Once again, Dan Barber of Blue Hill not only sees the complex equation that is agriculture but also discovers a way to synchronize what happens in the field with what happens in his kitchen. Working toward the long-term viability of diversified agriculture, Plovgh stands ready to change that problematic role of the merchant middle man into a supporting role that lets independent farmers and their customers thrive.
This piece is part of the NSAC's series examining different themes from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The Census has been conducted since 1840 and is currently collected once every five years. In this series, the NSAC is taking a more in-depth look at the data highlights and comparisons to help better present the picture as a whole.
All farmers, regardless of production practices and supply chains, need sound market information about the state of agriculture, consumer trends, government assistance programs, and the agricultural products they produce to understand the shortfalls and opportunities in the agricultural marketplace and to maintain and strengthen the viability of their farms.
But these days, we milk drinkers are so disconnected from where our milk comes from that it could well originate in a vending machine. The typical dairy buyer lives in a city or a suburb, and likes to imagine that milk still comes from a small family farm with a red barn and cows grazing on a hill, where loving human hands squirt milk from the animals’ teats into a pail.
That vision, illusory even at the time, is now almost completely obsolete. Milk has become a global industry, produced at a scale that defies nature. While most American farms still have fewer than 100 cows, 86 percent of milk is produced on the 26 percent of farms that have more than 100 cows.
As we near the end of March and creep ever slowly towards spring, it can grow weary stocking onions and the last of the hard winter squash. But take note: Farmers across the country are making plans, buying seeds, reviewing field plans and trying to figure out what you, their customer, wants to buy this year. Here, applying insights from our retail members, we’ve identified a few steps to help you plan your purchases for the coming season, forge more effective relationships with the farms that supply you, and provide your customers with the best of the harvest.
1. Determine the priorities for your store’s farm purchasing program.
Are you committed to local purchasing? Organic or other on-farm practices? Purchasing from small farms? Getting fresh, unique products into your store? Price? Determining the focus for your farm purchasing program will help immensely as you identify which farms to work with, and which crops to purchase from those farms.
2. Review your sales data.
- Pull previous years’ monthly sales from your point of sale system
- Enter that data into a monthly breakdown
- Determine your sales goals for this year
- Estimate the quantities of each item you will purchase this year
3. Consult farms’ production plans.
Perhaps local farmers have stopped into the store to alert you to their existence, their radishes, their CSA. It can get overwhelming when your phone is ringing and your pricing and merchandising still isn’t done. Consider all of the key factors you want to know about a product and discuss this with the farms early on so that when the time comes that you’re ready to start setting up orders, you have - in clear and concise terms - what those farms can reasonably supply you with.
At Plovgh, we’re using a similar approach to help streamline this process for farmers and buyers. Run through the things you want to know about a product you would like to stock. How much does it cost? How was it produced? When will it be ready? How long can I get it for? Farms know these details, they’re just not always included on an availability list. We’re working with the farms in our network to organize all of this data in a clear way so that purchasing can be more easily coordinated.
4. Make your wish list.
What on your list of previous years’ purchases or what crops from a farm’s production plan do you want to see in your store? Over the course of the season this fluctuates, but some things we’ve taken note of are that kale, pastured eggs, and heirloom tomatoes are staples with more seasonally specific items like ramps, morels and artichokes also holding up as crowd pleasers. Use this stage to identify any new products you want to introduce your customers to based on trends in the market or requests you’ve gotten from your clientele.
5. Review your purchase plan.
Compile the items you’re interested in purchasing this season and estimate quantities and frequency for your orders. It can be helpful to break this down by season, for instance early/late spring, early/late summer. Also, be sure to touch base with the farmers you are interested in working with this season and verify price ranges, anticipated delivery dates and harvest duration with them.
6. Place purchase requests.
And make them early. By placing your purchase requests in advance of the season you are helping the farmers to gauge a better sense of demand and to plan ahead in these earlier months. You’ll also be in the loop for when the first sugar snap peas of the season are ready for market.
We work with the farms in our network to keep track of how the crop is progressing and send buyers updates on what stage it’s at or if abnormal weather has knocked its anticipated harvest date off course. Building relationships like this with your farmer not only gives you more of an appreciation for the capricious nature of farming but also helps you plan, so you know if you need to find that additional supplier to supplement in the time you wait for that crop.
Nearly all the chicken raised in the United States is grown by farmers who contract with “vertically integrated” companies that own the chickens as well as the entire supply chain, from hatcheries to feed mills to processing and packaging plants.
…growers have no way to verify the data used to calculate their pay or dispute a performance penalty when they receive their settlement checks.
Farmers and ranchers are unable to bargain effectively with purchasers of major ag commodity products in the United States. They are thwarted by monopsony (buyer) market power produced by disparate information, opaque markets, and concentration so intensive there are simply too few firms at the marketplace, in a competitive bidding setting, to sell their beef, pork, broilers, dairy products and many other agricultural commodities. (Source)
Supply and demand. It sounds so easy in theory. It gets much more complicated when you’re a farmer wondering what that elusive Market wants from you this year. Here, using lessons we’ve learned from farms across the country and the questions we get from your buyers ALL THE TIME, we break down the process of market planning into six steps so you can buy seed and plant your crops with the assurance that that crop will sell at the prices you need, to buyers you are proud to work with.
Follow this template as a way of organizing your information as we go through the steps. We’ll use an example of the red, yellow, and blue balloons we produce to illustrate each step. Request a copy for yourself by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and start yourself on the path to marketing your crop…in January!
1. Determine what you’re best at growing, what you most enjoy producing, what you make the most money on, or what you’re most interested in selling at quantity.
This first step will be unnecessary for those of you already specializing in a few signature items. For those of you producing dozens of varieties, we find it’s helpful to choose your top 10-12 items and make sure you have a solid marketing plan for those.
Lizzy’s Farm produces red, yellow, and blue balloons. I’ve listed them in the first section of my spreadsheet like so:
2. Explain why someone should buy your products.
Most farmers know intuitively what is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING about their crops. When talking to buyers, though, rarely do they do justice to the unique and valuable attributes of their products. So, what’s so great about your sweet corn, green beans, or onions? Talk about color, size, texture, flavor. Give the buyer confidence that you know your product and will deliver the quality they seek.
