WHY BOTHER: shop at a farmer’s market?

New York Times – Mark Bittman – August 5, 2014

This is a new commemorative stamp introduced by the U.S. Postal Service

This is a new commemorative stamp introduced by the U.S. Postal Service

For most of us, there’s no better place to buy fruits and vegetables than at a farmers’ market. Period. The talk about high prices isn’t entirely unjustified, but it can be countered, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

What’s inarguable is that farmers’ markets offer food of superior quality, help support smaller-scale farmers in an environment that’s more and more difficult for anyone not doing industrial-scale agriculture, and increase the amount of local food available to shoppers. All of this despite still-inadequate recognition and lack of government support.

Then there’s “know your farmer, know your food.” When you buy directly from a farmer, you’re pretty much guaranteed real freshness (we’ve all seen farmers’ market produce last two or three times longer than supermarket produce). You’re supporting a local business — even a neighbor! And you have the opportunity to ask, “How are you growing this food?” Every farmer I’ve spoken to says — not always in a thrilled tone — that the questions from shoppers never stop. But even if a vegetable isn’t “certified organic,” you can still begin to develop your own standards for what makes sense and what doesn’t.

Farmers’ markets are not just markets. They’re educational systems that teach us how food is raised and why that matters.

“Producer-only” farmers’ markets, as opposed to markets that sell food from anywhere, are really the ideal. The organizations that run these tend to be nonprofits, and often use volunteers to keep going. In many cases they are mission-driven: organizers want to make sure small farms remain viable and that we — nonfarmers — have access to good local food. At this stage of the game, there is no higher cause.

The quality of produce in producer-only markets — that is, places where people sell what they grow — is phenomenal, especially right now. If you’re going to complain that tomatoes are $6 a pound in some markets (they are; they’re also sometimes 99 cents), you might also note that usually these are real tomatoes, sometimes explosive in flavor, whereas the $4 per pound tomatoes I bought in the supermarket this week were grown in water and were less tasty than your average canned tomato. To some extent, you get what you pay for.

Then again, there are often bargains on incredibly high-quality produce for anyone who is willing to shop. Last week, at a recently opened market near Washington, D.C.’s convention center, I bought tiny lavender “fairy tale” eggplants for less than $3 a pound. The Saturday before last, at New York’s Union Square Greenmarket, I found perfectly ripe, real apricots for $5 a pound. (A chef strode up next to me and bought two cases; the farmer had only three total, which is why you want to go early.) That may sound expensive, but if you want a real apricot, this is the only way to get it.

At the 37-year-old market on 175th Street in Washington Heights, I found purslane — a salad green I’ve been foraging for 40 years, and that I adore — and bought a bunch as big as my head for $2. I found papalo (also called Bolivian coriander), a delicious, strong-tasting green I’ve bought every time I’ve seen it since I first tasted it in Mexico a few years ago.

And at the tiny farmers’ market in Truro, on Cape Cod, now in its second year, I bought lobsters for 40 percent less than they cost in local stores, pork jowls for $2 a pound, and gorgeous half-yellow, half-green summer squash for a dollar each; they were worth it.

With more than 8,000 farmers’ markets nationwide (representing something like 50,000 farmers, according to the Department of Agriculture), potentially millions of people are being affected by similar experiences. That’s a great thing. And this week — National Farmers Market Week — a commemorative postage stamp is being introduced at a ceremony in Washington on Thursday. Present will be Bernadine Prince, co-executive director of FreshFarm Markets in Metro DC, which runs 13 producer-only markets, and president of the Farmers Market Coalition. Prince said to me, “Farmers’ markets are an economic engine that keeps farmers going.” Yes, that too.

That’s good for everyone, but things could be better. It’s clear to me — after visits to farmers in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California, to farmers’ markets wherever I’ve traveled in the last few years, and recent conversations with Prince, Michael Hurwitz (director of New York’s Greenmarket), Francie Randolph (who runs Sustainable CAPE and founded the Truro market last year), and others — that a few key improvements could make it easier for farmers and markets to thrive.

Near the top of many lists is municipal support, largely in the form of space, water, electricity and the like, and the reduction (or absence) of fees. “Each of our 13 markets requires a different negotiation and different set of fees,” says Prince. “Some are a dollar a year and some are far more expensive.” Since this money comes mostly from fees charged to farmers, the costs are usually passed on to consumers.

