Q&A with Rawn Fulton

Root Hog Farmers
Root Hog Farmers

By Sarah Platanitis

Rawn Fulton, the documentarian behind the 1978 independent film Root Hog or Die, introduced us to the lives and stories of several Franklin County farmers. Below is a Q&A with the filmmaker on how it affected his life, his work, and his hope for the film in a time struggling to support farmers.

Edible Pioneer Valley:How did the idea for the film start?

rawn fulton

rawn fulton

Rawn Fulton: I met local real estate agent D. William Pratt and he introduced me David Berelson, the film’s producer, at a cookout in 1972. He asked if I wanted to make a film about all of these farmers he met who were fantastically interesting people. A lot of them were older and interested in retiring. He could see that we were coming to the end of an era and a long tradition of New England small family farms. The title comes from an expression that farmer Louis Black talked to me about. It’s the idea that you have to do it yourself; really, it’s an old Yankee saying about being self-sufficient and working hard to get things done together.

EPV:What were some challenges that you faced during the project? 

RF: We filmed up until fall of 1973, because of the gas crisis. There were only two of us working on it, myself and Newbold “Terry” Noyes, but the fallout was to stop work. We put it aside for five years until we got support from WGBY, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Greenfield Community College Foundation. Then the film was given away for tax purposes to the Greenfield Community College Foundation and they had it for a long time. For a long time, I mean 30 years. I ran into the head of the GCC Foundation one day and we got chatting about how he had a film that I shot and edited. He gave it to me a little while later. It was a film that I never owned in the first place but now I do and it feels great.

EPV:How has Root Hog or Die influenced your work since?

RF: I would say working on Root Hog or Die made me a better listener. I turned 27 in June 1973. I’m 68 now. The value of having met those people and gotten to know them and study their point of view on the world has stayed with me all this time. It was such a privilege to get to know them. I felt as though I was working with old friends and yet I’d never met them before. That kind of graciousness was a wonderful example for me about how to effectively work with other people, whether they are farmers or businessmen, young people or old people. 

EPV:Have you ever wanted to do a follow-up?

RF: For many years, I’ve always wanted to go back and do another film based on what this one looked at. As a young man, I was idealistic and looking for the poetry in the daily lives of working farmers who, at some level, were both ennobled and embittered by their life experience. That happens to people in many walks of life, not just farming, but there’s a special character to this New England thing that really comes through in the film. It has a kind of magic about it that is very difficult to quantify. As a filmmaker who has been actively working in the years since I shot the film, I can also say that it’s very difficult to capture.

EPV:Do you have any favorite farmers from the film?

RF: Isabel Slate was such a gentle spirit, a reserved and thoughtful person. Minnie Richardson was marvelously grounded with a practical sense of how to do things and survive. She had high energy and a love of work. Her grandson still lives here in town and he adored her. Norman Field was an extraordinary thinker and homespun storyteller with a unique way of speaking. His brother was our mailman. Charlie Culver really represented both the realism and the charm of the rural way of life.

EPV:What will this film teach viewers in the next 40 years?

RF: The film represents something of a national treasure that gives us a glimpse into this basic way of living and seeing the world that has largely vanished. It’s returning in new ways now, which is wonderful, but the tradition has been largely obliterated. I’ve shown the film enough now to know that it really does resonate with people. There’s a kind of nostalgia that it evokes, which is undeniable. It’s not because of who I was or what I did; it’s because of who these people were and what they bring out in us. We are so blessed to have a chance to meet these people again now. I feel so honored that I had a chance to capture that and put it in a form that can be carried forward.

For more information about the film Root Hog or Die and filmmaker Rawn Fulton, visit SearchlightFilms.com.

The Not-So-Strange Case of Dr. Plum and Mr. Prune

By Sanford D’Amato

With Halloween approaching, there is nothing better to strike fear into kids than a scary movie. One of my favorite old films is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, from the R. L. Stevenson book, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which became a way to describe the tug-of-war between internal good and evil. 

It seems that some very common foods have that same good and evil DNA in people’s minds. These foods, and their split personalities, have the ability to paralyze us. There is no way our hands will deliver these foods to our mouths. Vegetables are the usual suspects but even some fruits have this ability. 

My first realization of this was long ago...