In my spreadsheet, I’ve written a brief but informative description for each of the types of balloons that Lizzy’s Farm produces.
3. Determine the quantity you could reasonably expect to harvest.
What quantity of each of your crops do you think you’ll have available? It’s easy to estimate, gives you a clearer picture of how much marketing and distribution work you have ahead of you, and gives your buyers even more confidence that you are the producer to work with (like it or not, they have a lot of choices). Of course, you could have a bumper crop, or utter failure. That’s part of the excitement of agriculture. But try to give some indication of how much you’ll be producing. Doing so will help you in Step 6 also - should you target buyers with 22 store locations, or restaurants with a walk-in fridge?
Based on the 300 acres under production, I estimate that I’ll have 1000 lbs each of red, yellow, and blue balloons in the 2014 season.
4. Identify ways that you could conceivably package your crops.
Outline the possibilities that are reasonable for your farm, staff, and the crop itself. Don’t say you can bunch those greens if you don’t have the people, time, or twist-ties with which to make that happen! Start considering these packaging options distinct items in your inventory because they come with different costs and appeal to different buyers.
My balloons come in grades A, B, and C. I don’t want to pack individual units, but I can easily do 3 lb bags, 1 1/9 bushel boxes, and 100 lb bins of my balloons. That gives me 27 DIFFERENT PRODUCTS to tell buyers about.
5. Determine BASED ON YOUR COSTS how much you NEED to make on your crop.
This step is not about setting a price. Rather, it is about figuring out what you must make in order to break even. An estimate is okay! When you’re at the peak of the season and you have a bumper crop of eggplant that needs to sell immediately, you’ll have a reference point for deciding whether to take that large quantity order at a slightly lower price than you had hoped for, or spare yourself the time and labor. This step also leads into the next one…
I look at the fixed costs of my enterprise, those that don’t change no matter how much I decide to grow, as well as the variable costs of my production, those that go up the more seed I buy, time it takes to plant, water it takes to grow, labor required to harvest, etc. I come up with the BREAKEVEN price I’d need in order to not lose money on this crop. That way, if a buyer offers me just more than that to purchase a large quantity, I have a reference point for deciding whether to take the offer.
6. Decide who your ideal buyers are.
Your ideal customer should be based on how you can reasonably pack your crop and what prices you need for it, NOT your dream of being in the produce aisle at your local coop. If you’re selling by the 1000 lb bin, don’t consider a local restaurant your ideal buyer. Focus instead on a grocer that has three or four stores in your nearest city. Many of the farmers we work with are finding that their local market is pretty well exhausted, and they’re in search of regional and even beyond-regional buyers. Luckily, Plovgh’s network is there to support them! The point is, make sure you’re being realistic about the types of buyers you can serve.
Lots of people like balloons! But my low prices (I own my land, and balloons don’t require much time once they’re in the ground) and the way I pack make my products - all 27 of them - make me a good fit for mid-sized grocers. I’d like to tell some of them about the balloons I’m growing this year, and Plovgh is an easy way to do that!
In the next segment, we’ll take your answers to these questions and turn them into a plan that you can communicate to buyers so you go into spring with a clear picture of what your season’s going to look like. If you’ve got other suggestions for your fellow farmers, share them in the discussion below!
If you’d like to discuss your farm’s market needs with Mallory or Lizzy, you can sign up here. We’d be happy to talk with you!
As temperatures dropped across the US, we wondered, how does this extreme cold affect the farmers? What we learned is that the cold is a challenge, but also has some unexpected benefits for the soil.
Here’s a look at how these subzero temperatures affect three different farms.
Fitkin Farms - Northeast Iowa Farmer: Jim Fitkin What he produces: Corn (for popping!) Low temperature this week: -45 wind chill Is the cold good or bad for your farm: Good What he says about the cold:
Soil compaction is a huge issue in the Midwest. Heavy machinery needed to produce crops is the culprit. Cold winters freeze the soil, forcing it to expand, helping to eliminate soil compaction, and allowing it to be productive the following year. Although freezing of the soil to the depth of several feet is essential to maintain a productive field, 25 degrees below zero with wind chills of 60 below is too much. If livestock are out of the wind, with plenty to eat they are fine. One of the bigger challenges is maintaining a supply of fresh water.
McVay Farms - Mora, Minnesota Farmer: The McVay Family What they produce: Beef cattle Low temperature this week: -40 wind chill Is the cold good or bad for your farm: Bad What they say about the cold:
The extreme cold is hard on the workers and especially hard on the cattle. We have to add more corn to their feed rations to make sure they keep weight on, and whoever has to open gates for the feed wagon has very cold fingers. One of my favorite sights, though, is a herd of a couple hundred cattle huddling near a tree line that breaks the wind, and then marching single file to get their food and water for the morning. The benefit of the cold, though, is that the cows are put out on the fields, where their manure provides a reliable source of fertilizer.
Acorn Hill Farm - Walker Valley, New York Farmer: Joyce Henion What she produces: Goat cheese Low temperature this week: -18 wind chill Is the cold good or bad for your farm: Bad What she says about the cold:
The recent extreme cold makes it difficult to keep the goats supplied with fresh water and it is downright uncomfortable to do chores and milk the goats. In addition, even a moment or two delay in getting to a newborn kid can result in frostbite for the new baby.
And the best advice we got from the farmers about staying warm out there? Wear wool, not cotton, and never go out without a hat!
Man, is it cold out there! On McVay Farms in Mora, Minnesota, it is currently -27, with wind chills giving us the feel of -40. But cattle still need to be fed, chores still need to get done. So, we’re wondering, how does the cold affect you and your farm? Is it hard on your livestock, good for pest management, a challenge for crops you still have in the ground? Tell us more here and we’ll share answers from farms across the country.
As we reflect on 2013, we want to thank each of you for being part of Plovgh. From farmers and truckers, to produce managers and individual members, you are changing the face of agriculture one crop at a time.
There are farmers using Plovgh in 13 different states to sell their crops independently of brokers and middlemen. There are more than 750 distinct crops grown by Plovgh farmers. And there are locations around the country providing direct-from-farm products to their customers. We anticipate 2014 will bring even more focus to the American farmer and hope that Plovgh continues to make those farmers’ jobs just a little bit easier.
