Recipe: Herbed Heirloom Tomato Salad

reposted with permission from The Land Connection (photos and recipes by Cara Cummings)
tomatoes
Tomatoes

A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins,” according to the writer Laurie Colwin.

Of course she was talking about backyard garden and farmers’ market tomatoes-all those luscious local tomatoes that provide a bright symphony of flavors. And now is the time to seek out every theme and variation on tomatoes: hybrids, heirlooms, cherry, pear, plum, even the diminutive currant tomatoes. The rainbow names of the heirlooms are enough to set your mouth watering: Sun Gold, Green Zebra, Pink Accordion, Prudens’ Purple, Striped Roman, Purple Calabash, Orange Oxheart, Black Trifele, Great White, and the ever-popular Brandywines (pink, red, and yellow)–to name just a few.

AN ORCHESTRA OF FLAVORS
Tangy, bright, and explosively ripe, an in-season tomato is any cook’s dream. You can do almost anything, or almost nothing, and either way, the result will be mind-blowingly delicious.

THE MELODY OF SUMMER YEAR ROUND
And after you slice ‘em, dice ‘em, sauce ‘em, salad ‘em, and slurp ‘em down shamelessly, be sure and put some up for winter. Tomatoes are one of the few vegetables that you can simply wash, cut into chunks, and slip into a zip-lock freezer bag. Nothing could be easier, or more rewarding come winter.

Nutrition
Vitamins, Minerals, and Nutrients:
Lycopene - may be linked to reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and age-related eye disorders.
Potassium - helps maintain blood pressure and regulate kidney health.
Vitamin A - required for maintaining healthy skin and is essential for vision.  Foods rich in this vitamin are known to offer protection against lung and oral cavity cancers
Vitamin C - helps to rebuild tissues and blood vessels, and keep bones and teeth strong.

Did you know?
The Guinness World Record for most tomatoes harvested from a single plant over one year weighed 522.464 kg (1151.84 lbs) with 32,194 tomatoes harvested between May 2005 and April 2006. The tomato plant was at the Epcot Science project at Walt Disney World Company, Florida, USA.

Herbed Heirloom Tomato Salad
tomatoes2
Ingredients
Heirloom Tomatoes
Salt
Black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Herbs

Instructions
1. Gather up 2 pounds of the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes you can find, choosing a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Cut them into wedges or thick slices. If you have cherry tomatoes, leave them whole. Arrange them on a chilled plate and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and your favorite vinegar. Top with a sprinkling of fresh, torn herbs like tarragon, basil, chives, and/or Italian parsley. Serve immediately.

NOTE:  Tomatoes this good deserve your best extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, and even some highfalutin’ salt because each of this salad’s few ingredients defines the final flavor. Of course, the most important element is ripe, beauteous tomatoes, so hunt some down at your local farmers’ market.

Well butter my… Apple?

by Joanna Lynn Blessing

When I think of hometown foods and local flavors in PA, one thing that always comes to mind as fall approaches is apple butter. Apples have long been used for sauces, pies, crisp, and around here, one can usually find a jar of apple butter in the cupboard to go along with your morning toast. But what is this divine spread, and how is it even made? Why is it so popular? How do you use it?

Credit: jeffreyw

Credit: jeffreyw

By the 18th century, settlers across Pennsylvania found it vital to find ways in which food could be preserved year-round. Families surviving off the land would plant varieties of fruits such as apples in backyard orchards that could be used in a multitude of ways, before luxuries like refrigerators were invented. Apple pressing became known as a way to extract the juice of an apple and then turn it into cider or vinegar. There was also drying to preserve slices, better known by us PA Dutchies as Schnitz. (Not sure if ‘dutchies’ is an official term, but we are going to roll with it here). Once these early American pioneers realized that the sauce made with apples would go bad over winter months, they were forced to find some other way to make the produce last longer.

Voila, apple butter was born!

Credit: Jackson Orchard

Credit: Jackson Orchard

The process that goes into making apple butter is quite simple, yet time consuming. Basically, apples are heated consistently over an extended period of time and stirred constantly. This essentially caramelizes the fruit, which gives the final product its statement brown color. Being naturally sweetened and more acidic, this allows for a longer shelf life than typical apple sauces. The consistency when cooked eventually becomes spreadable like butter, hence the name, and usually the only additives are a few spices to enhance flavoring.

This well-known Pennsylvania Dutch delight can be eaten any which way you choose. Spread a little on some pancakes, toast, or scrapple. My personal favorite is a dollop of apple butter added to a bowl of cottage cheese or yogurt with a little extra cinnamon on top. Healthy and delicious!

