Think Beyond your Plate
by Jewell Fears
I was talking to a friend over the weekend about how I write for the FRESHFARM Blog and she asked what all the hype was about with farmers markets. Yes, they're fun to walk around on a Sunday morning with piping hot coffee, but beyond that why do people love them so much? After I got over the shell shock and could speak –about 10 minutes later- I went on what I like to call my Farmers Market Call to Arms. Ok, maybe it's not that serious, but I definitely was determined to convert her to the dark side by the end of our conversation.
Trying to decide how best to begin my campaign, I thought maybe I could simply give her the highlights of what farmers markets have meant to me and those I know that have come to love them as well. Hence the forthcoming list of the Top 5 Reasons to Support Farmers Markets:
1. Fruits and vegetables are always in season and ripe
Farmers only bring what they have most recently harvested, and they can only harvest crops at their peak for that season. If it’s not in season, it’s not at the market. Additionally, because the produce is at its peak, it’s both more nutritious and riper than that of any of its counterparts at larger chains.
2. Know your farmer, know the farm practices
Many times you’ll be able to meet your farmers or a farm representative while attending the market and ask them questions about their growing methods. Curious if they use pesticides or if they’re truly as organic in their practices as they say? Go ahead and ask.
3. Affordable prices (We all love them!!)
Being that the food is coming straight from the grower, there are no costs associated with extra packaging to preserve it, refrigerate it or maintain freshness except the distance from the farm to the market. Think shipping food from California vs. a family farm in Maryland.
4. Variety, Variety, Variety
Family farms can basically grow whatever they want. That means fun for everyone! You can find heirloom varieties that larger chains would never mass produce, seeds from across the world, and new strains of vegetables the farmers themselves may have developed. I don’t know about you, but I have never believed that all tomatoes are created equal!
5. Humanely raised, fed and butcher meats
Knowing that the meat I purchase has been treated and fed wholesome foods has always been important to me. Although most livestock is raised to be butchered, that shouldn’t mean their lives should be less healthy or peaceful before visiting the butcher.
Bullet points are awesome for a blog post, but I unfortunately didn’t have my laser pointer with me during my discussion with my friend so I rambled on for about 20ish minutes extolling the above points. By the end my friend was willing to concede that overall I had good points and might consider shifting her view of the markets’ importance. Was it a complete success? Meh... But she did agree to forgo her usual grocery shopping trip at a larger chain this week and to go with me to next weekends’ farmers market to purchase her groceries there. I may have won the battle (one week at a time), but I’m more excited to win the war! #oneforthehometeam
Have you ever met someone that describes themselves as a "locavore?" Are you a locavore yourself? Among the many food trends that have been circulating through popular culture over the past several years, the local food movement focuses on the benefits of eating food grown by farmers within a nearby geographic location.
There is no precise definition or distance that makes something local, but the general consensus is that it originates from at most 100 miles away. Additionally, the food is always sold directly from producer to consumer (like at a farmers market!). At FRESHFARM's markets, we work with farmers and producers from D.C., Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Eating local can be beneficial because:
- it helps to support the local economy
- it provides customers with food that is likely fresher than what can be store bought
- it promotes healthier eating and lifestyle habits (because you can't directly grow a bag of potato chips or a candy on a farm)
- it protects the environment (by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released by reducing the distance traveled from farm to table and the added emphasis on sustainable farming practices also associated with the movement)
Some critics question whether the local food movement actually makes a notable impact on the environment or whether small-scale farming practices are a feasible and sustainable economic model. For example, transporting food a shorter distance does not necessarily mean less energy will be expended.
Statistics aside, the thought
behind the movement shows a commitment to protecting the future of the environment, economy, and our personal and community health. If the application isn't exactly perfect now, we can always keep improving. In fact, last year the Washington Post
reported that as much as 90 percent of Americans could theoretically be fed locally.
Your involvement in the FARMSHARE program plays a part in supporting local agriculture! We hope you have been enjoying the process just as much as we have!
Potatoes, Bacon, Veggies oh my!
By Jewell Fears
I woke up this past Sunday morning wanting something homey, salty and ready in under 20 minutes. Pancakes were an option, but didn’t’ want to deal with a batter. Bacon, ok maybe. Eggs… meh. But then I looked in my dry pantry and these pretty little multi-colored baby potatoes were staring happily back at me. Starchy, filling and after a quick flashback to one of my mother's’ go to breakfast favorites, remembered how great they are when combined with onions.
