turner, emphasizing part of the true cost of otherwise healthy food.
Running a family farm, creamery and restaurant, along with a recent foray into winemaking, does little to deter Turner’s enthusiasm and energy for the local food system. She looks at herself as an artisan, and somewhat of a throwback to simpler times.
“We see ourselves as a necessary link in the chain that is often a problem in the food system today,” said Turner. “There are a lack of small processors now. There used to be a dairy plant in every city. There used to be a meat processor, a packer in every small town, but there isn’t anymore, and that is forcing our food to be shopped longer distances.”
This focus on shipping has led to a push for products that are meant to last longer rather than food that’s grown to taste good. “I don’t want to live in a homogenized food culture,” she added. “I want unique differences based upon regions and based upon family recipes. That’s the kind of world that I want to live in, and slow food celebrates that.”
Turner’s contribution to the local food system centers around the Lucky Penny Creamery in Kent, where many of Lucky Penny’s cheeses are at their destination within 48 hours of initial production from the goats and sheep. Turner’s cheese goes to farmer’s markets and restaurants all over Ohio.
“We’ve chosen to do farmer’s markets in a variety of locations and in a variety of socioeconomic areas, because we feel people should have access to nutrient dense local foods regardless of their economic conditions,” said Turner, who makes the cheese herself at the former labor temple in Kent. “We believe we are an engine for economic development as that rural to urban connector.”
For those who’ve never tasted cheese from smaller ungulates like goats and sheep, the milk is lower in cholesterol and a great protein source for a family meal, according to Turner, who tells people that goat milk is fresh and tastes a little like sour cream.
Goat and sheep cheese can be used for salads, soups and pizzas. Last year, the creamery produced 10,000 pounds of cheese with just two people at the helm. Her 10,000 pounds could be one forklift load with a major producer, but Turner isn’t in this business to mass-produce.
“You’re getting a product that only has four ingredients: milk, salt, culture and rennet,” she said. “Nothing that I can’t pronounce, and nothing that I can’t spell.”
From the farm to the plate
Turner also runs a 14-acre family farm in Hiram Township, where much of her business’ goat’s milk originates. Chickens, goats, horses, bees and fresh food grown from the garden add to the population at the farm, where her family has lived for about 10 years.
Her children can go to the garden and eat anything anytime. “We do things in a natural way that protects the soil and water. The children can pick berries, asparagus, apples, pears: whatever is in season, they can snack on in the backyard. As a mom, I want my kids eating healthy, and as a farmer, I’m proud that we’re doing things in a sustainable way.”
Turner and her husband, Anderson, are continually researching ways to practice better animal husbandry techniques. “Living on a farm is a constant process of learning,” she added. “Some days aren’t easy, some days things happen that you didn’t plan.”
One of the biggest challenges, said Turner, is maintaining the integrity of quality as a local artisan while balancing the scale of production needed to be profitable. “In order for us to produce a good product and have it go through traditional distribution channels, you need to hit a particular threshold, and often on a small farm you can’t produce that.” There’s also a seasonality to the offerings. For example, there may only be blueberries for three weeks. Sheep milk season is only 105 days, and the window for making ricotta is 75 of those days, she said.
At Farm Girls Pub & Grub, in downtown Alliance, the fruits of her labor can be on full display (and in full taste).
The menu, sourced by 13 local famers, is determined by what’s available at the restaurant. All of the proteins (meats, milk, eggs and cheeses) are sourced from a 25-mile radius from the restaurant. Turner also is part of the “30-mile meal project,” a new initiative started in Athens, Ohio, to pull the food shed into a smaller area and keep money in the community.
“I think that we all can do small things to actively protect and promote a healthy food system, whether that be shopping at the farmers markets or having a small garden in the backyard. These are all important things to be able to protect against the complete homogenization of food in America. The fact that food is now designed to be shipped, not designed to taste good to me, is a problem. I want a lovely tomato, not one that has traveled 1,700 miles to get to my plate.”