I’ve tried a few recipes so far, and my biggest finding has been that consistency is key. Striking it lucky, I did discover one particular crockpot method that was so easy I doubled the recipe and even ended up making pumpkin butter following the same guidelines. While I can’t disclose all of my secret recipes, here is a similar one to get you started:

Credit: Whitney

Credit: Whitney

Ingredients:

6lbs apples

1.5 cups apple juice, cider, or water

2c. brown sugar

Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice to taste

Makes approx. 3 pints

Instructions:

1. First peel, core and slice your apples. (Scraps are great for compost.)
2. Mix all ingredients in a large crock pot, being sure to coat all slices with seasonings and liquid. A crockpot liner may prevent burning and sticking to the pot, and will definitely make cleanup easier.
3. With the lid closed, heat apples on high for approximately 12 hours, stirring often. Temperature can be reduced and time elongated if you are worried about burning or unable to stir often.
4. Most of the liquid should cook off and evaporate toward the end of cooking. If there is any excess liquid, you can cook a bit longer with the lid off to help thicken, or transfer some to a blender to get a better consistency, especially when using harder apples that do not cook down as easily.
5. Enjoy!

Remember, if you are processing for storage, it’s safest to use a pressure canner. (Though I use the water bath method as well.) Or if you make a small batch, it will surely get gobbled up fast enough to store in the refrigerator! ☺

About the author: Joanna L. Blessing is a young agriculturalist living in Eastern, PA. She is a crop insurance agent with MidAtlantic Farm Credit and loves beekeeping, gardening, canning, horseback riding, and exploring the outdoors. She enjoys attending community events and has been hard at work planning a farming future of her own with hopes to start selling some of her products locally soon!

 

The Taste of this Place

by Nell Hanssen of GroundWork Farms CSA and Buying Club
(This article was reposted with permission from the Penns Valley Conservation Association newsletter.)
 
On any given day, you can head out to the supermarket armed with a shopping list and find everything on it, all in one place.  We’re very used to this, but let’s pause a moment to consider how amazing it really is.  Stroll down the produce aisle of your average well-stocked grocery store and you’ll pass the broccoli, the tomatoes, the butternut squash, and the turnips, all keeping company together. It’s easy and predictable, so much so that we might overlook the amazing chain of production and transportation that must have occurred to present these world travelers all in one place.
 
If you drove around farm country here in central PA, or wandered out to your garden, hunting for the above ingredients, you’d be unlikely to find them all in a single trip.  Spring broccoli is almost always over and fall broccoli has yet to put in an appearance during tomato season.   Turnips and butternut squash are late season crops, often showing up well after tomatoes have succumbed to frost.  We can certainly grow each of these vegetables, in the Valleys of Centre County, but you’d have to content yourself with tomatoes at one time and turnips at another—they just aren’t ready at the same time. Byler Half Share
 
In fact, eating local right here—at this latitude and altitude and distance from the coast, with our mixed populations of home gardeners, old-time farmers, Amish, 70’s era back-to-the-landers and new young farming enthusiasts, with our varying supply of moisture, the mineralization of our soils, our geologic history, and probably many other factors I haven’t thought of—is unique.  As is the food that we grow.  And if you are choosing to find your food locally or grow your own, you are part of this distinctive system with a tie to the soil, water, animals and people that contribute to its production.
 
Eating locally, either from your garden, at the farmers market, or through a weekly CSA box, is a great way to watch the seasons turn, watch the days get longer or shorter, temperatures rise or fall, moisture increase or decrease, based on the contents of your dinner plate.  Local dairy products provide a window through which you can watch the pastures come on in the spring as your milk turns a richer yellow and you’ll notice local egg yolks going from yellow to deep orange, when laying hens switch from a winter diet to one that includes green plants, bugs, and other pasture goodies.  And if you buy from local farmers, you can connect to the work that’s occurring on the farm at any given time.  Tiny carrots available?  Must be time to thin out the carrot row so that the ones left have more room to grow.  When new potatoes make an appearance you can imagine potato patches beginning to flower, and the potatoes attached to their roots under the soil just starting to grow.  Pick the small ones, boil them, top them with butter and parsley and salt.  What relationship do these fresh-dug sweet and salty treasures have to the mammoth, thick-skinned travelers from Idaho?   Let’s make the first appearance of New Potatoes a local holiday.  Close businesses, gather in the town square, let the melted butter flow!
 
Would anyone try to argue that a strawberry grown in California is the same as one grown down the road, or in our very back yard?   If you’ve ever tasted one still warm from the sun, fragrant and glowing, you know that to be a ridiculous claim.   Us local eating enthusiasts in the Valleys of central Pennsylvania know that our food has an identity particular to this place.   Let’s celebrate this uniqueness, and enrich our lives here by deepening our knowledge and connection from our plates all the way back to the soil, the sun and the rain.
 