Perfect I thought. Now what exactly am I gonna do with these little darlings? They are great for roasting, mashing, smothering, getting nice and crusty in a skillet or even over an open flame. Being that I hadn’t yet had my coffee and was still in my bunny slippers, I decided an open flame was probably not my best bet. I was also thinking about how warm my bed was and my 20 minute time limit. Ah hah! How about a multi-colored breakfast hash? Yes! Add in some bacon? Duh! And any other tidbits in my fridge that might make it more fun. My breakfast hash was born! And just for good measure… add in some maple syrup to make it extra breakfasty. Enjoy!
Sunday Morning Hash
Prep: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 20 Minutes
Serves: 2 GenerouslyIngredients
- (2) Slices Applewood Smoked Bacon
- (7-10) Multi-Colored Baby Potatoes
- (1) Medium Onion
- (2) Large Cloves Garlic
- (3-5) Mini Sweet Peppers
- 1/3c Maple Syrup or Honey
- Bacon fat, ghee or neutral oil
- Salt, to taste
- (2) Sunnyside Up Eggs
*See notes below for alternativesInstructions
- Small dice all ingredients above before preheating sautée pan. You will be adding each item in succession so dicing now makes it much easier not to overcook or burn anything.
- Add your sauté pan over medium heat and allow it to get nice and hot. Add your bacon first allowing it to render fat and begin to brown.
- Once slightly browned and almost beginning to darken, remove bacon from pan leaving the fat and place on heat proof plate.
- Add potatoes to the bacon fat tossing to coat. Sprinkle gently with salt allowing it to penetrate before stirring.
- Begin to stir gently scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure the potatoes don’t burn adding additional fat if needed.
- Cook the potatoes to a soft consistency, but not mushy with a little color and texture on the outside
- Once soft, add onion and garlic stirring into potatoes and remaining fat
- Once onions have softened and garlic has become fragrant, about 2-3 minutes, add peppers and toss to combine
- When peppers have begun to soften, another 2-3 minutes, add bacon back to warm and flavors to combine.
- At this point the hash is complete, but I generally like to add maple syrup to make it a bit sweet and salty. Adding the syrup and allowing it to coat the hash for 1-2 minutes on the heat is pure perfection.
- Fry Sunnyside-up eggs separately and plop right on top!
- Serve while hot!
- Using Turkey bacon is always an option for a healthier hash, as well as Tofurky bacon for a no meat substitute.
- If using a meat substitute, you will need to use more fat as there will not be enough in the meat itself to coat all the ingredients. For a healthier option, using Ghee or a Neutral Oil such as Avocado or Sunflower oil will do the trick nicely. Just be careful not to deep fry your hash.
- Instead of going the sweet route using maple syrup, feel free to use honey instead. You’ll still achieve the nice coating with a less sweet flavor.
- Feel free to add in any other fun items you may have in your fridge from the farmers market. Celery, quinoa, fresh corn, broccoli or even a jalapeño!
Going "plant-based" seems to be the latest buzzword and trend, but it might be for good reason.
Choosing a diet based on plant foods instead of animal products has far reaching benefits for anyone who tries it out and the entire planet. There is growing evidence
that a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds) can play a role in reducing the likelihood or effects of chronic disease. Even the federal government
recognizes that a vegetarian diet is one of the healthiest diets to follow, and that fears of nutrient deficiencies are overblown.
Choosing to eat more plants is also beneficial to the environment. Large scale animal agriculture contributes to climate change through the release of CO2 and ammonia into the atmosphere, uses a massive amount of water, and results in acres and acres of deforestation. At the rates that people currently eat meat, smaller-scale, local animal agriculture isn't sustainable either.
If you care about your health and the health of the planet, going plant-based is an easy choice! You don't have to entirely give up animal products (but the animals will thank you if you do!), but they transition into a supporting role while fresh produce is given its chance to shine. Some dishes that you already enjoy might actually be plant-based already too! Access to familiar favorites and exciting new varieties of fruits and veggies found in the share bags allows for some fun experimentation and a chance to learn more about what flavors you do and don't like.
Check out these recipes from the FRESHFARM Pinterest
page that are 100 percent plant-based!Spicy Seeded Sliced Heirloom Tomato SaladBaked Apples Stuffed with Cinnamon Date Pecan OatmealSweet Potato and Roasted Red Pepper QuesadillasCrispy Hash Brown HaystacksPurple Grape & Rosemary Sorbet
By Jewell Fears
Walking through the produce section of my local grocery store, I stop to admire how each of the granny smith apples looks just like its bright green neighbor. Like a company of soldiers they sit erect, blemish free and perfectly shiny. But then I wonder about their possibly less perfect cousins – picture brown and blemished, less vibrant green cousins if you will. Where do they end up? Discarded? Given away? Or thankfully and hopefully become a part of a local gleaning program? Let’s hope for the latter.
