Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Future of Food: May 8-9, 2009

The Institute of Human Sciences at Boston University (BU) and the EU are hosting this two conference on food. Satish Kumar, editor of Resurgance magazine will be the keynote speaker. Most events are free and open to the public but pre registration is required.
For the schedule of events visit BU at http://www.bu.edu/euforyou/EU/future-of-food.html
Visit www.euforyou.og

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hot Tamales

Tamales is one of my most favourite Mexican dishes, as in while tamales are made in many South American countries I like the Mexican style ones.

There is a shop in Waltham, MA that sells all the ingredients to make your own or any other South American dish. It is La Chapincita Market, 424 Moody St, Waltham, MA. 781-894-9552. Their patrons come from Guatemala, peru, Argentina, Mexico and Central America.

You can buy homemade Guatemalan-style pork tamales, corn husks to make your own, dried chipotle pappers, fresh corn tortillas, fried plantain strips, and chicharrones de puerco among other items. Check them out! Carlha

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fiore’s Bakery, Boston

This wonderful little bakery and coffee shop is on South St. in JP, a neighborhood of Boston

In January 2008 I had a chance to sit down with Charlie Fiore, Denise his manager and Helen to talk to them about their new enterprise: vegan baking. They were so much fun and so much apart of the community, that I could see why folks like working for them.

CV: In December 2007, I visited your store to attend a Boston Vegetarian Society www.bvs.org holiday gathering and I was very surprised to find a marvelous array of vegan baked goods along with the regular baked goods one expects to see in an Italian bakery. I was also surprised that I loved your one-bite brownies; they were the best I’ve ever had. So I wondered how vegan part of the bakery came about.

CF: Since the 1990s I was interested in opening a coffee shop cum bakery although I have no background in this area. Than in early 2000 I looked around and saw that there was no place in JP where folks could hang out, so we decided to open up a North End style bakery. We opened in December 2004 and just about around the same time three other bakeries opened which was a bit of a shock. So it required us to pretty quickly diversify and make ourselves different. We did this by deciding to be ‘old fashioned” and create a place where everyone would feel comfortable, from the seniors across the road in senior housing, to young folks, to young families with children. For this reason we (my partner and I) decided to keep prices affordable and not to have WiFi.

We were doing quite well for ourselves and than just over three months ago, Matt one of our employees suggested that we talk to a vegan baker that he knew. So we were introduced to Helen and liked what she did and thought it was something different. We invited her to work in the store for 12 hours a week. We had absolutely no idea that the enterprise would take off the way it has; the community has really embraced the idea and today our vegan products, which includes pizza as well as baked goods, accounts for 25% of our total sales. In the summer we will be adding vegan ice cream to the list of products.

We find that folks are coming quite a distance to buy our goods. Parents have started to call with special requests for their kids who suffer from particular allergies. Helen will produce a cake and/or cupcakes that might be gluten free, soy free, or whatever is needed based on some specific questions that she asks the parent. So because of demand, we now have two bakers working 30 hours a week and we have just added an assistant to do the shopping for them. So I am thankful to Matt that he recognized the demand way before I did.

CV: Do you buy your produce locally. For example do you get your apples and blueberries from local farmers?

CF: We use Taza Chocolate for our baked goods and our hot chocolate. We serve Irie Tea out of Somerville and Jim’s organic coffee out of West Wareham. In the summer we buy our fruit, vegetables and brown eggs from the farmers’ market in JP, a small amount of produce from Allendale Farms, and we use our own tomatoes and herbs from our back garden. In the winter we buy our produce from retails stores. For our vegan goods we buy soy butter spread, tofu, soy milk, unrefined sugars, gluten free flour and brown eggs from Harvest Coop. which is next door. The end product is more expensive because of the higher cost of ingredients but we keep the retail price the same as for our regular baked goods.

CV: There are many coffee and tea companies around why did you select Jim’s Organics and Irie Teas?

