The Perennial Plate Visits Ozark Natural Foods

By Daniel Klein

I gotta say—I love Arkansas and the people who live there. Yes, that may be a broad generalization of the state and its residents, but the overwhelming love and enthusiasm we have received in Arkansas thus far has been truly amazing. And we owe that to Curly and Carole Anne of Sweden Creek Farm, and the Ozark Natural Foods co-op. So, I think a few thank yous are in order.

Starting with Pauline Thiessen from Ozark Natural Foods, as she was the one who really put this together. I'd read about Carole Anne and Curly (amazing people, and banjo slinging shitake mushroom farmers to boot!), and reached out to the local co-op to find a way to contact them. From the moment that Pauline answered the phone, I knew we were on to something. No, she wouldn't give me Sweden Creek's phone number (store policy…gotta respect her loyalty) but she happened to already know about our show and her excitement in getting our call was apparent. When I told her I was Daniel Klein from The Perennial Plate, she responded with: "You are NOT!" And from there…the Arkansas plans began to unfold.

The produce section at Ozark Natural Foods is  stocked full of delicious local foods and true devotion and praise for local farmers around the NW Arkansas area. And not only that, but the employees (or at least Pauline) love what they are doing and know their stuff. Pauline was able to walk down the grocery aisle and tell us personal stories about the farmers—who they were as people, what they did when not farming (from driving school buses, to an 80-year-old grandma who simply grew turnips in her garden). You could tell that Pauline considered these farmers among her friends. If that's not caring about where your food comes from, than I don't know
what is.

It was no wonder that Pauline was able to get us hooked up with Sweden Creek Farms. Carole Anne and Curly are Arkansas transplants (they both hail from the east coast), brilliant musicians and amazing mushroom farmers. They've been farming now for over 20 years, and know the shitake like they know their three children. Their farm is literally in the middle of nowhere (honestly, our car's GPS system showed a blank screen with a blinking dot clearly trying to remain calm), and they grow gorgeous shitake mushrooms on millions of logs throughout their property.

Their output each week is to the tune of 1500 lbs—a quantity almost unbelievable when you see the ten total employees on this small family farm. The spawn comes straight from Japan, and the mushrooms are incredible (to Mirra, this is the new white meat). I guess that's what happens when they're grown with love. And that's exactly what Curly and Carole Anne do. I don't want to give away too much, as you'll be able to learn all about them in the Arkansas video episode. But let me just say—Curly and Carole Anne opened their home to us with such generosity and kindness, it has been overwhelming to say the least. They are good, good people and we feel confident in saying we are leaving Arkansas with two new friends.  And if you haven't tried shitakes, please do—I'll have a recipe for them up on the site next week.

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