Waste-Less Wednesday: Down on the Farm

October 14, 2015 § 2 Comments

The issue of food waste has gone mainstream. Back in July, John Oliver covered the topic during an episode of “Last Week Tonight.” And last month, the USDA and EPA got in on the act, issuing a national Food Waste Challenge. The goal? To reduce food waste in the US by 50% by 2030. Already the challenge has received buy-in from major food retailers, as well as food industry and charitable organizations (although no formal program is in place yet).

Much of what’s reported and discussed in the media targets food waste at the consumer level: the food we buy and never eat, the science-experiment leftovers in our refrigerators, and the edible bits we toss out, like carrot greens and cauliflower leaves. But the consumer end is just one aspect of the food system in which food waste occurs. Food waste happens at all points in the system, literally from farm to table. According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) report, “Wasted,” the total loss for fruits and vegetables at the production level is about 20%, (“production losses are greatest for fresh produce”) and from post-harvest to retail amounts to about 14%.

The type of waste that occurs on large, commercial farms often involves leaving behind fields of edible product to serve supermarket requirements for size and beauty. The amount of fresh food wasted in this way is staggering.

Just Eat It – Field Waste – Cauliflower (Deleted Scene) from Grant Baldwin on Vimeo.

But what about local farms in the 650, many of which are family owned and already focused on sustainability? How can a small farm — reliant on farmers’ markets, restaurants, and CSA subscribers for sales — manage and reduce food waste, while growing a business? I had a chance to ask John Vars, who is a partner-farmer of Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero (along with co-partners Mike Irving and Teresa Kurtak) during FCF’s CSA Open House farm tour in August.

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm's three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm’s three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour during the CSA Open House in August

You don’t see the kind of prettying-up waste that has happened on large, commercial farms. In terms of what Fifth Crow takes to market or provides to CSA subscribers, it’s the whole product harvested from the tree or bush or out of the ground. You’ll see the occasionally blemished or odd-sized fruit, extra-large heads of cauliflower, root vegetables with their greens still attached, and even roots-on basil.

Roots-on basil plant from Fifth Crow Farm: kept in water at room temperature, it lasted almost five weeks

Roots-on basil plant from Fifth Crow Farm: kept in water at room temperature, it lasted almost five weeks

Farmers’ markets are one of the less-predictable retail outlets for local farms. Market sales can be affected by weather, time of year, and customer tastes, just to name a few of the variables. Estimating market demand and producing “the right amount” is an on-going challenge for any growing food business.  You don’t want to disappoint customers by running out too quickly, but you also don’t want to end up with too much unsold product that you might have to take home with you.

One step in reducing food waste from farm to market then, is getting good at estimating your customers’ demands. Fifth Crow Farm currently participates in six Bay Area markets weekly, in addition to providing farm products to restaurants and CSA subscribers. With six years (now closing in on seven) of growing seasons behind them, the Fifth Crow folks have enough data and experience to better predict and plan what they take to farmers’ markets.

While they’ve gotten better at estimating what to take to market, inevitably there are items that don’t sell. In line with their sustainable, community-based approach to business, Fifth Crow handles leftover market products by:

  • Donating to community organizations that are able to pick up product directly from the market
  • Returning unsold produce to the farm and offering it to the employees, at no charge
  • Using it as food for the farm’s pasture-raised chickens (which produce some of the best eggs I’ve had recently)
No food waste: Fifth Crow Farm's pasture-raised chickens dine on greens, beets, kohlrabi, and fennel

No food waste: Fifth Crow Farm’s pasture-raised chickens dine on greens, beets, kohlrabi, and fennel

John mentioned that the partners especially like being able to offer the unsold products to their employees. In addition to paying a fair wage, it’s another way they support the employees’ hard work throughout the season.

So that’s how one local farm is doing it right: taking a multi-pronged approach that benefits the land, the community, and the farm as a business. Have you asked your local food producers and retailers how they’re reducing food waste? What did you learn? Share your experience in the comments below.

