NVDAILY.COM | Lifestyle/Valley Scene

Posted June 9, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Casual Fridays: New farmers market offers local food, community atmosphere

By Laetitia Clayton - lclayton@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- A small but lively group of local farmers -- most of them women -- has been gathering in the parking lot of Cristina's Cafe for the past several Friday evenings.

They are there primarily to offer fresh, local produce and other goods, but also to possibly start something bigger.

Cristina's co-owner Wendy Willis said she wanted to model the market after those she saw in the West, where it's as much a social event as it is a market.

"It's very much a cultural scene," she said of the farmers markets she visited in places like Idaho and Seattle.

"Strasburg needed something like this."

Willis said it was her brainchild over the winter after visiting neighboring markets last summer.

"I went within a 30- to 40-mile radius last summer and visited farmers markets," she said.

That was when she discovered Shana Evans, who calls herself "the goat lady."

Evans raises goats on her Middletown farm -- Cornerstone Farm -- and makes goat milk, goat cheese and goat milk soap.

She was selling her goods at Cristina's on Friday, offering samples of the milk and some of the different cheeses.

"It's going very well," Evans said. "I'm the only person that does goat milk in this area."

But those who want to buy her raw products have to join a share program, she said, because of the raw-milk laws.

"People want the healthy alternatives to what's being offered in the grocery store," she said. "The pasteurization and homogenization kills good and bad things. It's not even milk anymore."

Evans also had farm-fresh eggs from free-range chickens and some oils she sells through Young Living Essential Oils.

Sue Golden, a retired corporate lawyer who has run a farm in Middletown since 1998, also believes in a healthier alternative. She raises cows and pigs that are free-range and aren't given growth hormones. On Friday, she was offering samples of chuck roast in a marinade; her grandmother's tomato sauce, made with Golden's short ribs; and her own beef and pork meatballs. She also was selling fresh turkey eggs, Swiss chard and spinach.

Golden said she knows Willis because Cristina's features her beef in some of its recipes. The cafe even offers a "Golden Burger" on its menu.

"They're really great with trying to help local farmers," Golden said of Willis and her sister Cristina, who co-owns the cafe.

Willis said she chose Friday evening for the market because it doesn't compete with any of the others in the area, most of which meet on Saturday mornings.

"And I wanted a more casual atmosphere," she said.

That's exactly what she got.

Since May 14, the farmers have been setting up tables in the small gravel parking lot beside the cafe, surrounded by huge potted plants that almost create a jungle-like atmosphere. Diners can sit at outdoor tables and grab a bite during the market, too.

Willis said she plans to hold the market every Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. through October, and she hopes it grows.

"They get free reign of the parking lot," she said of the farmers. "We don't charge them anything. Anybody can come and set up," adding that she doesn't want it to turn into a flea market, however.

Even though Willis would like to have all-natural, organic products at the market and in the cafe, she said it's so costly for the farmers that the customers would have to pay more as well.

"More of my push is on local," she said. "We deserve to be sharing the bounty of what's grown here. I'd rather just know the people, know what they are doing [on their farms]."

Willis also uses a lot of the local products in the dishes she makes at the cafe. For example, she says she recently made a vanilla Bundt cake with strawberry and balsamic compote, using local strawberries. She also makes a lot of her desserts with local eggs.

"We have a garden behind the cafe," she said. "We grow herbs and tomatoes."

Food has always played an important role in her family, Willis said, but so has the desire to help other local businesses.

"We wanted to kind of step out of the mold when we decided to become business owners," Willis said of herself and her sister. "It's important as a local business owner to help other business owners in your community. We learned that growing up."

Cristina's Cafe Friday Farmer's Market is held every Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. in the cafe parking lot at 219 W. King St. in Strasburg. For more information, call 465-2311 or visit cristinascafe.net. If you are interested in becoming a vendor, contact Willis at ccafe@shentel.net.

Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily | nvdaily.com | 152 N. Holliday St., Strasburg, Va. 22657 | (800) 296-5137