Discover farms and crops in your local store. With Plovgh, you see what the farms are harvesting and where to find those crops in your neighborhood. Crops that are sourced on Plovgh give you visibility into the farmer’s agricultural practices and any unique characteristics of the crop itself.You’ll also be the first to know when a farm’s harvest comes in, so get in there and get it!
Purchase more crops from farms. Plovgh farms and their products are moving beyond the farmers market or CSA to become part of your everyday life, rather than just a Sunday morning activity. With Plovgh, farmers still harvest immediately before their crops reach you and reveal their origin and unique characteristics, but you can find them in the shops and markets you already frequent.
Put more money into farmers’ hands. By selling their crops directly into your local stores, farmers receive nearly twice as much as they would in a traditional supply chain. They also have more time to spend in the field producing the crops that you rely on. Farmers doing better is just the kind of change we want to see.
To get started as a member, go to Plovgh. And spread the word about Plovgh farms and their harvest! The more people who join in, the more we can do for the farmers who are reinventing food and agriculture in this country.
If you’d like to recruit local farms, businesses, and neighbors to increase direct trade crops available in your area, please drop us a line!
Manage all your sales in one place. If you’re tired of taking 17 phone calls and figuring out which customer wants what, when, and where, then Plovgh’s streamlined order management process can get you back in the field. Plovgh lets you send product availability alerts, track orders in live sales, plan harvest, and coordinate delivery for all your customers.
Benefit from a deep network of customers. It’s risky to depend on one or two key buyer relationships. Plovgh’s network puts your existing buyers alongside a whole new set of people who want to do direct trade with you, the farmer. If one guy can’t take your crop this week, we’re pretty sure someone else within Plovgh can.
Tell the story of your farm and your product all the way to the consumer. Plovgh tracks your product from farm to destination, and gives everyone along the way insight into you and your product. That lets consumers vote with their dollar as they gain access to information that helps them purchase direct traded goods.
Get paid quickly and consistently. Plovgh handles invoicing and ensures you get paid within three business days if you’re a premium farm member, and within 15 business days if you’re a basic farm member. See more on pricing here.
Plan for current and future seasons. You want to produce what your customers want to purchase. With Plovgh, you can gauge demand in advance of purchasing seeds, hiring labor, and harvesting. We’re currently working on production and purchasing plans for 2014, so if you’d like to start lining up your relationships please get started here!
We hope you’ll join over 100 other farms selling directly to their customers within the Plovgh network. If you’re ready to get started, head to Plovgh.com or get in touch with us directly!
Around the year 1612, early French explorers through the Great Lakes region noted that the Iroquois popped popcorn with heated sand in a pottery vessel and used it to make popcorn soup, among other things.
Popcorn has a long agricultural history. Precisely how popcorn originated is a topic of debate, though it did originate in the Americas. Some experts believe that corn was developed by centuries of breeding and crossbreeding wild grasses like teosinte. When farmers are considering seed selection, expansibility and maturity are two key factors. Maximum popping potential hinges on the corn reaching full maturity and there are many factors that can prematurely terminate plant development such as drought stress, disease, and frost. When harvesting, farmers wait until the corn has cured on the stalk as much as possible, but not so long that it is damaged by fall moisture or by corn stalks falling over. Once picked, the corn must be dried until it reaches its optimum moisture level of 13.5% to 14%.
Popcorn is delicate and starchy, and depending on what topping you choose, sweet or savory. Jim Fitkin’s popping corn is unique in that it has a subtle taste of the Iowa prairie where it was grown.
One of the more desirable traits of popcorn is expansibility; a measure of the volume ratio of popped corn to unpopped corn. Popcorn kernels can come in two shapes: “Butterfly” which are irregular in shape and have a number of protruding “wings”, or “Mushroom” flakes which are largely ball-shaped, with few wings. Jim’s popping corn is grown in northeast Iowa and is a hybrid variety with mushroom-like kernels.
We all know that when popcorn is heated it expands from the kernel and puffs up. But why? The folklore of some Native American tribes told of spirits who lived inside each kernel of popcorn, and who grew angry if their houses were heated. The real expansion happens because the kernels have a hard moisture-sealed hull and a dense starchy interior and under the right temperature, pressure builds inside the kernel, and a small explosion - or “pop!” - is the end result. Once popped you can eat popcorn with whatever toppings you choose; salt, butter, chili flakes or cream and sugar. When it comes to Jim’s popping corn, we’re staunch traditionalists and hold true to this recipe complements of the McVay family.
Bluefish go by many different names including tailor, snapper, baby blues, choppers, and elfs. Their scientific name is pomatomus saltatrix.
Bluefish are a trophy species, that are pursued by anglers because of their reputation as a champion battler and voracious predator. When a Bluefish is hooked, they are known to put up a fight more impressive than some larger species. They are native to both the American and European coasts of the Atlantic Ocean. Along the US coast, Bluefish are highly abundant. In the mid-Atlantic, Bluefish scored a 4 out of 4 in the 2013 Summer Fish Stock Sustainability Index (FSSI), which is a perfect rating and indicates that there is no overfishing. Bluefish have a a mouthful of sharp pointed teeth and tend to eat a variety of small-bodied animals such as copepods, shrimp, small lobsters and crabs, larval fish and larval mollusks. Adult Bluefish are opportunistic feeders, going after schooling species such as menhaden, squid, sand eels, herring, mackerel, and alewives, as well as scup, butterfish, and cunner.
Bluefish are rich and oily, with moist and delicate flesh. They are also high in heart-healthy “good fats.” While they have a more assertive flavor than other fish, when prepared their meat can have a mild, flaky taste.
Despite what their name might elude to, Bluefish are most commonly a sea-green color on top, fading to a silvery shade on their lower sides and belly. Bluefish rarely exceed 20 lbs. and 40 inches in length, and they generally run between 10-15 pounds. The are moderately proportioned fish, and have a broad, forked tail.
Bluefish don’t hold up well when frozen or canned, and the Bluefish coming off the boats of the fishermen that work with Village Fishmonger are the freshest available. Village Fishmonger recommends storing your fish on ice and refrigerating it for the best results. By keeping fish at the coldest temperature possible without freezing, you can help extend its usable life, keeping it firmer and fresher tasting for longer.
Though they are a respected gamefish, most people tend to overlook Bluefish as table fare due to their “fishy” reputation. These fish have strong digestive enzymes that can lead to quick spoilage, so it’s recommended to put them on ice soon after catching. As with most fish, Bluefish are best when fresh and when properly prepared they are delicious.