Shop Local: Palo Alto Farmers’ Market

May 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

The Downtown Farmers’ Market in Palo Alto is one of my favorite weekend markets in the 650. It’s a small market, but with an abundant selection of local produce and hand-crafted foods. For many years it was my go-to market on Saturday mornings from spring through late fall. During the Gâteau et Ganache years, my first stop was always Full Belly Farm for organic lemon verbena and peppermint for Gâteau et Ganache’s spring/summer collection bonbons, and then Green Oaks Creek Farm for sweet, juicy strawberries. If there was time, I’d run by Blue Heron for baby lettuces and broccoli, just to be sure that I had some fresh dinner food for the week.

Checking out what's fresh at the PA Saturday Farmers' Market

Checking out what’s fresh at the PA Saturday Farmers’ Market

Now that I’m getting a regular CSA delivery, and my little garden is starting to flourish, fresh food is basically on my doorstep. I don’t need to get out to farmers’ markets as often, and yet, that’s still where I want to be on a weekend morning. There’s something about a sunny spring or summer weekend morning that just about requires spending some time at a farmers’ market — admiring beautiful, fresh produce, chatting with food producers, and fantasizing about new dishes to make at home. Maybe farmers’ markets are for cooks what music stores are to musicians: a place full of possibilities.

This past Saturday I was up at the crack-of-way-too-early-for-a-holiday-weekend, but with good reason: I was waiting for the delivery of my new dishwasher. (Yay, no more resetting the breaker to make the machine go! No more re-washing dishes that didn’t get clean the first time!) Fortunately, the delivery guys arrived on time and completed the installation by mid-morning. Perfect timing to head to Palo Alto to get my market fix. With no shopping list and no schedule, I was able to just wander the market, enjoying the experience. Here are some of the highlights.

Eat the Rainbow
Color was everywhere — fruits, vegetables, flowers — and it felt like summer already! Full Belly had a pretty display of lettuces, rainbow chard, and kale. Gorgeous? Sure — and good for you, too. If you need any incentive to eat more veggies, here ya go:

Colorful organic greens from Full Belly Farms

Colorful organic greens from Full Belly Farm

Herbalicious
Fresh herbs can make the difference between an ok dish and something really flavorful and special. Lemon verbena (one of my favorites!), rosemary, oregano, and chives — just for starters — are plentiful right now. Full Belly and Coke Farm had good assortments of fresh, organic herbs.

Fresh herbs from Full Belly Farms

Fresh herbs from Full Belly Farm: Lemon verbena front and center

There’s a Mulberry Guy
The Mulberry Guy has taken over the spot where Green Oaks Creek used to be. *sigh* I really miss those strawberries, but hey… mulberries? That’s new and intriguing. Unfortunately, I arrived after the mulberries had already sold out (turns out they’re really popular and had sold out within the first hour or so of the market opening), but stayed to chat with business owner Kevin Lynch. I love the story of this business: the mulberries are grown locally — within a mile of the market location — and like most small food businesses, it’s a labor of love. Talk about Grow Local — Buy Local — Eat local! If you’re a fan of mulberries or just want to know more, clicky on over to themulberryguy.com.

The Mulberry Guy: locally grown mulberries (as in: a mile from the market)

The Mulberry Guy: Palo Alto-grown mulberries, jam, and honey

Hail Her Coconess
One of the cool things (for me) about spending time at the Palo Alto Farmer’s Market is getting to visit with other artisan food producers. I met Shelly Seward, creator-owner of Her Coconess Confections, several years ago at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, when we were both exhibiting at the show. Shelly hand-produces award-winning, classic treats such as Rocky Road and Salted Caramels in a facility in Belmont and sells them throughout the Bay Area. (Yep, that’s right — Her Coconess is home-grown in the 650!)  In case you’re wondering: yes, there are samples. Be sure to try ’em. Want to know more about Her Coconess? Check out the website.

