Sussex County farmers market opens soon

The first sale!

The first sale!

This past spring, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Sussex County Farmers Market at the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show grounds taken at the official early this spring.  I attended as a representative of the Sussex County Board of Agriculture. I also made the market’s first sale, selling N.J. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen a bottle of Upper Meadows Farm’s maple syrup.

Congressman Frelinghuysen is directly responsible for this market building being built. He provided Sussex County a one-time economic incentive of $300,000. The Board  of Chosen Freeholders decided to use it to promote agricultural sales in the county. Along with the support and efforts of the Freeholder Board and many other donors the work is done and the  first market will be held on August 15. Although Upper Meadows Farm will not be selling there (we’re on the wait list) I encourage you to support this effort and discover some great local foods.

Sales are dandy for edible weeds

Sales are dandy for edible weeds
Demand for dandelions and other edible weeds is growing at grocery stores. “People are getting back to their grandparents’ food,” said Bill Coleman of Coleman Family Farms, which has seen a 25% increase in edible-weed sales compared with last year. The Wall Street Journal

A secret weapon called Sorrel

A secret weapon called sorrel
Sorrel, a plain-looking green, adds lemony tartness and complexity with almost no effort. Several recipes are provided, including one for cold sorrel soup and another for a tart with sorrel and goat cheese. National Public Radio

Big Food Companies Co-Opt ‘Locavore’

LocavoreA decade ago, at one of the newspapers I used to work at, a friend and I kept a folder entitled “Stories You Can’t Make Up”. Whenever a wire service or a competitor ran a piece that was too bizarre to be anything but true, we would clip it and file it away. I think both of us wanted to write fiction, and needed a reminder of just how far we could stretch a plot.

This past week, there was a story that would likely have made that folder. According to The New York Times, Frito-Lay and several other big food companies are trying to contend that what they make qualifies as local food. Their reasoning goes something like this: We source our potatoes close to the processing plant, so therefore we–and you our consumer–are “locavores”. Fine, I suppose if you leave out the fact that these are giant, single-crop operations and the resulting chips still need to be trucked long distances to the consumers.

It pains me that Frito-Lay is participating in this charade, because of all the food giants, it has made serious steps toward more sustainable manufacturing, converting plants in California and Arizona to solar power.

But towards the end of the Times story is a truly head-scratching quote from a grocery industry analyst now shilling for ConAgra:

“The problem is there is absolutely no way we can have local produce within 100 miles of every person in America, so the question is how do we take it to that next level…”

The analyst’s bio, by the way, notes that while he is now a resident of California, his grandfather once had a dairy in Belleville, N.J.

So if anyone has a suggestion for what we should now call people who support earth-friendly farms close to their homes, I’d love to hear it…

Stinging nettles reward foragers

Stinging nettles reward foragers
The edible wild plant called stinging nettles will, in fact, sting a careless forager. But the greens are bright and peppery, and can be used in dishes ranging from lasagna to pesto to soup. The Wall Street Journal (4/20)

Grow Your Own

It might seem counterintuitive for someone who’s about to plant 18 acres with nearly 200 varieties of vegetables and herbs to say this, but I urge you to grow your own garden this year.

I believe it’s important for CSA members to try to grow food at home. You’ll do plenty of what I like to call “rigorous product testing” when you put in your volunteer hours on the farm, but everybody should taste a tomato that they have  grown outside his or her back door.

A home garden can be  so many things. A place to take the time to nurture life; a source of the fruit of your labor to share with others; a place to grow your favorites or even to grow things I don’t grow.  Just one example is strawberries which are too labor-intensive for us here. Virginia, the coordinator of our Essex County distribution site, is putting in two strawberry beds in her yard. She’s also got a fig tree, which is good because I gave up on growing figs after trying for about 4 years here in zone 5. (I may try to barter one or two.) Your children are always welcome to help out when you come to Upper Meadows and  your home garden can be a wonderful place for them to learn what it takes every day to grow fresh food. Growing at home can be  a fun adventure as well as a source of accomplishment.  Virginia is putting up a bean teepee like one she saw at the Rutgers agricultural experiment station last year, and planting it with 5 varieties of climbing beans–a colorful blooming clubhouse that the boys can eat!

This low tech pursuit can be both therapeutic and fun. All you really need is a shovel to turn the soil, a garden rake to smooth it out and your seeds. I know that this doesn’t sound exciting if you are into GEAR  but you don’t need all the bells and whistles to garden successfully.  It is best to start with a small area, even mixed in along your foundation with your ornamental plants or a small spot with good sun. It is best to start with easier things to grow so I would suggest summer squash and peas, radishes and maybe some greens like kale or bok choi. OF course, don’t be afraid of trying to grow your favorite veggie. You will be motivated to do a little more if the reward is likely to be a favorite.

There are some wonderful resources for starting home gardens at your library and on line. Of course if you would like we can add a home garden forum for folks to share ideas and tips. Here is where we buy seeds to help you get started; Fedco, High Mowing Seeds, Seeds of Change, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny’s Selected Seed. I must say that seed catalogs make me want to buy more and plant more but a garden is truly where less is more. Make sure to leave twice as much room as you think you need between those nice little seeds and cute plant sets that you put in or you will end up needing to tear something out for any of them to do well. Water is a critical part of gardening and many of the home gardening catalogs also have drip irrigation systems that are a smaller version of the one we use here on the farm.

I hope you’ll share news and pictures of your home garden with our CSA community.

Greening Sysco

Before last summer, I probably wouldn’t have put the words Sysco and sustainability in the same sentence. Sysco, the sprawling food-service distributor with trucks criss-crossing the country, seemed the antithesis of a business managed with an environmental consciousness. But I began to question my assumptions a bit when I attended a conference on food waste and heard how Sysco was taking the excess out of its food-service operation at Montclair State University. I can’t find my notes on the talk now, but I remember being appalled at the waste and impressed by how much Sysco had cut out after its revamp.

Now an article in the April issue of Saveur is making me think even more about Sysco and sustainability. The writer looks at the company’s efforts to add local suppliers and implement a truck routing system that cut 10 million miles off its trips last year. And when she tells CEO Richard Schnieders he sounds a lot like Michael Pollan, he responds, “I think Michael is 90% right.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to give up cooking local food at home any time soon. But given the size of Sysco’s presence in American food, I’d much rather have it cutting its carbon footprint than not. And I hope it will continue after Schnieders retires later this year.

The Saveur article, alas, is not online. But Sysco has produced a report on its sustainability efforts, and you can read it here.