CF: As we were getting ready to open, Chris Hill stopped by and spent two days with us lettings us sample all of their products. He was very knowledgeable and likeable and sells a socially responsible product. The company works directly with farms from where they buy the coffee and they also support their communities. All their coffee is fair-traded even though it does not have the logo and it is ethically sourced. They give 10% of the profits from the Christmas Blend directly back to the farms where the coffee originated. We picked Irie Teas because they too were local the teas are organic and fair trade. They support organic farming and that is important to us.

CV: When I was here in December, one of your employees Matt actually, was raving about the bakery and how nice it was to work for you because of all the organizations you support. I wondered if you might speak to this.
CF: We donate money to Spontaneous Celebrations http://www.spontaneouscelebrations.org/ who help create and sustain a community cultural life in JP and Roxbury. They run the Wake up the Earth festival on the first Saturday in May as well as the annual Lantern Parade on the last Sunday of October which brings thousands of folks into JP. The organization also serves Boston youth and they are very successful in what they do. We also support Search for a Cure which is an AIDS research group, we support some very small organizations that many people have probably never heard of, the local schools, and KidsArts www.jpkidsarts.org which is a group that provides affordable arts programs for children in art, puppet making, creative writing, dance as well as cultural field trips. They actually did the display in our window.

CV: One thing that particular stood out when I visited in December was how happy and enthusiastic your employees were. What’s the secret?

CF: We are a laid back and casual organization while still being professional. We listen to our employees and are very flexible so that we can support our employees who go to school, play in a band, or volunteer with the many organizations that we support. Helen, our vegan baker teaches a course at KidsArts and the Boston Adult Education Center. In February she will be holding classes for members of the Boston Vegetarian Society. We allow and encourage our employees to explore their interests and ideas and let them run with them.

This article is pending publciation in EdibleBoston

Friday, October 10, 2008

California Propositon NO 2 - PASSED

Thank you CALIFORNIA!!!! Now it is time for other states to follow their lead

read the story at www.farmsanctuary.org

Picture of a battery crate that chickens are stuffed into. This is no secret. I have known about such cages for the past 50 years so why are they still here and why do most people pretend they don't know. This is just plain ignorance.

Proposition 2, the proposed Standards for Confining Farm Animals initiative statute[1], is a California ballot proposition in that state's general election on November 4, 2008. The proposition would prohibit the confinement of certain farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The measure would deal with three types of confinement: veal crates, battery cages, and sow gestation crates. If approved by the voters, the statute would become operative on January 1, 2015. Farming operations would have until that date to implement the new space requirements for their animals, and the measure would prevent animals in California from being confined in these ways in the future.

Picture of pig gestation creates

What a shame! Pigs are the most intelligent of our farm animals. They are as intelligent as our dogs that we lavish all sorts of love and care on. What did they ever do to deserve this kind of treatment. Next time you bite in your pork chop think about where your pig came from and what sort of life it had. You need to be buying your meat from local farms. If this is not possible purchase a CSA (community supported agriculature) share which includes meat. Lastly, if none of this is possible look for a local butcher. Always ask where your meat comes from and how it was treated. It is your moral obligation. This is that a well looked after pig looks like. Vote YES on Proposition No 2 for the East Coast usually follows suit shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Urban Farmer Wins $500k "Genius" Award

Now this is what I like to hear.

Many of the awards fell into the science or arts category but a couple did't fit into either. One of these was the non-profit Growing Power, Inc. http://www.growingpower.org/
It was started 15 years go by Will Allen a farmer in Millwarke who saw teens without work and a farm that needed help. What I think was creative is how he fashioned this partnership. Some would have just used the kids as cheap labor but not Will. He had vision.

Will's offer to Growing Power was that the teens would work at his store and renovate the greenhouses to grow food for their community. This simple idea has 15 years later, blossomed into a national and global commitment to sustainable food systems.