Olive Oil Poached Bluefish Crostini [Katie O’Donnell of Frankies 570 Spuntino]
Broiled Bluefish with Citrus Dressing [Village Fishmonger]
Bluefish Tacos [Hungry Native]
Smoked Bluefish Rillettes [Six Course Dinner]
Farms have seen up to $1,350 in a single transaction on Plovgh. As a Plovgh farm member, you can expect to plan for your season, connect with buyers, streamline customer orders, and get fast payment for your crops all in one place. Click here to register your farm!
Basic farm membership Free membership
Transaction fee: 10%
Payment: 15 business days from delivery date
Automated availability lists for current and prospective buyers
On-the-spot sales available
Full traceability of product
Cooperative farm membership $50/year when you join with at least five other producers
Transaction fee: 3%
Payment: 3 business days from delivery date
Automated AND personalized availability lists for current and prospective buyers
Forward contracts, standing orders, and on-the-spot sales available
Full traceability of product
Introductions to and product requests from new buyers
Access to transportation and distribution solutions that include direct store delivery, third party logistics, and shipping options
Demand insights for optimal production planning
Discounts on seed, feed, and other input purchases
Independent farm membership $250/year when you join as an individual producers
Transaction fee: 3%
Payment: 3 business days from delivery date
Automated AND personalized availability lists for current and prospective buyers
Forward contracts, standing orders, and on-the-spot sales available
Full traceability of product
Dedicated exchanges for you and your customers
Introductions to and product requests from new buyers
Access to transportation and distribution solutions that include direct store delivery, third party logistics, and shipping options
Demand insights for optimal production planning
Discounts on seed, feed, and other input purchases
Production of our popcorn was cut by over half last year due to the drought. Northeast Iowa, where I farm, was hit the hardest last year by the drought. This year we had a record wet and cold spring which then turned into a “flash drought”. At this time Northeast Iowa, although still dry, is the wettest part of Iowa. Our yields should only be slightly below trend line.
- A conversation with Jim Fitkin of Fitkin Farms in Cedar Falls, Iowa earlier this season
There are more than 7,000 varieties of apples that come to harvest at different times over the course of a season.
Apples can be categorized by their harvest schedule which include an early-season crop (mid- to late summer), a mid-season crop (mid-summer to early autumn), and a late-season crop (early to late autumn, and sometimes running into winter). Harvest times may vary a week or more from year to year, depending on when the tree is in bloom and the climate conditions during the growing season. Cloudy, cool conditions or drought conditions also tend to delay fruit maturity.
Late season or winter apples are great for cooking and are also the best keepers. Here are some of the varieties you can find growing at Samascott Orchards this season.
A very old-fashioned American variety that is well known for its winter-hardiness. Good for baking pies, these apples are crunchy and have a thin skin. They’re juicy, crisp and mildly sweet with a rich, aromatic tart flavor.
First introduced in 2006, this variety is savory and sweet, with a slight tartness and rich overtones. When it’s cut it takes a longer than usual time to turn brown which makes them ideal for eating fresh with cheese plates or salads.
Also known as Pinova or Piñata, Sonata apples are a cross between a Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin and a Duchess of Oldenburg. It has a crisp taste that is both sweet and tart.
A small, sweet variety that is similar to a McIntosh. It has bright crimson skin and white flesh. When picked right off the tree, Spartans are very crisp and juicy, but they tend to soften a bit within a week or so of picking. They are a great variety for juicing.
A cross between Northern Spy and Golden Delicious, these apples are tender and have a fine-grained, firm, crisp flesh. Similar to the Northern Spy variety, these apples hold their shape well when cooked making them a good choice for baking.
Apples are still living even after they are picked which means they are using stored nutrients as opposed to those received from the tree prior to harvesting. During storage, they gradually use up their nutrients causing the sugar, starch, and acid content of the apple to change. This is why some apples become mealy. Storage varies depending on the cultivar, but most apples store well at low temperatures (as this slows the respiration rate and preserves good quality) and at high humidity (to keep them from dehydrating & shriveling up). You can find more detailed storage tips here.
It’s true: Farmers tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to money. They have the hardest job on the planet but because they’re at the foundation (read, bottom) of the industrial food chain, they’re typically the last to get paid. Not only do they just make $0.11, on average, for every dollar of food you purchase, but they also wait weeks - sometimes, we hear, even months - to get paid for their work.
But seed needs to be planted! Land needs to be tilled! Farmers themselves need to be fed! What an abomination.
We at Plovgh have a mission to keep independent farms viable, and we accomplish it by making it possible for any farm to sell directly to its customers. Farms that sell their harvest through Plovgh set their own prices and get paid 24 hours after they deliver their crops to you.
We’re pleased to have found in Dwolla compatriots in the battle to take down all the giants that stand between a buyer and seller. Now, using Dwolla Credit on Plovgh, you can place an order from a farmer today, receive your harvest and get him paid tomorrow, and only part with your own cash at the end of the month. Check it out, for your own good and your farmer’s.
When you register on Plovgh, use the discount codeGoDwollato get $10 toward your first purchase from the farms!
We think one of the best ways to live out your Food Day commitment is by buying directly from farmers. Putting your food dollars towards the people that grow, raise, and produce food that is good for the land and good for you is one of the strongest statements you can make. Voting for change in policy and farm regulations is necessary, but today, the most immediate way you can make a difference in the food system is by buying directly from the farm, and supporting a shift away from industrial, non-transparent, processed food in favor of eating real.
When you register on Plovgh, use theFOODDAYdiscount code to get an extra $10 toward your next farmers market, CSA, or other direct-from-farm purchase.
Architect’s rulers are made from pear wood because it doesn’t warp. Furniture, musical instruments and kitchen utensils have also been made from the wood of pear trees because it does not splinter, and in the case of kitchen utensils, can withstand multiple washings.
Native to coastal and mild regions, pear tree groves were cultivated in China almost 3000 years ago. Pear trees are grown by sowing the seeds of other cultivated or wild varieties which form pear stocks (also known as free stocks) onto which more desired varieties can be grafted to increase production. Pears are unique from other fruits like apples and strawberries in that they ripen from the inside out, even after they have been harvested. Since they continue to ripen after they are picked, some orchards harvest pears early to extend the seasons’ crop. And you know that gritty, grainy texture you might associate with some varieties? That’s because pears have stone cells (sclereids) which are isodiametric cells, with thick cell walls that can be often found in quince fruits.