Gleaning, as defined by the USDA
(U.S Department of Agriculture), is the act of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state/country fairs, or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need. Biblically, farmers were told not to harvest the perimeters of their farms, but to leave them for travelers, the homeless and the feeble. In modern times, these foods are now left behind for different reasons. These range from the use of large harvesting vehicles that aren’t able to pick up everything, labor forces that are too small or can’t afford the time to go back through fields once they have been machine harvested, but mostly because grocery chain regulations deem the produce “ugly”. The food left behind, however, is still edible, nutritious and by all intents and purposes exactly the same food you would otherwise purchase from a retailer. It may be bulbous, misshapen, vary in color and size and even have surface blemishes, but that carrot has all the potassium of its’ perfectly shaped neighbor. I don’t know about you, but having a pristine potato for my home cooked stew really doesn’t make a difference. If it can feed my family and keep us all healthy and happy, I’m sold!
Now that you know what gleaning is, perhaps you’re wondering why it’s so important. Good question young Padawan (said in my best Obi Wan Kenobi Star Wars voice). It’s estimated that Americans throw away approximately 6 billion pounds of ugly food every year. You heard me… that’s billion with a capital B. That’s labor, water, fertilizer and a bevy of meals that could otherwise be used to feed its’ ever growing population of homeless and hungry. Luckily many states have recognized this epidemic and started either farm sponsored gleaning projects or non-profits with the specific goal of pushing gleaning initiatives throughout the state. Many organizations partner together to do mass projects so that they can retrieve as much product as possible at once while others focus on numerous small projects each year. Not only does FRESHFARM Markets bring exceptional produce from farms in the area, but we also have a gleaning project of our own. We partner with numerous organizations so that the produce, once gleaned, gets into the right hands. One such partner is the DC Central Kitchen. Its’ main focus, as emboldened on their website states, “our mission is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities”. DC Central Kitchen delivers meals to homeless shelters, transitional homes and other various nonprofit organizations while through their job training program trains individuals in the culinary arts. Going hand in hand with these meals are the fruits of our gleaning labor. Even Walmart has gotten in on the fun, offering “I’m perfect” apples in 300 of its Florida stores. These ironically imperfect or ugly fruits are hopefully just the beginning of their ugly fruit campaign.
While writing this article I found so many projects country wide that honestly astounded me. Why haven’t we heard of this before? Why isn’t there a gleaning project in every city? Why isn’t everyone volunteering to help these projects? If you want to get involved, which I highly suggest, check out FRESHFARMS’ volunteer opportunities and then shoot over to The National Gleaning Project’s site here
. It provides not only a listing of gleaning projects by state, but also information on laws, regulations and interesting research which I found truly enlightening.
I’ve always believed food should be fun and bring people together. By grabbing what would be food waste from farms and the like we can also make food readily available to those who have none. Can’t get much better than that!Works CitedFRESHFARM Markets Gleaning Project
. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.freshfarm.org/gleaning.htmlHuffington Post
. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eve-turow/what-you-need-to-know-about-gleaning_b_7603482.htmlNPR.org
. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/07/20/486664266/walmart-world-s-largest-grocer-is-now-selling-ugly-fruit-and-vegThe National Gleaning Project
. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nationalgleaningproject.org/U.S Department of Agriculture
. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.usda.gov/documents/usda_gleaning_toolkit.pdf
On a beautiful Sunday morning, Lizzie and I drove on a scenic route to Charles Town, WV. Along the way were large farms with an abundance of corn and wheat, moo'ing cows and galloping horses. We made a quick turn off of the main highway and climbed a steep hill to reveal the main house sitting high on the bluff. Stepping out of the car, we were quickly greeted by a smiling Gale Livingstone welcoming us to her farm.
Gale is the owner of Rainbow Hill Farm, which she has run with her mother since moving to and converting it from a horse farm to an organic vegetable farm in 2011. Originally from Guyana, Gale has a background in business consulting which she bravely left to become a full-time farmer. Although she misses her 9 to 5 and the many perks it provided, Gale had a longing for the simple life and the overwhelming desire to add value to the world in a meaningful way. One of the perks she now gets might just be sweeter - walking out of your front door and picking your breakfast fresh off of the vine.