By increasing foot traffic, bringing shoppers into otherwise-ignored spaces, providing space for farmers to sell their goods at retail prices (80 percent of the farmers in New York’s markets, says Hurwitz, could not survive on wholesale alone), these markets benefit everyone. Markets need infrastructure — either permanent space or, at least, water and electricity.

Farmers who come to market may be working 18-hour days, or even longer, depending on the length of their drive. On top of this, to handle retail sales they’ve got to process a variety of forms of payment in addition to cash, from SNAP (food stamps) to credit cards to tokens (you actually do not want to know how convoluted these payments get). When there’s a unified, wireless form of payment, this will become less of a burden. That’s in the works — Hurwitz estimates it’ll be here no later than the end of the decade — but undoubtedly it could be hurried along.

At least a few hundred markets are taking advantage of programs like Wholesome Wave that double the value of food stamps at farmers’ markets, and that number will soar when the Agriculture Department’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program kicks in, contributing as much as $20 million to the cause. That’s real progress, but more is needed.

In short, says the Southern Maine congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a staunch supporter of local food systems, “We’ve had some success in passing policies that support farmers’ markets, but really the numbers are pretty small compared to the huge support that flows to big commodity crops. Policy makers are slowly catching up with the public on the benefits of supporting local agriculture, but we have a long way to go before the playing field is really leveled.”

Truth.

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Pioneer Valley companies are investing in local produce to grow the economy and profits

By RICHIE DAVIS – Gazette Contributing Writer – Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Three homegrown food purveyors are changing the way they do business.

gazzzzThe three — Real Pickles, Artisan Beverage Cooperative and New England Natural Bakers — may all have slightly different objectives and techniques for putting a new twist on the way they do business, but they’re all examples of a trend likely to continue in the coming year.

It’s an innovative model for growing the local economy, as well as growing more food locally in a way that sinks deeper roots in the region.

“CISA has been saying that the next step for the committed consumer is to invest in local products, but there are not a lot of options for doing that,” said Sam Stegemen of Deerfield-based Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture and PV Grows, a collaborative that’s been tilling the soil for local investment in the food economy.

PV Grows oversees a $750,000 loan fund that’s helped a Hadley malt operation and a distributor for farms around the region, and plans to unveil a new investment fund this year that would let people with $1,000 or more to provide capital for fledgling farm and food initiatives.

Working with the Slow Money PV Chapter, which is also dedicated to funneling investors to help the local food system, PV Grows will present a Pioneer Valley Entrepreneur Showcase from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Hampshire College Red Barn in Amherst, providing examples of how local entrepreneurs like the Artisan Beverage Cooperative have worked to solidify Katalyst Kombucha and Green River Ambrosia in the local economy.

The two decade-old Greenfield businesses, making distinct lines of beverages, had shared facilities, equipment and workers routinely at the Franklin County Community Development Corp. food processing center on Wells Street, but decided to change their ownership structures to merge the two businesses into a single worker-owned co-op.

“We kept two complete sets of books, with charge-backs to one another if, for example, we used the Katalyst Kombucha crew to do bottling, with reimbursements, and it got messier and messier to force that to be two separate things,” said Garth Shaneyfelt, a Green River Ambrosia founder who is now among seven worker-owners of the combined co-op, which expects to sell more than $1 million worth of beverages — one based on a 2,200-year-old, cultured Chinese drink and the other honey-derived mead products — throughout the Pioneer Valley and as far away as Florida.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Shaneyfelt said. “We’re all owners and are directly invested, so these are solid jobs, and we all make the decisions about where we expand and what we’re doing with products. There’s a lot consolidation of beverage companies in general, and natural foods and even small alcohol producers, so we’re able to say, ‘This is something that’s staying here, we’re part of the community. It feels pretty solid.’ ”

The same attitude prevails at Real Pickles, where seven workers are now members of the new worker-owned cooperative formed from what had been a private enterprise. There, the original partners worked with the state Securities Division to raise $500,000 in capital from 77 investors to buy out the business in less than two months — less than one-third of the time allowed, said founder and general manager Dan Rosenberg.

So far, about half of the workers have decided to become owners.

Increasingly, he said, when entrepreneurs start food-related businesses these days — especially here in the Pioneer Valley — they’re driven not solely by a profit motive, but also by wanting “to make some improvements in the world.” They also have a social mission to keep jobs in the community for the long haul and to have workers have a say in how the business is run.

“If someone’s interested in building strong local and regional food economies, a worker cooperative is a great way to keep the business in the community and not ship off jobs,” said Rosenberg, adding that the change has also added to workers’ sense that they’re truly invested in the business.