There are thousands of varieties of pears, some grown primarily for eating, while others are grown specifically for ornamental purposes. Different types can come in a range of sizes, and the skin can be a pale yellow to a deep brownish gold color. Pears can be sweet or spicy in taste, and have a texture that is gritty or smooth.
Also known as the “Williams pear”, Bartlett pears are a heirloom variety that were first developed in England. They are the most aromatic type of pear. Their skin is a greenish, yellow hue and are sometimes highlighted by a red blush. They have a smooth texture and are good for canning or sliced on top of a salad. Bartlett pears account for almost 75% of pear production in the US and are commonly used in pear juice and canned pears because they can bruise easily.
The Potomac was developed by the USDA in 1993 and is related to the the D’Anjou variety. It’s small, with light green and glossy skin. Potomac pears are sweet and have a buttery, fine texture.
Unripened pears are best stored in a refrigerator at ideally 30 degrees - in colder temperatures they will become damaged and in warmer temperatures they will ripen faster. Most early fall varieties will last up to 2 months, while winter pears will last a few months longer. The longer pears have been in cold storage, the faster they’ll ripen once they’re taken out.
Typically, when we think of pears we think, compotes, tarts and salads. But, how about pears and bacon? Or pears and pizza? Or pears and eggs? We think, why not.
Bacon, Pear & Raspberry Grilled Cheese (Pinch of Yum)
Pear, Goat Cheese & Pistachio Pizza (Savour the Senses)
Roasted Pears With Balsamico & Lime (Bread & Companatico)
Vanilla Pear Milk (Pastry Affair)
Pear & Camembert Quiche (The Creative Pot)
Glebocki Farms - Goshen, NY
Harvesting date: September - late October 2013
Here are some tips from the ladies at Food52 on how to roast any type of winter squash.
A cousin of the melon, winter squash is a summer-growing annual fruit. What makes winter and summer squash different? The winter variety is harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage when the seeds inside have fully matured and the skin has hardened into a tough outer layer. Originating in South America, squash are frost-tender vegetables and their seeds do not germinate in cold soil, thus they are best planted when the soil is thoroughly warm. Once the fruits have turned a deep, solid color and the skin has hardened, then the squash is ready to be harvested. Similar to potatoes, in order for winter squash to undergo storage they must first be cured.
There are over a dozen species of squash that fall under the winter squash genus, and each also have multiple cultivars. Some species are edible - Cucurbita maxima, moschata, and pepo - and some are not - the ornamental gourds you see around the holidays.
Shaped like an acorn, Acorn squash can be both green or white. The outer rind has even groves around the entire squash. Acorns have a tough outer skin and moist, sweet, tender flesh. Some have splashes of orange or yellow on the rind, and are orange on the inside.
One of the sweetest types of squash, Butternuts are a tan to pale orange color with thick, bright orange flesh. They are an elongated pear shape - thin on top, becoming more round at the base. Butternuts have very few seeds and a thin skin that is easy to peel.
These squash are thick skinned with firm, fragrant yellow flesh. When cooked the inside becomes rich, nutty and sweet. Carnival squash are pumpkin-shaped with a deeply furrowed top. They have a pale yellow skin with variegated markings of orange and green. The various colorings represent its level of maturity and the presence of post-harvest green indicates that the squash is still at its peak maturity.
Delicata squash are one of the more colorful varieties and also one of the more fragile. They are small and oblong in shape and are typically white or pale yellow with bright yellow, dark green and orange stripes. In comparison to other winter squash, the skin of this variety is on the thinner side and edible when cooked. Delicatas taste sweet and nutty and are a good substitute for sweet potatoes.
Kabocha squash are a Japanese variety that is large, round and a similar shape as pumpkins. The outer skin is dark green, mottled, and hard while the inside is dense, smooth and sweet. Kabocha squash hold their shape, making them a good variety for soups or tempura.
Spaghetti squash are round and oval-shaped, but like their namesake, when Spaghetti squash is cooked the flesh pulls apart into thick, noodle-like strands. They have a pale-yellow outer skin and a mild taste.
The beautiful thing about winter squash is that most of them are interchangeable when it comes to cooking. Whether you’re roasting or pureeing, or your recipe is savory or sweet, you can try out a new variety or mix them up. Below you’ll find a recipe for each type, but we’re big advocates of experimenting.
Charles F. Schnabel introduced people to wheatgrass in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until almost a decade later that it became popularized as a health food, as well as a medicinal supplement. Wheatgrass is also sometimes marketed as “cat grass”.
Wheatgrass is grown from a wheat seed, but is gluten-free, as it contains no actual wheat. Since it is a young plant, wheatgrass is unique becuase it retains a lot of the energy from the seed, but as it grows it creates the energy that is associated with green vegetables. It’s similar to a sprout, but ramped up a notch, in that it contains the carbs and enzymes from the seed, but also produces vitamins and pulls minerals out of the soil. Stewart’s wheatgrass is grown inside a converted warehouse in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It is grown in trays in a climate controlled space and he uses rotational planting to ensure that he is growing the freshest wheatgrass year round.
Stewart’s wheatgrass is some of the sweetest tasting you’ll find. While it has similar benefits to eating dark, leafy greens, it does not have the same bitter taste that can be associated with other greens.
It looks like, well, grass - but it is fresh, fragrant and refreshing grass.
There are many nutritional benefits and health claims linked to wheatgrass. Among the many health conditions wheatgrass is proposed to help treat, a few include anemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, digestion problems, and liver disorders. What is definitely a fact is that wheatgrass is high in antioxidants and nutrients, and the juice contains a concentrated mixture of grain and vegetable vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and Chlorophyll. To get the full, sweet flavor of the wheatgrass we recommend grinding it up in a juicer and drinking it as a shot. Below are several juice and smoothie recipes to help get you started. (Note: Got pets? They’ll love it too.)
Eggplants are botanically classified as a berry.