Gale shakes my hand firmly, nods to Lizzie - they are old friends from the market - and begins leading us towards the chicken coop as she recounts her recent possum citing around the fenced in area. The little chickadees get all kinds of inquisitive visitors to their hen house - possums, raccoons, weasels, groundhogs and even the occasional cat have been known to stir up some trouble. Pests are seemingly a big issue when it comes to protecting both crop and chick. Many harvests have been noticeably smaller due to vermin munching on everything from tomatoes to ochre. Along with currently having both chickens and a small flock of ducks, Rainbow Hill once had a family of goats. Unfortunately, it didn’t go very well and in the end they were auctioned to a neighbor. However, Gale has every hope of trying again in the near future.
As we continue our tour, a strange looking something catches Lizzie and my eye and being as perceptive as she is Gale quickly says “Egyptian Walking Onions”. These tall, bluish-green onions are so top heavy they are basically falling over. Gale informs us that they grow up to 3 feet high and when the “fruit” on top gets too heavy it begins to pull the plant down, takes root and basically walks across your garden bearing more fruit as it goes. “Wow!” is all both Lizzie and I can say. I have gotten to cook with this thing! It not only smells amazing, but is the strangest thing I’ve seen in awhile and my inner foodie goes nuts!
We continue walking with Gale pointing out the various vegetables she grows – baby greens, beets, cabbages, squash, rainbow chard, cucumbers, eggplant, herbs, various berries, beans and an incredible assortment of tomatoes to name a few. Heavy rains drowned most of the tomato plants this past year, but the remaining are now beginning to bear fruit. They are purple and red and everything in between. Gale mentions that she only grows single stem tomatoes allowing for all of the plant’s energy to go into a small amount of fruit rather than dispersing over numerous stems. It not only bears more fruit than a regular plant, but as she picks a few cherry tomatoes from the vine handing them to us, you can taste the difference almost immediately. They easily pop in your mouth releasing sweet juice warmed from the sunshine. This is why supporting small farms is so necessary. Straight from the ground to your belly = A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!!
At this point, the heat has us all sweating from head to toe, although Gale looks a little more comfortable with it than Lizzie and I, we decide to head inside, grab some water and talk some more. We gather around Gale’s beautiful country kitchen island as she pours each of us brown sugar sweet tea, I begin by asking her about being a certified organic farm and why she chose organic vs. non-organic. Gale smiles again and says that she knew she wanted to be certified organic from the beginning firstly because the farm had never been farmed for food before which would easily allow for the organic certification and secondly because she’s a firm believer in leaving food the way nature intended it to be. She sees her farms purpose as helping to keep the soil and veggies as natural as possible and let nature do what it wants to do uncorrupted.
But what does it really mean to be “certified organic”? To paraphrase the definition from the USDA website, it is a farming standard allowing for certain “amendments” used in the normal act of growing food. In laymen’s terms you can only use substances that are found naturally in the environment and are not chemically altered in any way. That’s from seed to harvest and everything in between. Additionally, farmers must cycle their vegetable plots after each harvest and not replant the same veggie in the same space within a 5 year time frame to allow replenishment of nutrients in the soil. Gale happily complies.
As we begin wrapping up our visit, I ask Gale what advice she would have for those who would be farmers. Laughing to herself, she looks at me and poignantly says, “Start small”. “You can always buy large acreage, but only farm a small plot until you get everything up and running and have the labor to accomplish what needs done”. I’d have to agree with her that it’s much easier to go bigger from a small space than the other way around! She also mentions learning as much as you can about what you need before starting including the large overhead that most don’t consider when thinking of farming. Do your research and then do it again!
On the flipside, although Rainbow Hill Farm encompasses 19 ½ acres only 5 acres are currently in production. This may seem small, but Gale points out that farming is a very labor intensive activity and even producing on a smaller scale can have its’ drawbacks. On larger farms the use of trackers to do seeding and weeding is a huge advantage because of the space allowed between crops. However, for smaller producers who are producing more in smaller spaces, all of that has to be done by hand. This means the need for a larger and more regular labor force and in turn means larger payrolls, longer hours or the main farmer and more stress to get all the necessary work done. In 2013, 90% of Gale’s staff were Future Farmers of America (FFA) members or students from Washington and Jefferson high schools in Jefferson County. And even with additional volunteers, it can still be difficult to cover all 5 producing acres. Sometimes weeds overtake large areas of the farm due to this lack of labor to continually harvest, weed, seed and water. But the use of no weed killer allows Rainbow Hill to remain a certified organic operation. Something Gale takes in stride knowing she’s doing what she feels is best for her vegetables, her farm and her customers. “It’s the nature of the business,” she continually says knowing she’s right where she’s supposed to be.