Shelly Seward: Owner/confectioner/creator of Her Coconess, award-winning confections

Shelly Seward: Owner/confectioner/creator of Her Coconess, award-winning confections

Aw, Nuts!
After some sweet samples and catching up with Shelly, I stepped “next-door” to visit Nut ‘n Bean to try something more savory. Nut ‘n Bean is a young Hayward-based business making nut butters, dips, and spreads. While chatting with co-owner Katie Griffin, I tried the Blueberry Almond and Orange Honey Cashew nut butters. Both were delish, with a nice balance between the toasted nut and fresh fruit flavors, without being too sweet (Katie says the nut butters have very little added sugar). Knowing that I still had a few nut other butters in the fridge at home, I moved on to  try the Chipotle Lime Almond Dip and the Jalepeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese. Oh. My. Yes, please!

Katie of Nut n' Bean nut butters, dips, and spreads

Katie Griffin of Nut ‘n Bean with the goods: nut butters, dips, and spreads

The Chipotle Lime Almond Dip has the consistency of a whipped cream cheese, with a nice nutty, smoked-pepper flavor that’s got just the right amount of spice. It’s perfect with rice crackers and sweet potato corn chips (or, erm, a spoon, right out of the container). The Jalepeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese has a softer, more sauce-like consistency, and while it works as a dip, is fabulous as a sauce on grilled wild salmon (or seared tofu or baked chicken or…). Nut ‘n Bean has a serious product line, and something for every taste and diet. Vegan? Paleo? Gluten-free? You’ll love Nut ‘n Bean. Check ’em out at the market or online.

Nut n'Bean: Cashew Jalepeno-Cilantro Dip and Almond Chipotle-Lime spread

Nut ‘n Bean: Cashew Jalepeno-Cilantro Dip and Almond Chipotle-Lime spread

Overall, a fun trip to the market. And yes, I came home with enough food to make plenty of dirty dishes and try out my new dishwasher — booyah!

Details
What: Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market
Where: Gilman Street & Hamilton Avenue
Directions: Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market website
Saturdays, mid-May through mid-December: 8am-12pm
Parking: Street and nearby lots

March Went Out Like a Lion

March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

This line from the musical “Carousel” has been running through my head all day. As I was trying to decide between several topics for today’s post, it occurred to me that March has been a packed month, food-wise! From the arrival of spring fruits and vegetables in the markets, to local (and not-so-local) field trips, to educational and inspiring panel discussions on food issues, it’s been quite a whirlwind. So I thought I’d pull out a few highlights from this month before we give March a big, wet kiss goodbye and head into April.

Spring Did Its Thing
Spring arrived as expected in the Bay Area, and with it the splendor of spring produce. December through February are some of what I’d call “unfun” months for fresh produce — especially fruits and lettuces. I was running out of inspiration for using cold-storage apples and a seemingly endless supply of oranges in all sizes. You can only eat so many kale salads. Even my standby broccoli started to look a little sad. And then came spring!

Colorful assortment of spring vegetables

Spring produce at the San Mateo Farmer’s Market

Berries are back in my cereal bowl (yay!). Little Gems and spring-mix lettuces are the foundation for my daily salads: snip in a few fresh herbs, toss in some pepitas or sunflower seeds for crunch, top with a little protein (tuna, soft-boiled eggs — if there’s time to make ’em), drizzle some good olive oil over everything, finish with a squeeze of fresh Eureka lemon juice, et voilà — a quick, healthy lunch. Dinner might be grilled fish with roasted Nantes carrots and fresh herbs or sautéed beet greens with caramelized onions. Inspiration and creativity is coming from whatever looks good and tastes fresh.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Mid-March, just as gorgeous 80-degree weather arrived here in the 650, I packed up my wool sweaters, pulled out what I hoped would pass for a winter coat, and took myself off to Chicago for the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). That’s right, I voluntarily went to the city of “worst winter ever” as spring was busting out here — and it was totally worth it.

