August 24, 2013
You’ve probably heard of farm-to-table by now, but what about farm-to-freezer? There is a Pittsburgh farmer who’s helping pioneer that movement by taking a familiar summer treat in an unexpected direction.
Maria Graziani owns Healcrest Urban Farm, 1.7 acres of reclaimed land in the gritty Pittsburgh neighborhood of Garfield. Her farm is divided up into neat little sections. In one garden she grows lemon mint, Echinacea purpurea, red clover, and Calendula officinalis—which is a type of marigold.
Graziani believes that all of these herbs have medicinal value. Echinacea, for example, is said to strengthen the immune system, and red clover contains salicylic acid—that’s what makes aspirin work. Most people would brew these herbs into a medicinal tea, and that's what Graziani does during the colder months of the year.
But it is summer after all, and a cup of hot tea might not be up everyone’s alley. So, she looked to the freezer for inspiration.
"A nice, sweet way and summery way to get these herbs in your diet by eating them in a great-tasting popsicle," she says.
With the help of a grant from Awesome Pittsburgh, an organization that funds what they call “awesome” projects, Graziani and her partner Dana Launius began making Tea Pops; icy, refreshing popsicles that combine an herbal tea blended from plants grown at Healcrest with fresh fruits and vegetables from Pittsburgh’s farmers’ markets.
She blends and freezes the pops in a nearby commercial kitchen. Then, it’s off to community events to encourage the public to try something new. She recently sold her pops at a party for the advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh.
That day, she brought five flavors including cucumber herbal—that’s the same blend of herbs she was clipping at her farm—and Shiro plum & calendula. She says that even though some people bristle at first at the unexpected combinations—or perhaps they just don’t know what calendula is--it’s not too hard to convince them to at least give these pops a try.
"I think when they see the ice pop shape—it’s a traditional popsicle shape—and they see that we’re using fresh fruit, they can be kind of into it We try to explain the pop as being normal and not-so-strange, and that gets a lot of people to try them."
Still, it’s a big leap from “cherry,” “lemon,” or other traditional popsicle flavors. Plus, her popsicles are flecked with herbs or colorful flower petals.
"I’m just saying, it sounds kinda crazy," says Knowledge Hudson, a local activist and entrepreneur.
But that didn’t stop him from giving the Peach and Edible Flowers pop a try.
"It tastes very peachy. You can’t taste the flowers, but you can taste the chunks of peaches. It’s pretty awesome," he says.
"I think we have more gardeners, foodies, and health-conscious people in the city of Pittsburgh than we like to believe," Graziani says, noting that one of her strongest selling points is that all of the ingredients in her pops are locally grown and seasonal.
And she is already thinking ahead to flavors for next week. "We are doing a local sweet corn and flowering herbs popsicle."
With autumn fast approaching, maybe we’ll see corn’s companion plant squash mixed into a pop with thyme and sage soon?