Lizzie jumps in and asks Gale what’s next for her. Gale’s eyes light up as she says she would like to start girls in agriculture program right on the farm. She would erect housing close to the main house - sleeping quarters and kitchen included - and invite high school aged girls to spend their summers with her learning about the various facets of working in agriculture. Subjects such as general farming techniques, the science behind farming, soil life, GMO seeds vs. heirloom and organic seeds and food appreciation would be covered in the weeks’ long curriculum. Gale hopes this program would not only encourage more women to go into agriculture, but to also give girls a positive activity – along with a stipend of course – to do over their summer breaks. Both Lizzie and I think it’s an awesome idea and volunteer ourselves to help in any way we can.
Gale looks at the time and with a deep sigh says it’s time for her to get back in the dirt and get set up for today’s roadside market. Having spent the morning with her and her infectious spirit, we happily say goodbye and thank her profusely for being so generous with her time. As I’m preparing to walk out of the door, Gale hands me a bag full of goodies – including the Egyptian Walking Onion (shrieking inside and out) and tells me to have some fun! Seriously?! I love her!! Again, I thank her and we part ways. Just a perfect day at the farm!
If you’d like to learn more about Gale and all her goodies, visit her on the web at www.rainbowhillfarm.com
or simply stop by her stall at FreshFarm Ballston Farmers Market on Thursdays from 3p-7p. And just in case you can’t get enough, Rainbow Hill Farm also offers a CSA Program from May to October every year. Yes!!Featured recipe: Fresh Summer Salsa
1 Little Finger Eggplant
¼ Medium Yellow Squash
2 Small Heirloom tomatoes (any color)
1 bunch Small Egyptian Walking Onions
1 Glove Farm Fresh Garlic (regular can be substituted)
5 Mini Sweet peppers
1 Lemon for juice – (freshly squeezed to taste)
Salt (to taste)
1 TB Parsley (finely chopped)
Finely dice each item in a large to medium sized bowl. No need to be particular about which order you chop them. They will all be mixed in together.
Once diced, slowly add a little lemon juice to start, add a small sprinkle of salt and gently toss to combine. You’ll want to make sure that each veggie is evenly spread out in the mix and kissed with the lemon juice and salt.
Taste and add more lemon juice or salt to taste.
Gently chopped parsley being careful not to smash it as you chop. It will leave a lovely green spread on your cutting board if you’re too harsh. Doing this at the end will also give your mix some time to allow the flavors to combine. Also be sure to only chop enough parsley for the amount of salsa you are going to serve immediately. Fresh herbs are always best!
Once your parsley is ready, portion your salsa and mix in a small portion of your chopped herb to finish. Add more to taste.
This salsa will go great with summer tacos, any meat fresh off the grill, topping cooked fish, or even to freshen up a warm soup. I used it to top a breaded seared pork loin along with buttery spiced string beans. Yum!!
Article and Recipe by Jewell Fears
Now that summer has kicked into full gear, I hope that your fruit consumption has too! The FDA recommends that you eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables everyday. Surely, eating 5 servings of just vegetables would be good for your health, but what if you ate 5 servings of just fruit? Is that good for you? We have been told that sugar is bad for us our whole lives, and we know that fruit has a lot of sugar in it. So, it couldn't possibly be healthy to eat more than a few servings a day, right? A study
was done in 2001 showing that even a whopping 20 servings of fruit a day showed no negative side effects after 3-6 months. The participants of the study actually lost weight and had lower cholesterol. Sugar in fruit is not processed the way that raw sugar is. A more recent study shows that strawberries after a meal actually reduces blood lipids (fat cells). Processed sugar causes an insulin release leading to higher blood sugar and the inevitable sugar crash.
Of course, there are other studies that debunk the healthiness of fruit saying that it is high in calories, carbs, and sugar. Again, we are reminded of the good carb vs bad carb debate. Good carbs are considered food that are absorbed slowly and resist a spike in blood sugar and provide a huge amount of fiber. Foods included in this category are whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. Bad carbs are foods that are absorbed very quickly into our systems and are turned into sugar for energy. Foods included in this category are white breads, rice, and other processed grains that have been stripped of their fiber. Many dieting websites make a point to monitor your fruit intake for fear of it “wrecking” your calorie intake. I believe that given the choice between a piece of whole wheat toast and an apple, you should always try to choose the apple. Integrate fruit back into your diet! Everybody processes things differently, so be sure not to go overboard.Source