I’m bounding down the painted cement stairs, half holding on to the concave handrail. It is worn away and heavily patinaed from years of supporting miniature grimy, sweaty hands fresh from the upstairs playground. As I hit the bottom stair, a nun points to the bathroom door to the right. Rough granules spill from the dry soap dispenser onto my darkened paws and as I rub them under the faucet, they magically brighten before my eyes. 

I leave and as I’m walking toward the large arch, it hits me, that smell. It’s like an over-baked ziti casserole mixed with pencil shavings and lead—#2, if I’m not mistaken. It’s hot lunch time, the best part of my grade school day. As I grab my tray, I know that no matter what the daily menu is I can depend on there being a small parfait glass filled with some type of canned fruit. It ranges from the real crowd-pleasers—fruit cocktail, sliced peaches, or pears—to the almost exotic apricot halves or the dreaded prunes, bobbing in their mud-colored syrup. I say “dreaded” because of the angst that would spread through the line as the first person got to the window. Our only way out was to borrow a leftover wax paper bag from someone who brought their lunch from home, de-pit them, place the pits in the glass dish, deposit the prune flesh in the bag, then mule it out—all under the falcon-vision of the black-habited monitors.

As I make this dessert today, all I can think about is that the same folks who would have had trouble keeping down a stewed prune would be completely smitten with a plum tart. Prunes are the ugly, wrinkled, almost deformed Mr. Hyde to the handsome, smooth and dignified “plummy” Dr. Jekyll and most folks never put together the fact that they come from the same body! 

Coming from the French or Italian varieties, in their fresh state, these dusky ovals are freestone, which means they are easy to handle. And they have a dry constitution, which during baking causes the internal juices to slowly render out and form their own delicious sticky sweet-tart glaze. When dried, their flavor intensifies to a higher plane giving even a small wedge the ability to explode on the palate with a deep, juicy, mature richness. 

The first of my two recipes is with oven-half-dried fresh plums from the Northampton farmers market with “Halloween scary” liver from Sutter Meats, which I think you’ll find offal-ly good. 

You may have forgotten that it was the law that you had to be at least on Social Security before you would willingly consume a prune. But have an open mind when you try my second recipe for Prune and Fig Kisses. After the first taste Mr. Hyde might not look so frightening. And even though he can’t go back to being a plum, I think you’ll see after trying both Jekyll and Hyde that they are not so very different after all.

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2014_Aug4_EdiblePioneerValley_Recipes_1968_2100px

Sautéed Liver with Plums, Bacon, Scallions, and Sage Brown Butter

If you don’t often cook liver at home, this is a nice introduction to this cut. Veal liver will be the mildest and with pork and lamb liver having a stronger flavor. You can roast the plums for this dish up to a day ahead of time.

3 Italian plums (also called prune plums; substitute another type of plum if Italian plums aren’t available)

2 slices thick-cut bacon, each slice cut into ¼-inch pieces

2 (6-ounce) slices fresh beef, veal, pork, or lamb liver (about ½ inch thick)

¼ cup whole milk

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Wondra flour, to dust liver

3 tablespoons butter

2 scallions, washed, trimmed, and cut in 1-inch pieces on the bias

6 fresh sage leaves

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice 

Roast the plums: Cut plums in half, remove pits, cut each half in half, and bake in a 250° oven for 1 hour; let cool.

Place a sauté pan, large enough to hold the liver in 1 layer without crowding, over medium heat. When pan is hot, add the bacon and render until golden, about 3–4 minutes. Strain out the bacon and reserve the bacon and fat separately. Place liver in the milk, remove, and season with salt and pepper. Dust liver with Wondra.

Wipe out the sauté pan and place it back over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add the reserved bacon fat. When fat is hot, remove the liver from the flour and pat off the excess. Add liver to the pan and sauté until golden, 2–3 minutes per side or to your desired doneness.

Put the liver onto warmed dinner plates. Discard any remaining fat from the pan. Add butter to the pan and place over medium heat. When butter is golden brown, add the plums, scallions, sage, and reserved bacon and toss. Immediately add the vinegar and lemon juice, stir, spoon over the liver, and serve. Season with salt to taste.

Yield: 2 servings

Prune and Fig Cinnamon Kisses

Don’t let fear of frying keep you from making this dessert.  Just make sure you heat your oil (about 2 inches) in a deep pot, and don’t crowd the oil with too many kisses at once.