Since its inception, Growing Power has served as a ”living museum” or “idea factory” for the young, the elderly, farmers, producers, and other professionals ranging from USDA personnel to urban planners. Training areas include the following: acid-digestion, anaerobic digestion for food waste, bio-phyto remediation and soil health, aquaculture closed-loop systems, vermiculture, small and large scale composting, urban agriculture, perma-culture, food distribution, marketing, value-added product development, youth development, community engagement, participatory leadership development, and project planning. Here is picture of their headquarters

In 2005 Will Allen won a Leadership For A Changing World award from the Ford Foundation see what they had to say about his efforts at the website http://www.leadershipforchange.org/awardees/awardee.php3?ID=303
Their farms in urban Chicago

Congratulations to Will and all the folks at Growing Power, this is what it is all about.

Visit the MacArthur Foundaton http://www.macfound.org/site/c.lkLXJ8MQKrH/b.855229/k.CC2B/Home.htm

Friday, August 15, 2008

Flats Mentor Farm, Lancaster, MA, USA

The roots of the Flats Mentor Farm program run long and deep with its beginnings going back to the mid 80s, when Maria Moreira, an immigrant from Portugal, befriended a group of Hmong in the Fitchburg area. She was approached by a Hmong woman from the group who asked if she could start a small garden on an unused corner of her dairy farm. Maria was astonished at the yield of vegetables that were produced from the small plot: cucumbers, squash, and zucchini. This encouraged her to rent other parcels of land to others in the group who were now eager to try their hand at growing vegetables too. She watched the farmers’ from a distance as she raised her family and ran her cheese business but realized that without funds the Hmong would not be able to progress far.

As a working farmer Maria had access to many government programs available to farmers as well as connections within the agricultural community. It was through these connections that various government agencies approached Maria to help the farmers working on her land but none of them provided much culturally appropriate expertise to the Hmong farmers. Maria decided to take over the helm herself in 2005. By this time Maria had rented out most of her land to immigrant farmers. She told me that she has never turned anyone away who wants to learn to farm but “I tell them it is hard work, you have to have motivation, and you have to take care of your weeds. If you don’t take care of your weeds, you can’t stay on the land.”
In 2005, the program was formally organized under the name Flats Mentor Farm and filed for 501c3 status with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Extension acting as their fiscal agent. Heifer International, U.S. Department of Agricultural, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) and the University of Massachusetts Extension teamed up to provide financial support for the program. This allowed Maria to hire four (two part-time) Hmong employees including a full time farm manager.

Maria told me that the goal of the program is “to mainstream immigrant farmers” and with this in mind she has devised a hands-on training program that is sensitive to the various cultures that she works with. The University of Massachusetts is providing training and technical assistance to the group on pest and weed management; farmers have attended conferences, and attended courses at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Growers Association, New England Sustainable Small Farm Project and various others.

In 2007, there were 50 families in the mentoring program and in 2008 they have already exceeded that number with five Kenyans joining them in June. Twelve farmers have moved through the program and are now independent commercial farmers farming on land that constitutes the FMF. Maria told me that based on the goals of the program “success has been achieved when either the farmer starts a farming enterprise at the Flats Mentor Farm or anywhere else and is making most of his/her income from farming. If s/he decides to stay that s/he passes on to another novice farmer what s/he learned. Maria’s family has owned the farm since 1980 but rent parcels of land out to anyone who wishes to take up farming.

In 2008, the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Agriculture donated a new tractor to the farm and this year they had the money to lay pipes to drain water from the very flat land. Equipment such as the tractor, two washing sheds, and the irrigation system are shared by all. The results of this funding are easy to see as in 2005 they attended only six farmers’ markets, in 2007, twenty three (23) and planned for 2008 will be 32.