Eggplants are a species of nightshades - other nightshade crops include tomatoes and potatoes - that were originally domesticated in India. The plants have large, coarsely lobbed leaves with spiny stems. Their flowers are shades of white or purple. Eggplants are bulbous fruits and can be a range of shapes from oval, and egg-shapped to long and slender with shiny skin. The inside flesh is a milky color, with a meaty texture. Cultivated varieties of eggplant can be as small as 2 inch fairytale varieties up to 12 feet or longer.
Eggplant varieties vary in size (as small as your thumb to as large as your forearm), shape (oblong, round, slender), and coloring (white, bicolor, deep purple). Here are a couple types that farmer Danya at Laughing Loon Farm is harvesting this season:
Orient Express (Asian variety)
Skinny, delicate and a deep, shiny purple, Orient Express eggplants are an early variety, harvested up to 2 weeks before other plants. It has a tender flavor and cooks quickly. They have a high skin to flesh ratio which means they won’t fall apart as quickly when cut, making them ideal for stir fries, tempura or pickling.
Epic (Globe variety)
Globe eggplants, (also called American) are what typically comes to mind when you think eggplant. They are large, dark purple/black and have a wide, pear shape. Laughing Loon planted a Globe variety called Epic this season, which is thriving in the late summer heat. This variety tends to have tougher skin and more seeds than the thinner varieties making them a little more bitter. Globe eggplants are larger than Asian varieties with a meatier, spongy texture inside, which makes them good for grilling or roasting.
Because of their spongy flesh, eggplants can absorb oil more quickly than other vegetables while cooking. The folks over at Food52 recommend salting your eggplant before cooking to draw out the moisture, which also lessens their bitter flavor. You can find more helpful tips from the Food52 Hotline here. Let the roasting, grilling, sautéing and pureeing commence.
South Indian Pickled Eggplant (Green Kitchen Stories)
Stuffed Eggplant (La Tartine Gourmande)
Baba Ganoush (David Lebovitz)
Eggplant Chutney (What Katie Ate)
Sweet and Sour Stir-Fried Eggplant (Serious Eats)
The only apples native to North America are crab apples, which were once called “common apples”.
Apples originated in Central Asia and grow on small, deciduous trees. Grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, apples were first brought to North America by European colonists.There are more than 7,500 known cultivated varieties of apples, all having a wide range of differing characteristics. Different varieties are bred for various tastes and uses, including cooking, eating fresh and cider production. Domestic apples are usually propagated by grafting, although wild apples can grow readily from seed. Apple trees blossom in spring and the fruit matures in autumn.
In most grocery stores the only apples you’ll be choosing from often include Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Fuji. At Samascott Orchards, they grow more than 50 varieties. Here’s a taste of some they are harvesting now:
Originating from Japan, Akane apples are red with white flesh. Their skin is firm - as opposed to crisp - and juicy. Their flavor is a good balance of sweet and sharp.
Earligold apples are medium to large, round-conical apples first grown in Washington. They have a greenish, yellow skin and are a little tart.
Developed by the New York State Ag Experiment Station at Cornell, they are an easy to grow blend of McIntosh and Delicious. These apples are an intense marroon-red, overlying a light green skin. Empires are sweet with a crisp texture and bright white flesh, and are ideal because they do not bruise easily.
Gingergolds were first discovered near an orchard in Virginia. Its color, shape and long stalk are similar to that of a Golden Delicious. It keeps well and can last up to several weeks in the fridge. They have a mild sweetness that can also be a bit sharp.
Jersey Macs are a McIntosh bred variety, developed at Cornell. It is a medium sized red apple with yellow/green splashes. Flesh is crisp and juicy with a tart flavor.
A cross between a Jonathan and a McIntosh, Jonamacs are medium sized, firm, crisp and juicy. They are a dark red with undertones of green.
Mix between Gala and Akane it was developed in the 1970’s by Japanese and New Zealand researchers. It is sweet like a Gala, but has more acidity. It’s skin is russet and speckled and with a yellowish flesh.
A larger fruit with glossy skin that was developed in New Jersey. The skin is shades of bright red and light green, and the flesh is cream colored and coarse, with a crisp, sweet flavor. They are best eaten fresh from the tree when the fruits are ripe as they can lose quality quickly and becomes mealy if not harvested.
An early season dessert apple originally from New Jersey, the name “Vista Bella” comes from the Guatamalan highlands where it is also grown. The apples have light yellow-green skin and spots of flushed deep red where it is exposed to the sun. It has a summery, fruity, juicy flavor. They don’t keep as well as other varieties so it is recommended to keep them in the fridge rather than the counter.
Yes, the exclamation point is supposed to be there. These apples were bred at the University of Minnesota where they were developed for cold-hardiness. They have a sweet-tart taste and are round and deep red with undertones of yellow. The flesh is white and crisp and has a good texture for baking.
‘Utility’ fruit - also known as seconds - refers to fruit that is slightly over-ripe, beat up, bruised or imperfect. While their imperfections make them not necessarily ideal for the waxy, glossy supermarket shelves, these fruits are great for baking, juicing or making preserves. And despite the fact that their outer layer may not appear ‘marketable’ by some standards, utility fruits are usually just as tasty as the fruit that passed for No. 1. Selling the not-so-perfect fruit, that is still worthy of your pies and jams, means the farmers are able to make a profit and less food is destined for waste or compost. As they say, it’s not what’s on the outside that counts.
Cowbella Dairy - Jefferson, NY
Harvesting date: August 2013 (producing year round)
“Butter from grass-fed cows is much higher in omega-3 fatty acids than conventional butter, as well as anti-oxidants like beta carotenes, vitamin E, and selenium—and it’s an excellent source of vitamin A.” (source: 150ish The Local Dish)
The folks at Cowbella have raised Jersey cows for generations. Ideal for making butter, Jerseys have the highest butterfat content in their milk out of all other dairy breeds. To make their butter they first separate the milk into cream and skim, and use the skim milk for their yogurt. At Cowbella, milk is processed three times a week in 800 pound batches. The milk is transported from the dairy barn to the processing plant on the farm using a small bulk tanker where it is pasteurized and separated. Each batch yields approximately 40 pounds of butter and 300 quarts of yogurt. Every batch is made by hand with natural ingredients, and without the use of fillers, thickeners or preservatives.
Jersey cows’ milk is rich and creamy, as is Cowbella’s butter.