Choosing to eat locally is not much like going to the grocery store.  You don’t get to choose or even plan ahead very easily, and you certainly don’t get to eat tomatoes in June or broccoli in the blazing heat of August.  What you do get is a connection to the place you live, an insight into its natural processes, rewarding work in the garden, or a relationship to the people who grow your food.  Not to mention the health and glory and flavor of a truly fresh local harvest, picked that very day, in the place you call home.

Business Profile: Good Keeper Farm

by Joanna L. Blessing

Imagine trying to renovate a barn, build a home, and plan a wedding, all while designing and launching a new consumer-focused farm business, phew! That’s just what Matt and Julie Lowe recently did, creating in the process their full-diet community supported agriculture (CSA) program at Good Keeper Farm, located in Gardners, PA.GKF farmers

Matt and Julie Lowe met on the very farm they now own and operate, each bringing a diverse background and knowledge of agriculture. When plans for their own farm started, they wanted to try to incorporate their local influences and be able to grow a diverse range of products, a goal that seemed impossible at the time. However, visiting with a friend’s orchard allowed Matt and Julie to see how they might be able to capture the profitability of a smaller full-diet CSA that could appeal to consumers and still be profitable, so they began putting their own model together while keeping these basic ideals in mind. Challenges along the way have not slowed down Good Keeper Farm one bit, making sure to stock up on plenty of produce for their opening season. Matt and Julie reserve all of their harvest for CSA members, allowing them to take each week a fairly unrestricted amount of what each family may need- one quality not often found in other CSA memberships.

GKF produceThe concept of a full-diet CSA is different from other community supported agricultural systems in that they offer a more broad range of products. Matt and Julie currently grow herbs, vegetables, all types of greens, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn, carrots, squash, and the list goes on! As for fresh meats, they also raise poultry, pigs, and offer rotating cuts with their CSA membership such as sausage, roasts, and ground beef. Local producers also provide breads and fruit, while fresh milk comes from Apple Valley Creamery in East Berlin, PA. The Lowes use their own model of sustainability to operate the farm, working toward self-sufficiency with a farming style that can be lower maintenance yet efficient for productivity.

As an ambitious dream team of sorts, Matt and Julie take customer service and quality production to heart and believe it helps set them apart from other operations. They prioritize making time to talk with their consumers, inviting families to walk around the farm and see the process happening, and even tailoring their services to include things such as medicinal plants, flowers, and other agricultural interests. A visit to the farm is much welcome!

Being a young developing CSA has given this couple a chance to experiment with farming styles and try new methods. They are currently registered as a Certified Naturally Grown operation, meaning they have been inspected and approved by fellow producers to grow healthy, disease resistant varieties of crops without the use of herbicides and only organic, approved fertilizers. They till the soil as little as possible and use cover crops, rotational grazing, and row cover for everyday management and maintenance. Matt would like to see the science behind these methods be more widely taught, and he is very hopeful that the continued efforts of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) in the world of sustainability will help evolve and enhance the minds of new farmers to open up even more opportunity for growth and creativity in the marketplace.GKF pigs

When it comes to daily life and chores around the farm, Julie and Matt have different preferences. Matt, being more of the hands-on craftsman, says he has enjoyed creating their vegetable beds. Julie finds excitement moving the livestock from one pasture to the next and seeing how much the animals enjoy the fresh pasture. (Though it can be a bit stressful at times, always wary that a few may cut loose in the process!)

The first season at Good Keeper Farm has been quite an adventure for the Lowes, but they have managed to already produce a bountiful harvest and are supplying many happy customers with the fruits of their labor. Matt and Julie look forward to advancing their farm in the future and being able to enjoy the process along the way. To learn about membership or the farm, visit their website www.goodkeeperfarm.com, find them on Facebook, or drop by during one of their CSA pickup times: Wednesdays, 3-6pm and Fridays, 1-4pm.

About the author: Joanna L. Blessing is a young agriculturalist living in Eastern, PA. She is a crop insurance agent with MidAtlantic Farm Credit and loves beekeeping, gardening, canning, horseback riding, and exploring the outdoors. She enjoys attending community events and has been hard at work planning a farming future of her own with hopes to start selling some of her products locally soon!

Nature’s Rx

by Lisa Grazan

“To eat well is to take food that strengthens, refreshes, and leaves the head clear; food that does not bemuse the intelligence, excite, burn, or weigh on the stomach.  It means taking the fruits of the earth you are living on when nature offers them; putting as little space and time as possible between the earth and your mouth; preparing them with the least artifice possible; presenting them raw or cooking them over a gentle heat.  It means restoring your health and strength first from the brown bread of the earth, the grey salt of the sea, and olive oil and honey from the sun.” – Lanza del Vasto

vegetablesDel Vasto was referred to as Mahatma Gandhi’s “first disciple in the West.”  In the 1940s, the Italian poet and activist established the Community of the Ark, a small “island of peace” in southern France.  The philosophies of community work, self-sufficiency in food, and respect for the environment formed the foundation of this nonviolent social order.