That’s the case, too, at New England Natural Bakers, now a worker-owned business that’s kept a hierarchical decision-making process that’s inclusive of the 50 employees.

The company, with about $12 million in sales — about 70 percent of which are in private labels for supermarket chains along the Eastern Seaboard — took out a loan of several million dollars to finance a buyout of the 35-year-old business, and has seen “an even greater amount of loyalty” by workers, as demonstrated by their exceeding what Broucek calls standard labor efficiencies.

“The Pioneer Valley has always been a hotbed of natural food companies in various forms, and the folks who have been in the management and ownership level of these kinds of establishments in general have been of the persuasion that wages should be more equal, that workers should have more say to make sure things are fair.”

Stegeman said Tuesday’s showcase — also featuring Amherst’s new All Things Local Cooperative Market, Northampton’s River Valley Market Cooperative, a proposed Mexican restaurant that features local meats and other businesses seeking local investors — will illustrate ways entrepreneurs are finding innovative ways to attract investment from people so committed to the local food economy that they’re literally willing to put their money where their mouths are.

In the case of Santa Oaxaca Taco Shop, for which El Jardin Bakery owner Neftali Duran is seeking alternative financing, the Oaxaca native hopes to set up a limited-menu eatery, possibly with a pub, that’s sustainable, affordable and serves good food with an option for customers to choose local meats and other ingredients

“If people are willing to pay a little extra for local, so be it,” says Duran, who’s thinking such a “realistic, very simple taco shop” serving southern Mexican fare could work in Greenfield, depending on who he’s able to find as a partner.

Such are the possibilities, say food entrepreneurs, to keep it local.

“There are a lot of businesses out there doing what they need to do and saying, ‘We’re not going to get big loans, so we’ll get investors,’” Stegeman said. The classic “fast money” investment story is to sell the business after 10 or so years so investors can get their money back, he said, but that runs counter to the notion of a business with roots in the community, one that will remain true to a principled local-first mission even after the founding owners move on.

Shaneyfelt said that in this area, there’s a lot of support for alternative approaches that are aimed at preserving and strengthening the locally rooted economy.

“It’s a really viable alternate economic structure,” he said of the new Artisan Beverage Cooperative approach. “We’re still doing the capitalism thing, I’m still using Quickbooks, we’re still sending invoices, and taking in money and paying the bills. And we’re working with other cooperatives.”

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Franklin County Community Development Corp. kitchen in Greenfield key link in local food chain

By RICHIE DAVIS   –  Gazette Contributing Writer  –   Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When Joe Czajkowski delivered a ton of carrots, already peeled and “coin-cut,” to the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center last week from his 99-year-old Hatfield farm, Liz Buxton and her crew got to work.

cdc

Next February will be promoted as “carrot month” as part of the Massachusetts Farm to School Partnership. So the Greenfield commercial kitchen had a line of half a dozen workers blanching, bagging, and then freezing the sliced orange vegetables for delivery to schools around the region in late January so cafeteria workers can prepare them as part of locally enhanced meals.

“I noticed in Heath, where they have a really nice school garden, that the kids had grown and picked the carrots, and they all wanted the carrots,” said Buxton, who worked as Mohawk Trail Regional School’s food and nutrition service director before taking charge of the Franklin County Community Development Corp. kitchen a couple of months ago. “They’ve started to recognize what’s local, and they were invested in those carrots.”

At Mohawk, she helped buy frozen local cauliflower, broccoli, peppers and carrots from the CDC kitchen, putting on the monthly lunch menus in which local produce was being featured. “These carrots were in the ground a couple of days ago. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.”

CDC this summer processed nearly 10,000 pounds of tomatoes from Red Fire and Atlas farms that it is now getting ready to turn into marinara sauce with some of the 1,300 peppers it received from Red Fire Farm, as well as local onions. It is hiring a food development specialist to help market the local produce to food service directors and their product distributors, and also trying to work with growers to sell their fruits and vegetables to the CDC to become part of the growing local food chain.

 The CDC is also using a $250,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture loan and $50,000 grant to buy a new freezer as well as flash-freezing and related equipment to ramp up its production of local produce for school sales as well as to help farmers’ own supplies for their winter customers.

“We’re taking a risk here,” said CDC Executive Director John Waite. “Schools want it, but it’s a question of price, how we’ll distribute it, and lots of pieces of the puzzle that need to come together. Until you have the product, you can’t make it happen. And we can say that we have this product; will you buy it? It’s making it happen.”