The farmers grow traditional ethnic crops such as: melons, Mustard greens, red and green Amaranth squash, Asian cucumbers, arrugula, mustard, and Broccoli. Bitter melon, baby boc choi, Shanghi boc choi, water spinach, greens and herbs. In their homeland they farmed these vegetables among rice, maize, and poppy plants. It is generally agreed that vegetables planted among poppies are the most delicious. However, at FMF they do not grow rice, maize or poppies! All of these vegetables are particularly popular with Asian and Hmong customers. However others are largely unfamiliar with these vegetables and they won’t buy them in any kind of quantity. To combat this problem they have spent the spring working on a recipe booklet that will be available in the summer at all the farmers’ market that they will be attending. Most of the vegetables just need to be stir fried, for example water spinach, yam leaves, bitter melons, and angled luffas (also called sinqua).
Making the Connections

The Hmong market their produce through Russo’s, Whole Foods (Fresh Pond, Woburn, Newton, and Newtonville and at 32 farmers markets in the Greater Boston area. Because the customer base at each farmers’ market is not that large for Asian vegetables the group meets as a whole to decide on what farmer will go to which market. The farmers are then responsible for building relationships with their customers and knowing what vegetables they will buy. For the wholesale side of the operation all the farmers pool their produce but each farmer knows exactly what he has sent.

Monday, May 26, 2008

New York Greenmarkets

Check out my story on the Greenmarkets in New York City in the latest Farmers' Market Today magazine.

Hum! since the link is not live yet. Here is a preview of the article

Food is nourishment for our soul, our body, and our mind that starts from the moment we pick or select our vegetables at the market. Food is life and it doesn’t come out of a box but from the earth. It is for this reason that while I was in New York recently I went in search of a farmers’ market. Once you have shopped at one you really don’t want to shop in a supermarket ever again. So off I went to Union Sq. Farmers Market on of about 30 markets in the city run by Greenmarkets.

When Greenmarket first started operating they had problems with farmers’ buying their produce at the wholesalers in the City and reselling it at the market. Today Greenmarket has a paid farm inspector who visits the farms on a regular basis and checks that what the farmer is selling is what he is growing producing.

At the end of the day all unsold produce is bagged up and put on City Harvest vans by their volunteers under the supervision of the market manager(s). Last year Union Sq. Market sent 275,000 pounds of food to City Harvest. This is a significant contribution as food in the food banks in NYC has dropped by 40% due in one reason to the stalled Farm Bill in the Senate.

Greenmarket is pretty much self-funded with an operating budget upwards of $1.5 million. This money is used to manage the entire market operation; which includes new initiatives such as the New Farmer Development Project (NFDP).

The NFDP project was created in 2000 as a partnership between Greenmarket and the Cornell Cooperative Extension's NYC Program. The project is based in New York City and supports new farmers within the city, New York's Hudson Valley & Catskill Regions, New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania. The NFDP identifies, educates, and supports immigrants with agricultural experience by helping them become local farmers and establish small farms in the region. Their focus at the moment is on farmers’ from Latin American.

In 2002, Nestor Tello from Mexico and Hector Tejada (pictured on left)
from the Dominican Republic were the first two farmers to come through the program and start selling at the Greenmarkets. By 2007, the project had assisted 17 immigrant farmers’. Because of the cost of insurance the farmers are covered under the NFDP.

The market is continually evolving as funds become available. Currently, Union Square plays host to over 100 public and private schools each year who receive Market Tours and learn about the value of a local food system.

The farms involved vary in acreage from one to 650 acres with 250 acres leased rather than owned. Some of the farmers’ rely entirely on the markets for their income, some have CSAs’ and some are thinking of starting one. For the immigrant farmers however, only 25% are full-time farmers while the rest have winter jobs. The non-immigrant farmers make about 70-100% of their income from the farmers’ market and the rest through selling directly to restaurants and CSAs. Almost all the farmers’ attend more than one market around the city.

Farmer Profiles
Cato Corner Farm, Colchester, CT
They are popular for the raw milk hormone free cheeses. They told me that the market provides them with 70% of their income. Apart from the market sales they also sell directly to restaurants and some specialty shops and wholesale through Artisan Made – Northeast LLC. They have no distributor.

Evolutionary Organic Farms
Kira has been growing and selling in Greenmarket for 12 years. She got a spot at the market the very first year she applied. She derives 90% of her income from the Greenmarkets and the other 10% from a small CSA at her farm. She told me that she “hasn’t seen a change in what customers want but rather a change in what they are willing to try”. Kira grows vegetables that she likes such as raddichio, asian greens, and different varieties of summer and winter squashes. For many years she said “I brought these vegetables to the market only to put them back on the van to take home again. Now I find that customers are trying them and finding that they like them even though they don’t look like they expect”.