This particular quote from del Vasto caught my attention because he honors nature’s wisdom and intelligence to keep us healthy with the food we eat through the seasons.  As a naturopath, I have studied, taught, and practiced the art of bringing the body into balance through food.  I’ve witnessed first-hand how a consistent diet of whole, fresh, unprocessed food maintains vibrant health, increases  energy levels, and sharpens mental clarity.  After all, food is the language our bodies speak.  It is what our bodies understand and respond to.

Just follow nature’s lead, and she won’t let us go astray.  Pay close attention to what she has to offer us each season, and voila!  An instant natural pharmacy!

The heat of summer is a time for growth, brightness, and outward activity.  It is a time to pay particular attention to our hearts.  And since emotions affect the actual functioning of the heart, we can expand our focus here to include the “heart-mind.”  The foods nature provides to us in the summer, with their beautiful, vibrant red color, like watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, apples, red bell peppers, and pomegranates, not only cool us from the added heat, but they also provide extra protection and nourishment for our hearts and minds, reducing the tendency toward inflammation and upset.

Autumn brings with it a sense of instability.  The mornings are cool and the afternoons turn warm.  The air becomes more thin and crisp.  The wind picks up, and dryness predominates.  Our bodies are susceptible to colds, bronchitis, or even pneumonia.  We must especially protect our skin, mucous membranes, and immunity throughout the season.  The warm hues of orange and golden yellow are showcased in nature’s bounty this time of year with sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, and pumpkins.  These foods are packed with beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in our bodies.  Vitamin A is key for healthy skin, mucous membranes (which line our nose, throat, and lungs) and our immune system in general.

Winter can be stark and cold.  Our kidneys, which represent the roots of the body, are the organs most affected by the wintertime.  They provide the body with energy and warmth.  To fortify the kidneys, nature responds with root vegetables during this season like turnips, rutabagas, celeriac, parsnips, and beets, all of which can be used in warm, hearty soups.

Spring provides us with a new beginning, as we emerge from winter’s cold grasp.  It is a time to purge, or clean out, what we have stored away from the previous season.  It is a time to detoxify and rejuvenate the liver.  Nature provides us with greens to do the job most effectively, primarily greens like dandelion,  arugula, parsley, and romaine lettuce.

 Artichokes also provide excellent support for the liver.  They are a member of the thistle family.  Keep in mind that milk thistle extract is one of the top recommended natural herbs for liver health and protects the liver from the effects of alcohol, environmental pollution, and many liver-related diseases.

Obviously staying healthy requires effort.  It requires knowledge, discipline, and making good decisions.  Referring back to del Vasto’s advice, “taking the fruits of the earth you are living on when nature offers them,“ is undoubtedly a good rule to live by.  It’s also reassuring to know that as we make the effort on our own behalf to navigate the journey to health, nature is helping us every step (and season) of the way.

About the author: Lisa Grazan is a practicing attorney, naturopath and Certified Natural Health Professional.  She is an advocate for natural medicine with a particular focus on the power of food and the ability to heal the body through proper diet and nutrition.  Lisa sees tremendous potential in combining the two disciplines of law and natural medicine.  She sees so many areas that are “ripe” for advocacy and legal protection, and works towards educating people about the safety and efficacy of natural approaches to healthcare.

 

Pantry workhorse: Tomato Passata

Over the years, I’ve pared down my pantry to actual needs rather than whimsical wants. I used to can cooked sauce, whole tomatoes and other specific items like salsa or ketchup. Each pantry item involved a sweaty day in the kitchen and its own set of ingredients & procedures.Passata

Now don’t get me wrong; I actually love that sweaty day spent in the kitchen. But today, for everyday pantry purposes, I prefer one multi-purpose workhorse item rather than several single-use items like sauces & salsa.

What’s a workhorse recipe?

  • -Seasoned as little as possible to let the flavor of the ingredient shine and for greatest kitchen versatility later.
  • -Useful in a variety of ways with little fuss. I still want to be able to cook super-fast from jars and cans – you know, the American way.  I just want my jars and cans to be ones I filled myself with ingredients I feel good about.
  • -A flexible preserving process.  I’m often interrupted in the middle of making it or have to make do with smaller chunks of time. I find break things up into two or three sessions helps me squeeze projects into my schedule more easily.

Passata tomatoesTomato passata, a true culinary workhorse, is a recipe from my tattered and stained, very, very favorite River Cottage Handbook #2; Preserves.  The author, Pam Corbin, uses it as a base for all sorts of soups, stews and curries.