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2014_July24_EdiblePioneerValley_Recipes_1399_2100px

2 cups dried pitted prunes, diced small 

1½ cups dried Mission figs, stem removed, diced small

¾ cup pitted dates, diced small

2 bay leaves

4 star anise

⅜ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

¼ cup dark rum

1 cup water

1¾ tablespoon orange rind

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 cup slivered almonds

1 teaspoon peanut oil

1 package wonton wrappers (need 48 wrappers)

2 egg yolks mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Cinnamon Sugar (recipe follows) 

In a 12-inch nonstick pan, add prunes, figs, dates, bay leaves, anise, ⅛ teaspoon of the salt, pepper, rum, water, orange rind, and lemon juice and bring up to a simmer and cook, mixing, until dry. Remove the star anise and bay leaves and cool.

In a separate pan, mix together the almonds, oil, and the remaining salt. Bake in a 350° oven for about 12 minutes, tossing frequently during baking, until golden brown. Remove and cool.

Chop almonds into a small dice. Mix with the dried fruit mixture. Place about 1 tablespoon of the mixture in the middle of each wonton wrapper. Brush a bit of the egg mixture on 2 adjoining sides of the wrapper, about ¼ inch in from the end. Fold over the other side and seal well. Deep-fry in batches in 360° peanut oil for about 1 minute, until golden brown. Drain briefly on absorbent paper, then toss in Cinnamon Sugar. Serve warm. 

Yield: 48 kisses

For the Cinnamon Sugar:

½ cup superfine sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Mix ingredients together in a large bowl.

Sanford (Sandy) D’Amato is a James Beard Award–winning chef who teaches cooking classes at Good Stock Farm, his home in Hatfield. He is the former chef/owner of Sanford Restaurant in Milwaukee, WI, and the author of GOOD STOCK: Life on a Low Simmer, his memoir with recipes. Learn more about Sandy and good Stock Farm cooking classes at GoodStockFarm.com. 

The Last Bite Broccoli

Broccoli is at its best this time of year and you're sure to see it at the farmers' market all through autumn. Each of these recipes calls for 1 pound of broccoli and will also work with cauliflower (Romanesco, white, yellow, or purple). You can use broccoli stems just as you do florets; just peel the stems with a vegetable peeler if they seem tough. 

last-bite.jpg

Food for Thought: Peaches, Not Pipelines

Peaches, Not Pipelines

By Ben Clark, Clarkdale Fruit Farms

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 The Pipeline - The Landscape

The TGP Northeast Energy Direct is a high-pressure natural gas pipeline proposed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, to run from Pennsylvania through New York State into Massachusetts at Richmond, in the Berkshires, through to Dracut, north of Boston, where it could join with existing pipelines that connect to the Massachusetts and Canadian coasts. The pipeline is intended to carry natural gas from the Utica and Marcellus Shale.

 At the time of this writing, the company’s timeline calls for a pre-filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) in September 2014, with the pipeline to be operational by November 2018.

In addition to the main transmission line, the Northeast Energy Direct Project is proposed to include six components in Massachusetts (not shown on the map), identified by the company as follows: the North Adams Lateral, the Energy North Lateral (extending into New Hampshire), the Worcester Lateral, the Fitchburg Lateral, the Haverhill Loop, and the Lynnfield Lateral. There would also be at least one compressor station in Dracut, and likely one or more others along the main line

The proposed pipeline path runs through hundreds of private properties and public land, including land and waterways that are protected from development. Depending on the property, protections include restrictions under Massachusetts Article 97 (the Public Lands Protection Act): Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APR), Farm Viability Covenants, or a combination of these protections. Wildlife conservation lands also fall along the proposed pipeline route.

 As a result, there is strong opposition to the Pipeline from the conservation community. Says Rich Hubbard, Executive Director of the Franklin Land Trust and President of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition, "Kinder Morgan has told us that they selected this route [through our state] for their pipeline because it is undeveloped. It is undeveloped because we have spent decades ensuring the land would be protected from development. Should we allow for these protections to be dissolved for this purpose, it will be the tip of the iceberg. The conservation land we have worked so hard to protect will instead become the path of least resistance for utility and infrastructure development."