The CDC, has had to downsize from the roughly 16,000-square-foot freezer it originally sought to one that’s maybe 12,000 square feet, and that’s slowed the process, said Waite, but it’s also given the food processing center a chance to learn the importance of working with distributors such as Sysco or Thurston Foods, since food-service directors have balked at the idea of picking up produce. It’s also about hiring someone who can handle marketing, a job that’s proven too much for Waite or Buxton to handle, so they can also promote the commercial kitchen to some of the small-scale food manufacturers who pay rent to use the facility.

Lessons learned

“We’ve learned it’s about efficiency, and efficiency comes with volume,” said Waite, who spent a few months trying to fill a staffing gap this summer while also trying to connect farmers and food service directors with products and occasionally filling in on the production line as well.

“We’re committed to this, and the only way to increase sales is to increase marketing and build relationships,” he said.

The shared kitchen last year handled 65,000 pounds of vegetables, largely freezing and canning them for schools and colleges, including Deerfield Academy, Williams College and Hampshire College in Amherst. That is down to 20,000 or 30,000 pounds this year, mostly for Community Supported Agriculture operations to offer their members and farm stands to sell to customers, in the form of spaghetti sauce and applesauce — think 1,800 pounds of apples from Atkins Farm in Amherst— as well as frozen peaches, blueberries and strawberries.

With the fast-freeze and other equipment planned for deployment at the Wells Street facility by next summer, and with the kitchen getting ready for new USDA meat inspection certification beginning next month, with a meat-pie maker already lined up to use in the kitchen, Waite said he is already looking ahead to the day when the CDC can sell local frozen vegetables through Foster’s and Green Fields Market. He’s also looking at seeking a grant to prepare soups for Just Roots community farm.

Meanwhile, Waite has been meeting with food service directors from Amherst and Hampshire colleges, as well as with Hampshire’s farm program, about continuing to use the Greenfield kitchen to process its tomatoes and other produce. The kitchen even pureed 4,000 pounds of leftover fruit from the University of Massachusetts’ Guinness-Record, 15,000-pound fruit salad in September, for freezing and later use in making smoothies.

And proving the value of connections, the CDC worked through Hampshire’s Bon Appetit food service to make tomato sauce from a Connecticut farmer for Wesleyan and St. Joseph’s colleges.

From Connecticut to southern Vermont, “When a farmer says, ‘Our stuff’s ready,’ we want to be available to them,” said Waite, adding that it’s a matter of finding temporary, seasonal workers and having enough flexibility in the kitchen schedule and the right kind of equipment for that specific crop. “What we’re trying to do is give farmers diverse options to sell. If they can make more at the farm stand, great. But if one week, all their tomatoes are ready and they can only sell so much at the farm stand or grocery store, they can sell to us as well instead of leaving it on the vine. If we can eliminate that waste and pay them for that, it’s not a loss, and the farmers can get more income.”

Another lesson along the way is about the definition of “local,” at least when it comes to processing produce to extend the marketing season for sales to institutions that keep feeding people long after the growing season has ended.

“Now a lot of local is regional,” said Waite, pointing to research efforts by Farm to Institution New England, the six-state collaboration that started with a USDA grant in 2011 to beef up agricultural sales to schools, colleges and other institutions around the region.

Working with two northern Vermont commercial kitchens, two more on the Maine coast, as well as others in Boston and Rhode Island, the CDC here is trying to avoid duplicating costs for expensive, specialized equipment that may be based elsewhere. He points to the Northern Girl processing center in Maine, which is already equipped to deal with tons of potatoes and broccoli florettes.

“Maybe there’s a little specialization around New England, where we’re cooperating instead of competing,” said Waite. “Now there are distributors bringing in vegetables from California, so they can bring from Maine to Massachusetts, from Massachusetts to Maine and go back and forth, that’s a lot better than bringing it across the country.

“We’re competing against Chile and China, and in apples we’re competing against Washington state and China. We’re not competing between Massachusetts and Maine,” he added. “There’s always some hyper-local that wants to grow in the backyard, but when it comes to feeding 15 million people, we’ve got to work together.”

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Downtown Amherst storefront eyed for local products

By DEBRA SCHERBAN  – July 4, 2013 – Daily Hampshire Gazette

AMHERST — Organizers of a local products marketplace in the works for about a year have found a downtown storefront, are seeking members and could be open for business on North Pleasant Street this fall.

souperbowlRepresentatives of the All Things Local Store, an indoor farmers market featuring produce and wares from local growers and craftspeople, are negotiating with the owners of the SouperBowl restaurant at 104 North Pleasant St. to take over the equipment of that business, which has closed. If those talks succeed, they will sign a lease Aug. 1 with property owner Barry Roberts and could open by October, said Tina Clarke, a member of the working group planning the market.