If you’re in the food industry (a cook, writer, photographer, nutritionist, food scientist, recipe developer) this conference is for you. Sessions focus on practical aspects of business for industry professionals and career changers: such as managing your life as a freelance writer or what to expect as a cooking school instructor. But food issues, such as building local food systems and managing food waste get equal coverage.

I had an opportunity to hear Ferran Adrià, head chef of El Bulli, speak about creativity in a way that challenged everyone present to reconsider how they think about food and cooking. Douglas Gayeton, Bay Area artist/writer/activist (from Petaluma!) talked about his efforts to raise awareness about food issues and climate change through a “Lexicon of Sustainability.” Worth checking out are the Know Your Food short films via PBS. They’re 2 – 4 minute films on food and food issues.

I also met John Reynolds, Sonoma chef/writer, and Leslie Lindell, Marin-based photographer, who won IACP’s Cookbook of the Year award for The Stone Edge Farm Cookbook. It’s a beautiful piece of work that is part cookbook and part love story about land and food.

Stone Edge Farm Cookbook: 2014 IACP Cookbook of the Year

Stone Edge Farm Cookbook: 2014 IACP Cookbook of the Year

The business of food is broad and the interests and issues diverse, but the passion for good food and community is universal. I was lucky to be able to participate in an engaging curriculum with an interesting, fun group of people. I came home inspired — and well fed.

Eat Local: Chicago
Chicago is a food town, and I was looking forward to sampling whatever bites I could in between conference sessions. Unfortunately I missed the food tours that were offered as pre-conference events, but I think I made up for it with a few field trips of my own.

Lunch at the Purple Pig
Arrived to a loud, packed restaurant for a late lunch, after getting up at the crack-of-oh-my-god for my flight. Small plates (great for sharing), craft cocktails, and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Tramonto cocktail: Tequila Blanco, Aperol, Limoncello, Sambuca Rinse

Tramonto cocktail: tequila blanco, Aperol, limoncello, sambuca rinse

Roasted Butternut Squash, Pumpkin Seeds, Crispy Sage Leaves, Ricotta Salata

Roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, crispy sage leaves, ricotta salata

Oil-Poached Tuna, Green Beens, Roasted Red Pepper, Egg, Vinagrette

Oil-Poached tuna, green beans, roasted red pepper, potatoes, egg, vinaigrette

Dinner at mk
Stellar dinner with long-time friends Brian and Marie at mk. Indulgent? Yes, but oh-so-worth-it, both for the food and the lovely company.

Point Reyes Oysters, served with salumi picante (upper left)

Point Reyes Oysters, served with salumi picante (gotta love getting Bay Area oysters in Chicago!)

Grilled baby octopus, celery root puree, peanuts

Grilled baby octopus, celery root puree, peanuts

Fluke with lobster

Fluke with lobster, roasted cauliflower (upper left)

Cake and shake: chocolate layer cake, chocolate fudge sauce, and vanilla malted shake

Cake and shake: chocolate layer cake, chocolate fudge sauce, and vanilla malted shake

Lunch at Beatrix
I was looking for a farm-to-table-style restaurant near my hotel for lunch on the last day of the conference, and Beatrix was the perfect choice. Quick lunch at the bar with a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris. The beet salad is something I might try at home.

Golden Beet Carpaccio: beets, Granny Smith apple matchsticks, arugula, toasted pistachios, toasted quinoa, Meyer lemon vinagrette

Golden Beet Carpaccio: beets, Granny Smith apple match sticks, arugula, toasted pistachios, toasted quinoa, Meyer lemon vinaigrette

Tuna Crudo: thinly sliced tuna, crispy brown rice noodles, radish matchsticks, sprouts, spicy peppers, black sesame seeds, baby green onions

Tuna Crudo: thinly sliced tuna, crispy brown rice noodles, radish match sticks, sprouts, spicy peppers, black sesame seeds, baby green onions

Food Waste at Home and Away
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’m working on creative ways to reduce food waste in my own kitchen. I’m cooking more and pushing myself to use as much as possible of the food I buy. Food waste was also covered in several of the talks I attended at the IACP conference in Chicago. Chefs and farmers talked about the idea of cooking “root to stalk” — the veggie version of “nose to tail.”