Should the pipeline construction be approved, its construction is proposed to be paid for by a tariff on electricity customers through a charge on ratepayers’ electric bills.

 

Based on information from massPLAN.org (accessed August 1, 2014).

For additional information about the proposed pipeline and its potential impact on our region, please visit:

Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network

No Fracked Gas In Mass

Franklin Land Trust

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners

Since this essay was published in our Fall issue, there have updates to this story. From NoFrackedGasinMass.org:

Kinder Morgan applied for prefiling with FERC for the Northeast Energy Direct project on September 15.  Among the 24 files in their application are many new maps with much more information than they’ve been sharing up until now. Additional compressor stations are now confirmed to be slated for Canaan, NY, and in Conway and Townsend, MA. Meter stations are identified as well.  

For a set of maps showing the route through Franklin County as proposed by Kinder Morgan in their prefiling, visit this page.

Clarkdale was founded by my great-grandfather Webster Clark in 1915. I am the fourth generation to work the land and tend our orchards. The passing of my grandfather, Fred, prompted me to return to Clarkdale after living away for many years. My father Tom has farmed here for over 40 years, and he and I work alongside each other daily. My son Emerson is now 18 months old. He is a bundle of energy who loves tractors, ladders, apples, and all things farm-related.

If the Kinder Morgan Tennessee Gas Pipeline Energy Direct project goes through as planned, our orchards will be ripped apart, and our iconic hillside will be destroyed. The legacy of nearly a century of our family stewarding the land will be put in jeopardy. We grow food, and provide a healthy local supply of over 100 varieties of tree and vine fruit. Each year we donate hundreds of bushels of our crops to area food banks and shelters. We are able to do this because we are a thriving family farm well rooted in the community. We believe in giving back, especially to those less fortunate.

We did not ask for this pipeline. We did not ask for the hours of conversations, unbudgeted legal fees, and sleepless nights filled with anxiety. Our very way of life is being threatened, and we are at the mercy of a behemoth corporation and their drive for profits. We will not benefit from the gas, as we do not use it on the farm. Rather, we will be forced to pay for this pipeline through tariffs added to our electricity bill, as will every single ratepayer in the state. This is one of the most infuriating aspects of the project, and one that was agreed to by the governors of New England.

We have twice denied permission to survey our land, and have retained a lawyer to respond to Kinder Morgan’s threat of gaining access through the State. Our land is protected under an Agricultural Covenant with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). We have a deed restriction, signed by us and the Commissioner of MDAR, to ensure that the land will continue to be farmed and not exploited for other uses. If the Patrick administration does not recognize this commitment to preservation, then a dangerous precedent could be set for all conserved lands in the Commonwealth.

Our State Rep. Steve Kulik has been a wonderful ally, and is aggressively pursuing the land conservation issue, the enforcement of which falls under Article 97. He and many colleagues along the pipeline route are doing great work on affected landowners’ behalf. We are also fortunate to have hosted US Congressman Jim McGovern at the farm, and on a pipeline resistance march. Jim is the only Representative in the state who has come out vociferously against the Kinder Morgan proposal, and has been pushing for answers at the federal level.

We will continue fighting. Our way of life depends on it. PEACHES, NOT PIPELINES!

map

 

In Food For Thought we ask someone in our local community for a commentary on a topic that is meaningful to them. We welcome suggestions for contributors or topics. If you would like to suggest a topic or author, please contact our Editor at mary@ediblepioneervalley.com.

Edible Reads Review: Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

Good and Cheap Teaches Home Cooks How to Eat Healthy, Inspired Food for Just $4 a Day.

By Samantha Marsh

good-and-cheap-cover

good-and-cheap-cover

Eating good food is not always as easy as I would like it to be. My busy life often take precedence over putting a healthy meal on the table, and I end up spending our well-earned dollars on food that is fast, convenient, and much more expensive than I’d like.

There are so many barriers when it comes to food: accessibility of quality ingredients, the prevalence of “food deserts,” increased rates of diet-related illness, etc. In an effort to make sure that a tight budget or a lack of confidence in the kitchen do not get added this list, Leanne Brown has created a cookbook geared specifically for those living on a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) budget.