Don’t know what passata is?  I didn’t either, but now I wonder how I ever lived without it.  It’s a roasted tomato sauce, a little thinner than the American standard.  This simple-to-make item is all I need to quickly put together a few of my often-served favorites:

  • -Quick top-shelf pasta/pizza sauce, no recipe required. Simply open the jar, put in a saucepan and simmer gently until reduced by half.  A seriously rich and hearty tomato sauce I could eat every day.
  • -My favorite homemade cream of tomato soup – puts that red & white can to shame.
  • -A fast-forwarded version of the best homemade ketchup ever.
  • -Use in place of canned tomatoes in soups and braises

The beauty of making my ketchup from passata is that I can do it later in the season when the kitchen’s not so hot and I don’t have so many other pressing projects competing for my time. Plus, I’ve already done half the work, so it hardly takes any time at all.Passata

Being the heirloom/heritage breed type, I grow my own.  How many plants will I need to make enough passata for the year?

I use about one quart of passata every two weeks, so I’ll need about 26 quarts. Each quart uses approximately 4 ½ pounds of fresh tomatoes, and a good heirloom variety tomato plant in Pennsylvania can yield approximately 9 pounds, give or take. There will be some guesstimating at first, since everyone’s experience will vary, but this is a good place to start.

So, to keep me in passata for a year, here’s my tomato math:

26 (quarts of passata) x 4.5 (pounds of tomatoes needed for 1 quart) = 117 pounds of tomatoes.

117 (pounds of tomatoes) ÷ 9 (estimated pounds yielded per plant in my area) = 13 plants.

Now, calculate the same way for your other fresh tomato needs, then round up, to be sure to have plenty of fresh eating tomatoes and for sharing with your non-gardening friends.

I like to have at least 20 plants minimum for my two-person household, though I’ve been known to attempt as many as 40. Now, maybe the growing part is not for you, and I’m not here to tell you any different, although I admit I wish you’d consider it.

PastaFarmers markets feature all sorts of heirloom and organic produce. If you belong to a CSA, you probably get swamped with tomatoes in the summer, or maybe you have a great grocery selling locally grown produce.

Need help finding your perfect tomato source? Search the map right here, at buylocalpa.org.

And when you have your tomatoes and are ready to get cooking, you can find the recipe here.

Okay, you have no excuse for not at least trying this once, even if just to say you did. I’m pretty confident once you’re spoiled with a homemade pantry, you won’t want to go back to store-bought ever again.

What’s your favorite tomato workhorse?

Jackie Cleary is a cook, farmer and writer eating her way around her small farm in Western Pennsylvania. Like all old fashioned farmsteads, Auburn Meadow Farm is constant source of humble pie and local deliciousness. Visit Jackie and her quirky livestock anytime at AuburnMeadowFarm.com.

Kale: 50 Ways to Love Your Leaves

by Cara Cummings (via The Land Connection’s Farm Fresh Now! project)
 
photo credit: The Land Connection

photo credit: The Land Connection

Buy it, grow it, love it, and definitely eat it!  Kale may seem like it appeared out of nowhere a few years back, but it’s been around since ancient Greek and Roman times. And you can get fresh kale most of the year; even in cold climates it will over-winter, and with a hoop house, or even a simple plastic cover, you can be eating fresh, nutritious greens in the winter. If you start your garden in early spring, kale will be one of the first things that you harvest–or that is available at your farmers’ market. And there are SO MANY ways to prepare it–kale chips, kale salads (at least 50 ways…), and of course kale smoothies. This week’s recipe is one of my favorites, as it is packed with everything you need for a one-bowl meal.

Nutrition 

 
Vitamin A - required for maintaining healthy mucusa and skin and is essential for vision. Foods rich in this vitamin are known to offer protection against lung and oral cavity cancers
Vitamin C - a powerful antioxidant, which helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals
Omega- and omega-6 fatty acids - decreases risk of heart disease
B-complex vitamin groups - essential for substrate metabolism in the body
ßeta-carotene, lutein and zea-xanthin - strong anti-oxidant and anti-cancer activities
Did you know?
One cup of cooked kale contains 10 percent of daily fiber needs? This leafy green can be helpful for those managing diabetes as well!

Kale Salad with Wheatberries

Ingredients

2 cups wheatberries
2 shallots, sliced thinly
Herbs from your garden, chopped–use your favorite
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pepper to taste
1 bunch kale (or other greens), torn into pieces
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 cup of crumbled feta

Instructions

1. Cover the wheat berries with a couple of inches of water–you may end up
    draining the excess water at the end
2. Add salt and herbs to the water, bring to a boil and the and cook over
    medium until the wheat berries are soft–up to an hour
3. When they are done to your liking, remove from heat, drain, and set aside
4. When the berries are done, cook the shallots in a cast iron skillet in olive
    oil until translucent, and then add the kale or other greens just until wilted
5. Toss the shallots, greens, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and top
    with feta cheese
 
Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture. 