A week after the Chicago trip, I attended a panel discussion in San Francisco co-hosted by CUESA, the organization that puts on the Ferry Building Farmers’ market, titled “Beyond the Green Bin.” While the Bay Area has been a leader in composting and recycling, there’s more we can be doing on the front end to reduce food waste. I’ll be posting a summary of the talk later this week — including the panel’s summary of suggestions for making changes at home and in our communities.

So that’s March all wrapped up nicely. April should bring the first round of stone fruit (cherries and apricots, if we’re lucky), not to mention Easter, Passover, and a plethora of national food “holidays.” What are you looking forward to cooking or eating in April?

Shop Local: San Mateo Farmers’ Market

March 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

This first Saturday of spring brought a perfect morning for visiting the College of San Mateo (CSM) Farmers’ Market: sunny, clear blue skies, and just a touch of coolness in the air that you know will make way for a pleasantly warm day later. Bliss!

Local kale at San Mateo farmers' market

Doesn’t get more local than this: kale from Pescadero, CA

This kind of day is one of the reasons I’m happy and grateful to live in the Bay Area. Spring arrives, well, pretty much on time, and with it the bounty and beauty of spring produce. Strawberries and spring greens and handfuls of fresh herbs — oh my!

The farmers’ market at CSM is one of the largest on the Peninsula and includes not only small-farm produce, but small/artisan food producers as well. While you’ll find a nice assortment of bakers, confectioners, and makers of small-batch pickles (oh, and Curry Up Now’s food truck!), seasonal fruits and vegetables are the draw. What I particularly love about this market is that some of San Mateo county’s best small farms — and, in particular, organic farms — are represented here. There’s no better opportunity to invest in your local food system than by connecting directly with the people who grow your food.

Below is a quick roundup of what I saw at the market today. Do you have a favorite market in your town? What are you buying? Better yet: what are you making with your market finds?

Fresh Herbs
Cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, thyme, and chives were available from most organic farmstands. I took home large bunches of parsley, thyme, and chives. Can’t wait to use them in salads and as a garnish for grilled fish.

Strawberries
Bright red strawberries are in abundance, and they just about glow in the sunlight! They’re not as sweet as mid-summer berries, but for early season berries, they’re definitely flavorful. Much better than what you’ll find in the local grocery store.

baskets of strawberries

Bright red strawberries, freshly picked

Root Vegetables and Brassicas
Carrots, beets (reds and goldens), radishes, broccoli, kale. Yes, kale is everywhere: curly kale, dino kale, red kale. No shortage of kale this morning.

Colorful assortment of spring vegetables

Add some color to your diet — there are so many options!

Spring Greens
Colorful chard, dandelion greens, salad mixes with flowers, Little Gems, and stinging nettles. Salad for everybody! Want more information about the variety of spring greens available? Check out CUESA’s guide to greens.

Colorful spring vegetables

Greens for making colorful salads and for braising

Spring Flowers
Colorful assortments from Half Moon Bay, Pescadero, and Watsonville: freesias, tulips, ranunculus, irises.

Fresh spring flowers

Fresh spring flowers, grown locally

Details
What: San Mateo Farmers’ Market
Where: College of San Mateo
Directions: Visit the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association site
Saturdays, year-round: 9am-1pm
*Tip: If you’re driving west on Hilldale Boulevard, keep going past College Heights Drive, which is the first entrance to the College of San Mateo (CSM). You’ll want to take the next right onto Perimeter Road. You’ll see the tents for the market in the parking lot to your left.

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