Lynnhaven Goat Farm, Pine Bush, New York
She has been with the Saturday market for two years and the Wednesday market for seven months. Lynn told me “that she did not think that she would get a spot before she died” but luck was on her side when Coach Farms Gold Creamery sold their creamery to a big company making them ineligible to stay in the market and she was given their spot. Her operation is tiny 70 goats but the market had made a huge difference in her life and the income she makes at the market supports herself, her son, and her goats. Since she has been at the market she has contracted with local chefs who come to the market and pick up the cheese. She is 100% dependent upon the market income.

Pafftenroth Gardens, Warwick, New York

They have been at the market for 18 years. They grow their produce traditionally and are perhaps the most highly rated produce farmer at the market. They have been listed in Zagats for the past five years whose participants rated the vegetables as “superior root vegetables” and “fabulous.” He has been praised by the likes of Alice Waters, and pursued by local celebrity chefs. Alex told me that his produce is the least expensive in the market and of the highest quality. He grows difference produce, and new things that the customer has not seen before. He has signs up on most of his vegetables telling customers’ what it is and what to do with it. When he comes to the markets on Wednesday and Saturday he starts his day at 3:15 a.m. when he raises and gets home at 8:30 pm. He gets 100% of his income from the market. He is a very friendly farmer indeed.

Stokes Farms. Old Tappan, New Jersey
They have been with the market for 31 years. They have a farm stand too and 17 greenhouses where they grow flowers and herbs. They told me that the flowers and herbs out of six of the greenhouses come to the Union Sq. market. They are known for the excellent fresh produce and their big beautiful herb plants. They also have a nice mix of heirloom tomatoes. The major changes that they have seen in their 31 years at the market are that customers are much more aware of local produce and what it means then when they first started. They said that quality seemed to be the first issue with customers and then price.

Tellos Green Farm, Red Hook, New York

They have been at the market six years. Nestor Tello and his wife Alejandra raise 4,000 chickens on four acres of pasture. Being the skeptical person I am I asked Nestor if they really went out side. He said“Yes, they do. At noon I go and let them out of their barn and at dusk they all come back again. If you don’t believe me you can ask the farm manager because we are inspected.” I asked him what he fed them and he said “they eat what they can outside and then I also give them corn.”

He started at the Union Sq. Market where he met chefs who were coming to the markets to buy produce for their restaurants. Then, as chefs or other restaurant staff members moved to new restaurants or started their own restaurants, he maintained the connection and was able to develop new buyers through his old relationships. As the chefs changed restaurants they made arrangements for him to deliver to their restaurants. These restaurants pay $3.00 a dozen for his eggs which is a premium price for buying in bulk. At the market he sells his large eggs for $3.25. Nestor also has a CSA in the Brooklyn market and either he or his wife is at one of ten markets during the week. Nestor’s plans are for a totally biodynamic farm. The majority of his hens are Rhode Island Reds but he also has Araucana.

It was just by chance that during the week I stopped into an organic restaurant in SOHO for lunch and the waitress told me that their egg dishes were very popular and that a farmer delivered eggs to them weekly along with honey. It turned out that this farmer was Nestor.

The most repeated question I heard from customers while I was talking to market managers in the smaller markets was “how do the prices compare.” Compare to what I thought! The market managers merely said that there were a variety of prices and they should shop around but they would not be the same as from somewhere that could buy in bulk. According to the market managers price was the most often asked question and it came from people at all socioeconomic levels. They said that most of their customers were either middle class or those using WIC food coupons. They felt the WIC program was a wonderful situation for both the customer and the farmer. The farmers; I talked to all said that they had seen a surge in requests for organic produce and I noticed that when customers were told that there were farmers who had organic produce the question of price seemed to disappear in their eyes and body language.