The 29-year-old food studies scholar started writing Good and Cheap as a capstone project for her master’s degree in food studies at New York University. Soon, the free PDF (available on her website LeanneBrown.ca/) went viral, and Brown started a KickStarter campaign to fund the printing of hardcopy cookbooks for those without internet access. A huge success online, Good and Cheap will soon be available in print.

The cookbook includes recipes for eating healthy, creative, and delicious meals for under $4 a day—an amount equivalent to the SNAP budget in New York City, where Brown resides. Unlike the uninspired, canned-soup-laden pages of budget cookbooks past, Good and Cheap offers recipes using fresh ingredients that are appealing to everyone. Brown’s tips for eating well on $4 a day include stocking your pantry with items like grains, dried beans, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and spices, and spending little to no money on store-bought beverages.

Good and Cheap is not a vegetarian cookbook, but Brown emphasizes using vegetables as the focus of the dish. Each recipe includes the total price per recipe and per serving. Brown maintains a friendly, nurturing tone throughout, empowering readers and reminding them that they too can cook healthy meals for themselves and their families, no matter what their budget may be.

“Learning to cook has a powerfully positive effect,” Brown says in the book’s introduction. “Good cooking alone can’t solve hunger in America, but it can make life happier—and that is worth every effort.”

cauliflower tacos

cauliflower tacos

Cauliflower Tacos

This is one of my favorite ways to use roasted cauliflower other than eating it straight. It’s a delicious change from the usual vegetable taco offerings. Just look at all those crunchy bits!

Roasted cauliflower (recipe below)

6 tortillas

½ cup cheese, grated

½ to 1 cup salsa (recipe below) or sauce of choice

Warm up the tortillas in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds, or on a hot griddle or skillet, or put them in a warm oven covered with a towel while you prepare everything else.

Place 2 or 3 tortillas on each plate and fill with a generous serving of cauliflower.

Sprinkle the grated cheese overtop and drizzle with salsa or sauce of your choice. Enjoy!

2–3 servings, $6 total, $2–$3 per serving

Smoky and Spicy Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted veggies are always delicious, but there’s something magical that happens to cauliflower in the oven. It gets so crispy and nutty, and that flavor is brought out even more with the spices here. I’m happy to just eat a bowl of this for dinner, maybe with an egg on top.

1 head cauliflower, cut into small pieces

2 cloves garlic, unpeeled

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Preheat oven to 400°.

In a medium-sized roasting pan, arrange the cauliflower pieces and the unpeeled cloves of garlic. Pour the butter over the cauliflower and then sprinkle the spices over the top. Use your hands to thoroughly coat the cauliflower with butter and spices.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how crispy you like the florets. Squeeze the roasted garlic throughout and trash the skins.

Serves 4, $3.40 total, 85 cents per serving

Salsa

Summertime salsas combine a load of fresh tomatoes with smaller amounts of choice vegetables and fruit. In the winter, cook canned tomatoes for a few minutes first.

Apart from its usual use on tortilla chips and tacos, this salsa is a wonderful topping for fish or chicken, as a sauce for cold noodles, or as a finishing touch on a savory breakfast.

½ medium onion, finely diced

2 cups tomatoes, chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced

1 lime, juiced

¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped

Salt and pepper 

Additions:

Diced mango, peach, plum, or pineapple

Cooked beans

Corn kernels

Garlic 

If you like raw onion, go right ahead. Otherwise, take the edge off by simmering the onion with a bit of water in a pan over medium heat. The onion is ready once the water has boiled off. If you aren’t a fan of cilantro, substitute another herb: mint, savory, or lemon balm work well.

Mix the onion, tomato, and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Be sure to add enough salt and pepper!

Taste the salsa. You’re looking for a balance of spicy from the peppers, sweet from the tomatoes, and bright and fresh from the herbs and lime juice. If something’s out of balance, add the appropriate ingredient to bring it back into balance.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Fresh salsa won’t last as long as store-bought salsa because it doesn’t have any preservatives, but it’s so tasty that I’m sure you’ll finish it fast! 

Yield: 3 cups, $2.25, 75 cents per cup

Visit LeanneBrown.com to download a copy of Good and Cheap, pre-order a hard copy, or donate to make paper copies of the cookbook available to people without internet access.

Building a Better Beef Jerky

jerky

jerky

In a church kitchen in Longmeadow, a local revolution in beef jerky is under way.