Butter you buy at the store tends to have an off-white color as opposed to butter produced from the milk of grass-fed cows which has a goldenrod color. The quality is present in the color, which is enriched by the cows’ natural grass- heavy diet. During the summer months, when the grass is plentiful, the butter is a vibrant, sunflower yellow.
Recommended recipe: Toast a piece of bread; spread butter on toast; enjoy.
Other options could include:
St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake (Smitten Kitchen)
Cucumber & Butter Tea Sandwiches (Food52)
Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (Joy the Baker)
Peaches (Prunus persica)
Varieties: Donut & Yellow Flesh Samascott Orchards, Kinderhook NY
Harvesting date: August 2013
More than 80 chemical compounds contribute to the peach aroma.
Peaches are native to China and took many centuries to spread from Greece (300 BC) to North America (16th century). Today there are more than 300 varieties grown in North America alone.
Peach trees grow well in climates where winters are mild and summers are hot. The trees are deciduous and produce flowers in early spring before the leaves. A typical peach cultivar begins bearing fruit in its third year and has a lifespan of about 12 years.
Even though the grocery store treats them as different fruits, peaches and nectarines are the same species. Nectarines have an orange center and faint fuzz, while peaches have white centers and very fuzzy skin. Cultivated peach varieties include White Flesh, Clingstone (flesh clings to pit; softer, sweeter and juicier than Freestone; great for baking), Freestone (flesh doesn’t cling to pit; larger and good for eating out of your hand), Semi-Freestone (a hybrid of Clingstone and Freestone), and Donut (an heirloom variety; flat, white-fleshed, and low in acid).
Peaches are sweet and - depending on the variety - can have an acidy tang.
Like other stone fruits, peaches have a juicy, fleshy exterior with a hard pit inside, and a smaller seed inside the pit. Most of us are accustomed to yellow flesh peaches, which like their name have a golden yellowish skin and yellow flesh. The flesh is very delicate and can bruise easily.
As a late-summer fruit, peaches are great on the grill, in drinks, on salads or as ice cream. Also, you can preserve them to capture that sweet, summer taste for a treat in the middle of winter.
Corn is a grain, not a vegetable. Sweet corn is the result of a naturally occurring recessive genetic mutation which controls conversion of sugar to starch inside the kernel.
Corn is an annual crop that requires fertile soil, consistent moisture and warm weather. Unlike field corn varieties, sweet corn is harvested early before the kernels are dry and mature. Sweet corn stores poorly and must be eaten fresh, canned, or frozen, before the kernels become tough and starchy. Growth of the plant happens in six stages: silking, kernel blister, kernel milk, kernel dough, kernel dent, and physiological maturity (photos here).
Sweet corn is rich in flavor. It can be milky and buttery. There are sweet corn hybrids that come in different levels of sweetness including, normal, sugar-enhanced, and supersweet.
Sour Cherries (Prunus cerasus) Samascott Orchards, Kinderhook NY
Harvesting date: Early July 2013
Catholic and Protestant missionaries planted the first sour cherry trees along Traverse Bay in northwestern Michigan in the 1800s.
Sour cherries are fleeting and have a brief growing season - from around the end of June to the beginning of July. When harvesting, cherries should be soft to the touch as they do not continue to ripen like other fruits once they are picked. Cherries tend to grow in groups because the plant’s flowers bloom from a single focal point which then wilt and become the fruit. The plants prefer a rich, well-drained, moist soil, and require more nitrogen and water than sweet cherries.
When eaten raw they can be pretty tart, but they go well with savory dishes and help balance out sweet recipes.
Cherries are a type of stone fruit - which are fruits that have an outer fleshy part surrounding a pit, such as peaches and apricots. Sour cherries also go by the names tart, wild, and/or pie cherries. Sour cherry trees are shorter than sweet cherry trees and the fruit tends to be a darker red, crimson color to almost near black.
Cherries can be preserved as jams or in liquor, and also keep their flavor when frozen. For fresh cherries, keeping the fruit attached to their stems will keep them fresh longer. If you think pitting is the pits, (yes, we did) try these techniques out and then go make one of these:
Sugar snap peas were developed by cross breeding Chinese snow peas with a shell pea plant to create a variety that could be eaten raw and cooked. This was thanks to Dr. Lamborn and Dr. Parker of Twin Falls, Idaho.(1)
Peas are climbing plants so they do best when they have a trellis or other support system to grow on. Plants grow up to about four feet, and at maturity snap pea pods are around 4-8 cm in length, and contain three to five peas per pod. Brad at Stoney Brook Farms handpicks his sugar snap peas daily for orders.
Crisp, crunchy, sweet and fresh. Pods are edible when young. As peas develop they become more sweet, but if left unharvested, the sugars in the peas are converted into starches which are fibrous and tough, with less flavor.(2) The takeaway: for the sweetest peas eat them young and fresh.
Snap peas are in the edible-podded peas family. You can tell them apart from snow peas because their pods are rounded as opposed to flat.
Tatsoi (Brassica narinosa) Glebocki Farm
Harvesting: Late May/Early June
An Asian green also known as Spinach mustard, Spoon mustard, or Rosette bok choy.
Part of the brassica family, Tatsoi is a unique and easy to grow green. It is suitable for late spring through autumn sowing. Tatsoi grows low to the ground in cooler climates and In warmer weather grows more upright. Before bolting, the plant will begin to flower and the flavor becomes slightly more bitter.
Mild, mustardy flavor. The stalks are juicy and crisp.
Tatsoi has dense, dark green rounded leaves which form a rosette.
You know all of the seeds on the outside of the fruit? Each of those are actually an ovary of the flower with a seed inside it.
Woodland strawberries were first cultivated in the early 17th century. Strawberries grow best on soils that have high organic matter content and high fertility levels. They are a type of runner plant which means they have fast growing stems that grow on the surface of the soil and can develop new plants through their nodes. To maintain the best quality, berries should be harvested often and should be picked with the caps on and with 1/2 inch of stem attached.
Sweet, juicy, fresh.
Strawberries can vary widely in size, shape, color and taste. They typically range in size from small to medium, are redish-white in color with green stems and a sweet aroma.
Scapes are the imature stalks that grow from the garlic bulb. Also known as garlic shoots or spears.
The garlic plant goes through many iterations. It is planted at the end of the season before winter, hibernates and then begins sprouting in the spring. It is not ready to be harvested until the summer and must then be cured for long term storage. But, in between this period the scapes and young (or spring) garlic are harvested and prepared. Garlic scapes are harvested early in the season so that the garlic bulbs will grow bigger.