Philly Foodworks Offers New Way to CSA

by Sandra Kay Miller

photo courtesy of Philly Foodworks


(photo courtesy of Philly Foodworks)

 

As the modern sustainable food movement matures, there have been numerous dynamic business models evolving to bring together producers and consumers. Long recognized as food deserts, many urban communities are engaging in a variety of methods for offering fresh, local foods to the inhabitants, regardless of their socio-economic status. Many of these ventures begin as community development and gradually morph into viable businesses.

Philly Foodworks, an online CSA working with a growing number of producers within a 150-mile radius of Philadelphia, has its roots in the Urban Tree Connection (UTC), a non-profit which has been transforming low-income and crime-ridden neighborhoods in west Philadelphia by transforming vacant lots into green spaces.

While working together at the UTC project Neighborhood Foods, an urban-farm CSA, Dylan Baird, Jamal Bell and Ryan Witmer encountered other small producers in the area with similar challenges. Out of the desire to find solutions for distribution, education and financial investment for producers, while at the same time serving the community, Philly Foodworks was founded.

“We were young people in the farming world and saw a lot of others having problems with their distribution,” said Baird.

In just a few short years, it has grown to serve over 800 people with 50 drop-off locations throughout the greater Philadelphia area.  In speaking with co-founder Dylan Baird, he pointed out their distribution model meets the smaller-volume-in-higher-density paradigm that speaks to the metropolitan consumer.

photo courtesy of Philly Foodworks

(photo courtesy of Philly Foodworks)

Unlike a traditional CSA that is focused on one farm, Philly Foodworks uses the CSA share model, filling the boxes with seasonal products from a number of area producers. The shares are available in four basic sizes—small, large, chef’s and customized—ranging in price from $28 to $43 each. While consumers have the option to pay up-front for a season’s share, there is also the option to purchase single shares, as wanted.

In addition to the bi-weekly basic share, Philly Foodworks offers a variety of add-ons that include dairy, meat, eggs, fruit, mushrooms, artisan cheeses, seafood, soup, herbal apothecary and boutique food items unique to Philadelphia.

“Philly has an awesome food scene. We’re trying to bring on a small, local company that has been making perogies and kelbassi in Philadelphia for over a hundred years,” explained Baird.

As with many CSAs, buying clubs, food hubs and farmers markets, technology plays an important role in bringing together producers and customers.

The Reuben Reihl family farm (photo courtesy of Philly Foodworks)

The Reuben Reihl family farm (photo courtesy of Philly Foodworks)

“Technology is a core part of our business,” Baird pointed out. The Philly Foodworks CSA utilizes the Farmigo program that offers not only a clean user interface, but a robust platform that can handle a wide variety of products, while streamlining transactions on the back end for producers. This allows Philly Foodworks to go far beyond a basic CSA, where you sign up at the beginning of season and then pick up your bag each week. Through the Farmigo interface, customers have more flexibility to make changes to their share, put shares on hold, change pick-up location and update payment methods.

In addition to using innovative technologies, including social media, Philly Foodworks is dedicated to helping their producers raise, grow, create and bring to market those products in demand, through education and financial support.

For Baird, a natural extension of Philly Foodworks’ core mission to support farmers and increase access to good food was to participate in the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) CSA Challenge. PASA created the challenge to raise funds for the Arias M. Brownback Memorial Scholarship Fund, and Spiral Path Farms has stepped up to match the amount raised by CSA programs, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000. The fund provides scholarships for beginning farmers to attend PASA’s annual Farming for the Future conference.

Philly Foodworks has pledged to donate $1 for every share sold in May and $10 for each new customer who uses the code “BROWNBACK”. Customers can make additional donations to the fund through the online store. Visit phillyfoodworks.com to sign up and start shopping.

“We are really excited about this scholarship. It is great when we can align our marketing efforts to support an awesome cause,” said Baird.

Join PFW

If you are a producer in the greater Philadelphia interested in being a part of Philly Foodworks, contact Dylan at dylan@phillyfoodworks.com.

About the author: Sandra Kay Miller has been farming and writing for over thirty years. She is the owner of Painted Hand Farms, which raises and markets diversified livestock in the mid-Atlantic region. She is a Lifetime Member of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and frequent contributor to PASA’s print newsletter Passages.  

Getting Hooked On Cooking With CSA

Cooking with CSA

by Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have

(reposted with permission from Small Farm Central)

A CSA share offers a plethora of produce every week and with it varieties we may have never seen before, let alone cooked—a delight and a bit of a challenge, for sure.

Fresh, delicious vegetables chosen for me week after week is my idea of heaven. It hasn’t always been but I get more hooked every year. I’m hooked on the deliciousness, on not having to make any decisions about what vegetables to purchase, and on the creativity it inspires.