“It will be like an old-fashioned marketplace,” Clarke said. The project is based on Local Roots Market and Cafe in Wooster, Ohio, which Clarke said she discovered during a training she was conducting in that area.

Become a Member of All Things Local Coop Here

SouperBowl co-owner Shiang Sobieski said if the sale goes through, SouperBowl will not reopen in Amherst. The restaurant, which specialized in soups and chili, has a sign on the door indicating it is closed for the summer. She declined to comment further while the deal is pending.

Meanwhile, the working committee of the All Things Local Store has been holding house parties and conducting an online campaign at its website, www.AllThingsLocalStore.com. Its goal is to sign up 300 members and raise $15,000 by July 31, which will cover two months’ rent, Clarke said. The fee is $50 per household.

Becky Reed, owner of One More Gambol Farm, and Bernard Brennan, owner of Amethyst Farm, stand near Reed's garden at her farm in Amherst Tuesday. They are two of seven members of the incorporating board of directors for the All Things Local Store planned for downtown Amherst. JERREY ROBERTS

Becky Reed, owner of One More Gambol Farm, and Bernard Brennan, owner of Amethyst Farm, stand near Reed’s garden at her farm in Amherst Tuesday. They are two of seven members of the incorporating board of directors for the All Things Local Store planned for downtown Amherst.
JERREY ROBERTS

John M. Gerber, a professor of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who is working with the group, said the first gathering last week resulted in 35 memberships. Another membership party was held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at One More Gambol Farm, 483 Montague Road, Amherst.

In addition, Clarke said there are about seven membership parties in the planning stages. She estimates 200 people are ready to sign up. “People are so excited about this,” she said.

The working group, which consists of local farmers and businesspeople, grew out of Transition Amherst, a community group focused on climate change, rising energy prices and economic instability. The seven members of the group are Clarke, a certified transition trainer; Jeremy Barker-Plotkin, co-owner of Simple Gifts Farm; Bernard Brennan, owner of Amethyst Farm; Robin Luberoff, an attorney; William McGinnis, an information systems and business strategy consultant; John Thibbits, project manager at Atkins Farms Country Market; and John R. White, a community organizer with food cooperative management experience.

Clarke said these seven will form the initial board of directors until a permanent board is elected.

The All Things Local Store aims to provide space for vendors who would be charged 20 percent by the market that will go toward paying rent and utilities, Clarke said. The farmers will get to keep 80 percent of their sales, she said. The idea is to eventually offer events such as “Meet the Producer” nights, cooking demonstrations, parties, lectures and use of the commercial kitchen for canning parties and other activities, according to the website.

All Things Local differs from a worker-run collective, she said, which is also in the planning stages in Amherst.

Called Amherst Community Market, that group is committed to setting up a full-service grocery store similar to River Valley Market in Northampton, Clark said. Initially, the thinking was the two groups could join forces, she said, but they realized their goals differed.

“In our case, each producer decides the price, sales, etc.,” she said. The overhead is low. “This will be a downtown marketplace that can compete with the big chains like Walmart and Whole Foods.”

Some of the local producers who have already signed on to participate are Simple Gifts Farm, Milk & Honey Herbs, Amethyst Farm, Backyard Bakery, Book and Plow Farm, RealPickles, Swartz Family Farm, King Creek Farm and Queens Greens.

Clarke said the group hopes to sign up 1,200 members to cover all the market’s costs.

As for opening day? “We’re shooting for Oct. 1, maybe sooner. We’re optimistic,” she said.

ATLposter


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From fish to produce, local CSAs continue to flourish

Ed Struzziero of Cape Cod Fish Share, left, talks with Kevin Landau of Pelham, Saturday, after Landau purchases fresh Hake and Cod in the Wheat Berry parking lot in Amherst.

Ed Struzziero of Cape Cod Fish Share, left, talks with Kevin Landau of Pelham, Saturday, after Landau purchases fresh Hake and Cod in the Wheat Berry parking lot in Amherst.

In 1986, Brookfield Farm on Hulst Road in Amherst became only the third CSA farm in the country. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. The way it works is that members of the CSA pay for a share of a farm’s produce up front in the spring, then receive crops as they come in from June to November.

Winter shares of storage crops such as potatoes are also available. The farmer gets working capital; the share owners get super-fresh local produce, and the local community benefits because agricultural land is kept in useful — and scenic — production.

