USDA deputy secretary at NO urban farm

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - U.S. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan looked around the room lined with bin after bin of produce - sweet potatoes and kale grown in Pointe Coupee Parish, Brussels sprouts grown in Hungarian Settlement, oranges grown on three farms.

Hollygrove Market and Farm is among hundreds of "food hubs" that bring in produce from a number of small, local farms and make it available to larger markets than the farmers could manage on their own, such as large retailers, schools and other institutions, Merrigan said Tuesday.

"By our count now there are about 223. But we need many, many more," she told dozens of farmers, restaurateurs and people interested in food. Merrigan also released a U.S. Department of Agriculture report on food hubs, saying there's no best way to create such places and they take a variety of forms. "The biggest message is that these can be very successful," she said.

Then it was time for a cooking demonstration by chef Paul Prudhomme, who wheeled his electric scooter to a table and dumped a pile of butter pats into a frying pan.

When the butter sizzled invitingly, he filled the pan rim to rim with chopped vegetables - red peppers, orange carrots, yellow squash, green broccoli - then unscrewed the lid from a jar of one of his commercial seasoning mixes, poured on a stream of dried herbs and spices, and mixed it all up.

"I like to eat," he told the audience. "But at one time I was at 580 pounds. Now I'm at 200. I eat a lot and I eat right." The biggest before-and-after difference? "Just eating less. Eating the right things and eating less." "I used to taste things this way," he said, filling his large cooking spoon. "Now I taste them this way."

He poked a fork into a single piece of carrot and held it up. Hollygrove holds farmer's markets on weekends and three weekdays, selling produce raised as far west as Kinder and as far northeast as Pontotoc, Miss., and meat from other local sources.

Several of its producers are in the city, from the Latino Farmers Cooperative's free range eggs and chickens to mustard greens from the Magellan Street Community Garden in Algiers. Elvia  Chauvin, 60, said Hollygrove buys about one-third of the leafy greens he grows at Two Acre Farm in Marrero. He eats and preserves the rest, as well as the chickens, eggs and rabbits he raises, he said.