So, how does one get hooked?

Stock your Pantry, Two Ways:

Shop mostly to restock rather than for specific dishes. You’ll spend less time (and money) running to the store for last minute items and can instead spend your time cooking, eating, and creatively using what you already have.

This is a basic list but you certainly don’t need everything listed to cook many dishes. And, your pantry will reflect your particular taste. This is just a loose guide.

Purchased Goods for Pantry, Fridge and Freezer:

  • Lentils: French green, red, brown
  • Beans: black, pinto, white, chickpeas
  • Grains: brown and white rice, barley, farro, cornmeal/polenta, quinoa, pasta, couscous, bulgur
  • Seeds & nuts: sunflower, pumpkin, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, etc.
  • Spices: cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, dried chilies, turmeric, caraway, paprika, cardamom
  • Herbs: thyme, oregano
  • Vinegars: cider, rice and red wine
  • Oils: olive, sunflower, coconut, sesame
  • Hot sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Lemons and limes
  • Meat and fish in freezer: sausages, bacon, chicken, etc.

Semi-prepared Items:

When you have a little spare time you can add semi-prepared items to your fridge/ pantry that will make life much easier and tastier when you don’t have those extra few minutes to get a meal on the table.

  • -Make a jar of vinaigrette and keep it in the fridge. Dress lettuces and greens as well as roasted vegetables or plain chickpeas/beans with the same vinaigrette, adding some chopped herbs and toasted seeds. Be creative!
  • -Cook a good quantity of beans. Put beans out to soak before you go to work in the morning. Cook them that evening while you’re in the kitchen cooking something else for dinner anyway and have them ready for the next day or freeze half.
  • -Cook twice as much rice, barley or farro as you need for any given meal and freeze half of it to make fried rice, rice and beans or a soup the following week on a particularly busy night when you need the head start.
  • -Toast a cup of sunflower or pumpkin seeds and keep in a jar. Your salads will be better for them; your soups will have added crunch; your snacks will be cheaper and more nutritious!
  • -Use a whole bunch of parsley or cilantro to make a quick, savory sauce with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar. Stir in some thick yogurt for a creamy version. Having a flavorful component like this on hand means a plain bowl of rice or beans or a fried egg turns into a meal in no time.
  • -Make chicken or any other meat, fish or vegetable stock and freeze.

Free Yourself from Strictly Following a Recipe & Learn to Improvise and Substitute.

The more you cook—and you will be cooking (!)—the easier and more fun it is to substitute and adapt as you go. Families of vegetables such as brassicas and alliums have certain common characteristics that in many cases let you substitute one for another. However, there is no real shortcut to learning how to do this so experiment as much as you can—you’ll have plenty of opportunity. Here are a few general guidelines to get you started.

Root vegetables love to be roasted as do brassicas like kohlrabi, cauliflower, romanesco, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Cut up, tossed with a little oil and salt and roasted in a single layer, they are delicious as is or can serve as the foundation for soups, mashes, salads, etc.

Onions, like their allium compatriots, shallots, scallions, leeks and garlic, are pungent raw and quite sweet cooked. If you don’t have an onion by all means use a leek, though leeks are sweeter and you might add a little acidity to balance it out and leeks are not so good raw. Scallions (green onions) and shallots can be substituted for onions and vice versa in many recipes, raw or cooked.

Sweet potatoes, potatoes, celery root, rutabagas and turnips and sometimes winter squash can often stand in for one another in mashes, gratins, soups and stews.

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spring rabe and romanesco, all brassicas, have similar flavors and behave similarly in many dishes, though certainly not all. Mashed cauliflower is delicious but I would not mash Brussel sprouts.

Leafy greens are eminently substitutable. Chards, beet greens, kale and collards, are all good raw (very thinly sliced) when young and tender. They behave quite similarly when cooked and can be mixed and substituted for each other at will. Turnip, radish, and mustard greens are all tender and often interchangeable, though radish tops are a bit fuzzy raw. Make sure to blanch those.

Get Good at a Handful of Dishes that Showcase most any Vegetable.

It’s not so hard to keep up when you have a handful of recipes that can accommodate most any vegetable and in a variety of combinations.

A simple frittata elevates most vegetables, from leafy greens to peppers, peas, herbs, potatoes and both summer and winter squash.

Pan-fried vegetable fritters/savory pancakes/patties transform mounds of vegetables of all kinds into savory nuggets. Broccoli with parmesan, leftover mashed potatoes, leeks and plenty of parsley, rutabaga and carrot latkes, Japanese-inspired cabbage pancakes with scallions, sesame oil and soy sauce…

Fried rice with loads of finely chopped vegetables; simple Thai-style coconut milk curries; and soups and stir-fries, of course, are all good vehicles for delicious CSA produce.