Today the CSA concept flourishes in both its original and new forms.

Brookfield farms has over 500 shareholders for whom it grows 50 crops on 30 acres of land. Its success has helped inspire several other local CSA farms. But while these and other farms produce an enormous variety of vegetables, pretty much the rest of our other food still comes from far afield: meat, fish and baking supplies are a few examples.

Increasingly, though, enterprising food producers have been turning to the CSA model to distribute their products. Now it’s possible to get fish, meat and grains on the share system, thus providing the protein element essential to the human diet. Locavores — people committed to eating local and regional foods — can find lots of food grown right here in the Valley or within the hundred-mile radius that most locavores define as the range of regional fare.

Since we live many miles from the ocean, fish seems one of the more unlikely candidates for the share system. Since 2011 Cape Cod Fish Share has been ferrying fresh fish from Chatham to its 400 members located in towns throughout the state, including Amherst and Northampton.

Here’s how it works: Members sign up for 5-week shares so the amount of fish is predetermined, and the fishermen have a guaranteed market. The fish bypasses the usual auction process, and can be sped westwards faster and fresher.

Share members get two kinds of fish each week. Since many fish are seasonal, says Ed Struzziero, one of the founders and a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate, “We choose a species mix that takes advantage of what’s available. We had northern shrimp for a few weeks in spring, Nantucket Bay scallops in late fall, striped bass and bluefish in the summer, and so on. We balance mild fish with more exotic species, all caught using sustainable fishing practices.”

While old favorites such as cod, haddock and swordfish often appear in members’ shares, Struzziero notes that, “For many members, the share has introduced new treats: monkfish, skate, hake and redfish among others.”

The quality is startling, too.

“People are blown away at how tender swordfish and tuna steaks are when fresh,” Struzziero said.

He describes the share system as a “win-win situation.” The large orders the CSA places for less common species remove the economic risk for the boats to fish and land anything other than the “greatest hits” that are found elsewhere, he said.

“When we place our order, the purchase has happened. Our customers have trusted us to provide their fish, and the boats in turn have trusted us to take possession.”

As for ways to cook the fish, the weekly newsletter announcing what’s in the next share includes several recipes.

Ben and Adrie Lester of Wheat Berry pose for a portrait with Gabriel Lester, 1, Saturday, next to the grinding station at Wheat Berry in Amherst. The station allows for customers to grind their own grain after purchasing it from the local grain share.

Ben and Adrie Lester of Wheat Berry pose for a portrait with Gabriel Lester, 1, Saturday, next to the grinding station at Wheat Berry in Amherst. The station allows for customers to grind their own grain after purchasing it from the local grain share.

In Amherst, the Cape Cod Fish Share van delivers to share-holders at Wheatberry Bakery & Cafe at 321 Main St. Saturdays from to 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The van often arrives with extra scallops and sometimes fish for sale to non-members.

“Best to come early,” Struzziero advises nonmembers hoping to buy. They also have brochures or can be contacted via email at ed@capecodfishshare.com.

Surprising grains

While picking up fish, members often stroll into Wheatberry, where they will see a display of gallon jars filled with grains and beans and dried corn.

Wheatberry owners Ben and Adrie Lester graduated from culinary school, and are enthusiastic members of a CSA farm and committed to eating local foods. As bakers they wondered if they could buy locally grown grains. Most local farmers told them they could not; grains don’t grow in our soil and climate, they told the Lesters.

Undeterred, the couple rented land and sowed wheat and other grains — and they thrived. They also discovered that some local growers were experimenting with the grains that aren’t supposed to grow round here, including rice.

“Now there’s 18,000 pounds of locally produced grains,” Ben Lester said. “It’s not a lot in one sense, but considering that there were no grains here at all 5 years ago, it’s terrific.”

Working with local growers, Wheatberry now offers a grain CSA, which provides its members with about 115 pounds of 10 to 12 organically grown grains, including wheat, barley, emmer, spelt, a couple of sorts of corn, black beans and more. (A half share is also available.)

“To most people nowadays grain means flour, and so we have a self-service mill where members can grind their share into flour if they like,” Lester said. “But we also emphasize cooking grains whole and serving them as you would rice, or topping them with a pasta sauce.”

Since grains are harvested once a year, there is only one share delivery, so share owners don’t have to pick up every week: “An easier commitment than the weekly pickups at many other CSAs,” Lester said.