Scapes are bright, fresh and can have a milder taste than the cloves.
Thin and loopy, garlic scapes resemble a leafless spear. Mature scapes have 1 or 2 loops and are firm with about 1/4 inch diameter.
Chevre means goat in French. Unlike cows, goats browse rather than graze and eat all sorts of grasses, weeds and shrubbery that influence the flavor of their milk.
Generally, cultures are added to the fresh milk as a curdling agent and the curds are allowed to separate from the whey. It can be made into a “bag cheese” or molded for a couple of days or aged in a cheese cave for longer. Salt can then be added to the curd.
The flavor of chevre can totally vary according to the season and what the goats are munching on at the time they are milked. In the early spring the cheese tends to be more mild and become more goaty or gamey in the fall. The chevre Joyce produces with the spring milk is fresh and creamy and is a little tart and grassy.
As with flavor, the texture of chevre tends to vary depending on how it is produced. Some are white and smooth with a consistency similar to cream cheese, some are crumbly, and some are aged and therefore firm and have a more yellowy color. Sometimes they are creafted into a log shape and rolled with fresh herbs or spices.
Mizuna (Brassica rapa nipposinica) Glebocki Farms
Harvesting: Starting late May
Mizuna has many names including: kyona, Japanese mustard, potherb mustard, California peppergrass, and spider mustard. Whichever you choose, Mizuna stands for “water greens” because it is grown in fields that are shallowly flooded with water. (Food52)
Mizuna is a unique mustard green that has been cultivated in Japan for ages, but likely originated in China. The plant produces dozens of pencil thin white stalks with deeply cut, fringed leaves. Mizuna is highly resistant to cold and can be grown extensively during the winter months. It is usually harvested from early to late summer.
LIke a toned down arugula, mizuna has a mild peppery/spicy flavor. It is crisp when eaten fresh.
Even if you’ve never heard of it, you may have already been indirectly introduced to Mizuna as it is often used in mesclun mixes. It comes in green and purple varieites and has narrow stalks with smooth feathery leaves.
Since we’re rekindling our love for fresh herbs and greens here on the east coast, this seems like a good go-to recipe. If you’re not going the raw route, you can toss it in a stir fry, add it to Nabemono or sauté it. Similar to spinach, when Mizuna is cooked it shrinks to about half its size - so be sure to buy extra.
Asparagus was used in recipes dating as far back as third-century AD, and many societies identified ways of preserving it for consumption during colder seasons.
Asparagus is a perennial and one of the earliest producing spring vegetables. It can be easily grown from the crowns or roots and can take up to 3 to 4 years before a mature plant is established for harvesting - but it can be harvested for years after planting once mature. A fully grown plant can resemble a fern with thin spears. It is unique in that it can tolerate broad temperature variations; it grows in the Imperial Valley of Southern California, where temperatures can reach 115° F, and it grows in Minnesota, where temperatures can plunge to -40° F.* In the northeast they are generally harvested from late March through June.
Aspargus spears should be tender and sweet. This is the best way to tell they are freshly harvested.
There are hundreds of varieties, but often asparagus has smooth stalks with compact crowns and can come in colors like white, green and purple. Spears can range in size based on the time they are harvested.
Only young asparagus shoots are eaten since once the buds of the plant start to open, the shoots quickly turn woody. Prep is easy: just trim off the bottoms of the spears. Then, enjoy them raw, fried, blanched, or simply roasted. Throwing them on the grill is also encouraged.
A growing coalition of producers are signing up around the country. If you’re interested in finding out how your farm might participate, get in touch with us and we can let you know about exchanges that are being activated near you.
When it comes to rhubarb it seems that people either love it or hate it. It struggles with its self-identity; vegetable or fruit? Sweet or savory? And though this spring has been slow to arrive, pushing the anticipated harvest time back a few weeks, we’re happy to say that time is here.
The Chinese have used rhubarb as a medicinal plant for thousands of years. Its presence in Europe was established when it was imported along the Silk Road. (A historical form of trade we are fans of here at Plovgh.)
Rhubarb is a seasonal plant that can grow in many areas. In temperate climates it is one of the first food plants ready to be harvested, usually around April/May in the Northern Hemisphere and October/November in the Southern Hemisphere. Ready-to-harvest, mature rhubarb can be pulled from the plant with a gentle tug. Stalks should not be harvested during the first growing season to allow the plant to become established, and after the first 3 years the harvesting period runs approximately 8-10 weeks long.
Freshly harvested, raw stalks are crisp and have a tart flavor. Red rhubarb varieties such as ‘Valentine’ and ‘Crimson Cherry’ tend to be more tender.
Rhubarb has short, thick roots, large leaves and long, fleshy stalks. The stalks of a rhubarb plant are usually a crimson red, but can vary from deep reds and pinks to pale green.
Quite often, rhubarb is used in bakes goods such as crisps, pies and tarts. You can also preserve it as jams or by pickling. Or, use it in your new favorite cocktail. Note: Be sure to only eat the stalks, as the leaves of a rhubarb plant contain poisonous toxins.
The ramp, also known as the wild leek, is the alliums’ herald of spring. It is a fleeting introduction to a new season and a foraged onion that has the ability to throw people into a frenzy.
Wild ramps have close ties with the folklore of the central Appalachian Mountains. In the region, they have long celebrated spring with the arrival of the ramp, believing it to have great power as a tonic used to ward off the ailments of winter.
Ramps are members of the lily family and a perennial plant. They grow in groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil. They don’t take well to traditional farming, but grow wildly as far north as Quebec, as far south as Georgia, and as far west as Oklahoma.
Ramps have a peppery taste and a pungent aroma that is a mix of onions and garlic.
Ramps have broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible.
I feel like there is a great need for small distributors. There are plenty of small farms and artisan food makers creating high quality products, and a huge base of customers who want desperately to buy these products and support these people in their craft. From what I have seen, farmers are extremely stretched for time trying to grow their produce, then also pack, transport, market and distribute it. It would be ideal if there were more small distributors to take the stress off these individual farmers and allow them to focus on farming.
- Mickey Davis of Greene Grape Provisions in Brooklyn, New York. Via Good Food Jobs. Hear hear!