Plovgh is a cooperative of farmers, growers, and ranchers that sell directly to their customers.
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.
Why join Plovgh?
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!
Why join Plovgh?
Fitkin Popping Corn (Fit-Pop) - Cedar Falls, Iowa
Harvesting: November 2013
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]
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
Samascott Orchards - Kinderhook, NY
Harvesting date: October - November 2013
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.
Whether you’re baking or making cider, finding the right apple cultivar for the right dish can be a science. Or you could just take the easy route, and check out this list.
When baking…(Some Kitchen Stories)
When grilling…(Serious Eats)
When poaching…(The Hungry Giant)
When sautéing…(Oh My Veggies)