Fifty of Wheatberry’s 167 grain CSA members live in the Boston area, while others come from Maine and New York.

“We didn’t advertise,” he said. “They found our website on the Internet when they were looking for a source of organic whole grains.”

For information, visit www.wheatberry.org.

Other CSAs

Meat, too, is being produced by the CSA system. For several years Jeremy Barker-Plotkin has been growing a myriad of popular vegetables, including heirloom varieties of tomatoes and potatoes, at Simple Gifts Farm on North Pleasant Street in Amherst. Now the farm has started raising pigs, so as well as offering vegetable shares it also has pork shares. A typical share provides five pounds of pork every month for four months or a single delivery of 20 pounds. The pork comes in various forms: sausage, hot dogs, bacon, chops and ribs.

“A 20-pound box of pork stores more easily in the freezer part of a fridge than most people think,” Barker-Plotkin said.

Barker-Plotkin’s pigs are reared on organic grain and the natural foods they find as they snuffle the pasture.

“We are supposed to eat vegetables and exercise,” he points out, “So it makes sense to eat meat from animals that have also eaten vegetables and exercised.”

The supply of pork is continuous, so one can buy a pork share at any time.

For information, visit www.simplegiftsfarmcsa.com.

Like several other CSAs Simple Gifts raises chickens for purchase by members. In addition, our area now has at least 10 farms specializing in meat shares. Among the newest is Valley Fresh Meat, which offers chicken, beef, pork, turkey and goat meat raised by Hadley neighbors Sunnybrook Farm and Copperhead Farm.

Dee Scanlon of Copperhead Farm began raising chickens five years ago to provide her three children with better eggs and meat. Today she also raises goats and turkeys, while the Boisverts at Sunnybrook raise pigs, beef and chickens.

Both farms give their animals plenty of outdoor pasture so they can ramble and hunt for nature’s treats, and all the grain or hay used for supplemental feeding is free of hormones and antibiotics. Teaming together to form a CSA that could offer a variety of different kinds of meat seemed a good idea.

“Shares are available throughout the year; there’s no sign-up period. And we’ve designed the shares to take account of different needs and families,” Scanlon said. “You could get a share that gives you enough meat for the year, or you could do one that gives you enough for a month.”

The pickup point is the North Hadley Sugar Shack on River Drive in Hadley, which also stocks the meat for purchase by customers who do not belong to the CSA.

Shares typically include a variety of meats the farms produce — and that includes goat, which has not traditionally been part of the mainstream American diet. Scanlon says the goat meat is popular with customers who are immigrants, and others are beginning to try it.

“Really, you can cook it like you’d cook beef: use it ground in sauces or barbecue or slow-roast the bigger pieces. The ribs are delicious,” she said.

Committed to producing healthful food, she notes, “Farm fresh is not as outrageously expensive as a lot of people think and the food is local and really good for you.”

For more information about this meat CSA, visit www.valleyfreshmeat.com. For information on the many CSAs now operating in our area, visit the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) website buylocalfood.org. Go to the heading Buy Local and from there Find Local and then to CSA Farm Listing, which provides a complete listing.

Original Post.

Two farms expand stores to meet local produce demand

By REBECCA EVERETT@GazetteRebecca      Sunday, April 28, 2013

Especially in the summer and fall, Outlook Farm draws people from all over the region for apple picking, harvest festivals, pig roasts and other attractions at its spread on Route 66. It’s not unusual on a fall weekend to find its small store and restaurant so packed it’s tough to even get to the shelves of produce or the deli counter for its locally produced selection of meat.

After five years of planning, a year of construction and a $1 million investment, Outlook Farm is hosting a grand opening celebration this weekend to show off its new expanded store, which includes a new 3,000-square-foot barn modeled after a traditional post and beam barn.

Bradford Morse, who runs the farm with his wife, Erin, said they are thrilled to more than double their space. The store was 2,400-square-feet before, but half of that was an apple cooler.

The new addition at Outlook Farm in Westhampton

The new addition at Outlook Farm in Westhampton

“We’ve been growing a lot for the last five or six years,” he said. Morse credits the “buy local” movement with drastically increasing the demand for his produce and pork.

“Five years ago, when we started with the barn, we were kind of ahead of the ‘buy local’ curve,” he said. “But now there’s still a huge market out there for it. There’s not enough produce grown in New England to keep up with the demand.”

Outlook Farm is not the only Valley operation looking to provide more produce through a store thanks to aggressive buy local initiatives.

