Phila. event celebrates local-food movement

Laura Yaghoobian and the Rev. Michael Alan of Wild Flour Bakery in North Philadelphia at the third Philly Farm and Food Festival Sunday.
Laura Yaghoobian and the Rev. Michael Alan of Wild Flour Bakery in North Philadelphia at the third Philly Farm and Food Festival Sunday. (DAVID M WARREN /Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 15, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Early in their marriage, Laura and Nishon Yaghoobian would wake up in the night to dote over a tiny bundle that filled them with hope for the future - their sourdough bread starter.

The batch had to be "fed" every four hours, so the new business owners shuttled it from home to the bakery. Once, it went along to a wedding.

"It was a little sourdough baby. It was an extension of our lives. It still is," Laura Yaghoobian said Sunday, scanning a gingham-draped table of her porter pumpernickels, crisp flatbreads, and smooth challah rolls tempting visitors at the Philly Farm and Food Festival.

The local-food movement - on dazzling and delectable display at the third annual event in the Convention Center - helped the Yaghoobians' Wild Flour Bakery in North Philadelphia expand into dozens of restaurants and markets over the last decade, Laura Yaghoobian said.

"The customer demand for it is pushing us into restaurants," she said. "Which is awesome."

That demand has also helped the festival double in size since its inception, to more than 120 vendors - a feat that hasn't surprised organizers, who estimated attendance this year at 3,500.

"This is a trend that's been picking up speed for a decade, and it's far from its peak," said Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, one of two nonprofits that hosted the event.

Ann Karlen, executive director of the other, Fair Food, said that was because the movement had so many entry points.

Subscribers are worried about their own health. Or the financial health of farmers. Or the environmental health of their communities.

In the end, Karlen said, most come to the same conclusion: "The food just tastes better."

Chefs, farmers, and entrepreneurs who agree - along with the throngs who came to sample their products - filled a ballroom where the smell of exotic spices mingled with the hum of cooking demonstrations.

One vendor sold organic seeds for a slew of vegetables. A few tables over, another sold the finished product: rutabagas, carrots, and shallots piled high in crates.

The products ranged from unusual, like the bacon spreads sold by the Bacon Jams in Conshohocken to ageless, like the stone-ground flours made by Doylestown's Castle Valley Mill.

Fran and Mark Fischer bought that mill, which opened in 1730, from his family about 16 years ago. He started rehabbing it as a hobby, but not until about four years ago did the pair see enough interest in the back-to-the-earth mind-set to dive into the business full time.

"We're it. Mom-and-pop," Fran Fischer said.

Their Old World method employs a lower temperature than mainstream milling and leaves their products - arranged Sunday in small mounds beside the grains they came from - packed with nutrients, she said.

"All the natural flavor, the way God intended it to be," she said. "It's all here."

610-313-8205 @TriciaNadolny

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