A quick, stove top version of mac ‘n cheese with whatever vegetables you have, chopped finely, never fails to be devoured.

Finally, recipes can often accommodate way more vegetables than they call for. Perhaps a recipe calls for 1 lb of pasta and 3 cups of vegetables. Invert that ratio and use ½ lb of pasta and 6 cups of vegetables or just add more vegetables and have plenty of leftovers. You’ll figure out how to make such changes and have recipes and tips work for your particular selection of produce.

Get comfortable making a few of these dishes and make them your own, with different spices, herbs, cheeses.

And then. . .

Cooking (with a CSA) can in fact simplify one’s life—a way through the general madness and a treat for the senses and body. Yes, this is work and it takes time and organization but the deliciousness of that regular infusion of produce is well worth it!

Cook With What You Have offers subscriptions for both CSA Farms and individuals to an online Seasonal Recipe Collection, organized by vegetable. It includes not only 600+ recipes but posts such as Lettuce Management and the Dressing Jar and recipe categories such as CSA Heavy Hitters and Meals that Make Great Leftovers and Pantry Stocking Guides. Katherine Deumling, owner of Cook With What You Have, wrote custom weekly recipe packets for CSA Farms in the Willamette Valley in Oregon for years before expanding her cook-with-what-you-have approach to cooking to this more accessible platform for farmers and eaters everywhere. The Seasonal Recipe Collection covers 80 vegetables, herbs and some fruits. Katherine’s enthusiasm for vegetables, any time of year, never wanes and the site is regularly updated and expanded with tips, recipes and lots of reasons to love produce!

Business Profile: Radish & Rye Food Hub

by Jay Eury

Radish & Rye Food Hub, run by Dusty and Julia James, is a small food hub serving Central PA growers and consumers.  A food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of food products, primarily from local and regional producers, to satisfy retail, wholesale, and/or institutional demand.  Radish & Rye focuses on retail and is part of the larger Broad Street Market, coming back to life in Harrisburg, PA.

(photo credit: Radish & Rye)

(photo credit: Radish & Rye)

Dusty and Julia have been PASA members for years.  Dusty is the builder and fixer.  Julia has the business background.  They both love really good food and bought the fledgling Radish & Rye in April, 2015.  These two loyal customers became retailers for the same small and mid-sized Central PA producers they did, and continue to, enjoy supporting.

Still so young, the main purpose of Radish & Rye right now is to keep on growing – steady, smart growth – inviting new customers in, providing an expanding line of high quality products, and guaranteeing the satisfaction of all their customers who return week after week.

(photo credit: Radish & Rye)

(photo credit: Radish & Rye)

As a small, local food retail outlet, logistics is the main obstacle, by more than a mile.  At this scale, there is no economy of scale.  “Everything we do from farmer to transport to retail is more expensive,” says Dusty.  The path forward, then, that he and Julia have embraced requires informal solutions developing organically.  This means growing their network of friends, customers, and producers.  This takes time.  And patience.  And creativity. Cooperation is the key, both to Radish & Rye and the Central PA growers they coordinate with, as well as the Broad Street Market as a whole.

As a standalone business, Radish & Rye has been growing by its own light.  It’s also part of the rising tide of Broad Street Market overall.  With more new vendors and increasing customer traffic, Broad Street Market is beginning to reach the critical mass for quality and dependability that’s necessary to begin to shift Harrisburg shoppers’ perceptions of the space and their community.

“The [Broad Street] Market can be, and I think should be, the main place where people are buying food in the city,” says Dusty.  “The Broad Street Market is finally becoming a place, once again, where you can go shopping, buy your food, have lunch…  People need to know about that.  ‘Oh, you know I’ll come here more often,’”  Dusty overhears.  “That starts to add up. It takes time,” he says.  “That’s fine.”

“People need to know about our existence and the existence of the Broad Street Market.  Such a big part of my life since I’ve been an adult, and even as a kid when my grandparents shopped here.  I’m always surprised at people who live within a mile or two of the market that have never been here or don’t know it exists.”

(photo credit: Radish & Rye)

(photo credit: Radish & Rye)

“Don’t just support us because we’re local, small, and trying hard, either,” he declares.  “We’re trying to provide value, sell you really high quality food as cheaply as we can do it, and we hope that you want to shop here.  That’s what we try to project as much as possible… Everyone, anyone, that loves really good food can get their shopping done here.”

Broad Street Market hours:
Thursday and Friday 7 AM – 6 PM
Saturday – 7 AM to 4 PM

Check out Radish & Rye’s offerings for the week on their website.

About the author: Jay Eury is a gleaner, good food worker, and community food system weaver.  He coordinates The Gleaning Project of South Central PA in Franklin County.