Atlas Farm in South Deerfield will open its farm store at 218 Greenfield Road May 3. The farm, owned by Gideon Porth, previously sold its organic produce wholesale, at farmers markets or through farm shares. Porth purchased the farm store building, previously used by Deerfield Farm, along with 40 acres of adjacent farmland.

“It has been a long-term vision on the farm to do this and this was a great opportunity,” Porth said of the purchase.

The store will sell Atlas Farm produce as well as other local products like milk, flour and pickles, according to the Atlas Farm website.

Devon Whitney-Deal, of the South Deerfield nonprofit Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, said though several farm stores have opened in the Valley in the last five years, it’s not quite enough to be considered a trend.

It is, however, a sound business move, if perhaps also a bit complicated and capital intensive.

“It can definitely help them to sell more directly to their customers and provide a greater diversity of products — to offer more of a one-stop-shopping experience,” said Whitney-Deal, CISA’s member services coordinator. “But it’s a big investment and a big commitment, not just from the financial standpoint but also in terms of labor. You have to be open more hours, you need more staff. It’s definitely more significant than having a self-serve farmstand.”

Porth declined to say how much it cost him to start up the Farm Store. “It was definitely a big investment, but we feel like the marketplace is really good for this now,” he said. “There aren’t too many full-service farm stores like this.”

Jobs added

With his farm store expansion, Morse said he will probably hire six new workers, from counter help to managers. At the peak of the season, the farm employs about 25 people, he said.

Currently, the store’s retail shelves, meat counter, kitchen and restaurant seating is all located in the 1,200-square-foot front of the store, with a lot of the produce being displayed outside on the porch because of the limited space.

Contractors have transformed the 1,200-square-foot rear room of the store, which previously served as the apple cooler, into additional retail space. When the shelves and products are relocated there, it will allow for the restaurant that offers breakfast and lunch to expand in the front of the store and double its seating to 50.

“We have really limited seating — when you get the regulars in, there’s no room for anyone else,” Morse said Tuesday while surveying the crowded seating area.

Customers who walk to the far side of the former apple cooler space will find themselves in the meat market, where they can choose chicken, pork and beef from coolers or ask the meat cutter for a special cut of fresh pork. Previously, Morse said the meat counter was cramped in the small store and all the cutting was done in a different building, so meat could only be cut to order with advance notice.

Morse said the pork he sells is from Pennsylvania pigs slaughtered at Adams Farm and Slaughterhouse in Athol, so it arrives at Outlook Farm very fresh. “And pork is really best fresh,” he said.

Beyond the meat market is the recently completed, two-story barn, which will house most of the store’s produce as well as things that the store has never had the space to carry before, such as bulk quantities of local potatoes. Morse said he also hopes to have local artisans such as potters and quilters sell their wares here, as well.

One end of the barn is dominated by the 1880s cider press that the farm used to produce about 4,000 gallons of cider last year. It’s been on the farm since 1968, Morse said, but was located in a different barn.

“Now people can come watch cider being made,” he said. The attraction fits in perfectly with the other agritourism features that have been drawing families from near and far to Outlook. “We’re trying to make it all a destination point.”

The barn was designed as an improved replica of a late 19th-century barn that originally stood on Kennedy Road in Leeds. That barn was dismantled and given to Morse, but it blew down in February 2009 while it was still being reconstructed at Outlook Farm.

Morse said that was a huge disappointment, but he learned his lesson. “This barn is a duplicate but with beefed up engineering,” he said.

Timber framer Neil Godden of Cummington designed and framed the barn and Westhampton contractor Ronald Lamagdaline — a regular customer — built everything else, Morse said.

“We’ve been through it all, but now it’s done,” he said while surveying the interior of the new barn Tuesday. “And it’s going to be a great year.”

He’s feeling optimistic about his crops this year, including the 30 acres of fruit tree orchards. Although there have been a couple frosts, the temperatures weren’t low enough to do any damage to the fruit tree blossoms, he said.

He owns and farms 60 acres of land, half orchards and half ground crops, around the 136 Main Road store. He also rents another 30 acres around town.

The barn grand opening celebration on Saturday and Sunday will feature live music, pig roasts, barbecues, special sales, a chili cook-off and community craft and tag sales on both days from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Atlas Farm Store will open Friday at 8 a.m.

left, Tom Devine, Stephen Giard and Robert Brennan, all employees of Kevin Gray Building out of Northfield work on the barn at Atlas Farm.

left, Tom Devine, Stephen Giard and Robert Brennan, all employees of Kevin Gray Building out of Northfield work on the barn at Atlas Farm.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


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