The jerky of my childhood was usually bought on a whim at a “Quickie Mart” on a long road trip, or found at camping supply shops and stashed in a backpack. It was also likely made from beef of indeterminate origin.

The two families behind King Cow Jerky might not go so far as to call their product “artisanal” but they are proud to use local grass-fed beef and have developed their jerky recipes to show it off.

A few years ago, Bob Wool and a friend were offered the opportunity to purchase a quarter of a cow from Wheel-View Farm in Shelburne. When the meat was delivered the men knew exactly what to do with the steaks and ground meat in their order. But the larger, tougher braising and roasting cuts were a different story. Bob’s son Ezra suggested that they make beef jerky as a delicious way to use it up.

And so a business was born. Bob and Ezra started making jerky at home as a hobby and found that family and friends were begging for more. They teamed up with another father-and-son team, comprised of Michael Scuderi and his sons Michael and Joseph, found an approved commercial kitchen at St. Anthony’s Church in Longmeadow, and started selling King Cow Jerky at the Forest Park Farmers’ Market in Springfield in late summer 2012.

jerky_1

jerky_1

Since then, their product line has expanded to include three flavors: the original honey chipotle, teriyaki, and sesame ginger. Each flavor comes about after tinkering with flavor ideas. The first flavor, honey chipotle, was developed after Bob and Ezra went out looking for liquid smoke (a common ingredient in most commercial jerky) and found smoky chipotle peppers instead. As avid campers, the Scuderi family had been making their own jerky for a while, and brought additional recipes and a lot of experience to the team. 

No matter the final flavor, each batch of jerky follows the same process. Once a month the team picks up 150 to 200 pounds of beef from Wheel-View Farm. They bring it into their kitchen and start by slicing it into thin strips. The beef is then put into a highly flavored marinade for 24 hours. It’s then put into the dryers for about eight hours to make its final transformation into jerky. The drying process removes excess liquid and makes the jerky safe to store at room temperature for as long as eight months. Each batch of beef results in about 50 to 75 pounds of beef jerky. Then team packages each batch into one- and two-and-a-half-ounce bags for sale.

At the time we go to press, you can find King Cow Jerky at Wheel-View Farm (Shelburne), All Things Local Coop (Amherst), and at the Forest Park Market (Springfield), the Otis Farmers’ Market and the Mass Mutual Farmers’ Market (Enfield, CT). Bob assures us all that they are working on setting up online ordering as well as getting more distribution locations in place.

For more information, visit KingCowJerky.com.

Behind the Kitchen Door at Coco's

1 Coco & The Cellar Bar Part 1-8 copy

by Nikki Gardner 

Run by Unmi Abkin and Roger Taylor, Coco and The Cellar Bar in downtown Easthampton features seasonal food and craft cocktails.

The scene is warm and lively with 32 seats and an open kitchen upstairs, plus 24 seats and a bar downstairs. You can watch the chefs in action right from your table.

If, like me, you’ve ever wanted to get a closer look behind the kitchen door at Coco, you’re in luck. I recently stopped by when Unmi, Roger, and Miranda prepped caramelized onion tarts for dinner service. A signature dish with bright, clean flavors, the tart begins with short-cut puff pastry then is topped with caramelized onions, arugula, fennel, olives, and feta.

Most of the ingredients are sourced locally from The Kitchen Garden, Red Fire Farm, Mountain View Farm, and Neighborly Farms of Vermont.

“Food is my form of art,” said Abkin. “The plate is like a canvas and I never know how it’s going to turn out.”

 

Nikki Gardner is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Artful Blogging, The Huffington Post, Smithsonian’s Food & Think, and The Daily Meal. She shares seasonal vegan and vegetarian recipes on WWLP’s Mass Appeal and in her cooking classes at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Northampton. Find her online at Art & Lemons (ArtAndLemons.com) where she chronicles everyday life in food, photos, and stories.

 

Small Oven, Big Dream

Small Oven, Big Dream

Two Women (and a Village) Build a Better Bakery

By Lynne Bertrand, photographs by Georgia Teensma

I was surprised to be—well, directed to meet a pair of new young bakers this summer by Kevin Sahagian, the chef-owner of the cult seafood shack Captain Jack’s on Route 10 in Easthampton. Sahagian pulled me aside (I was ordering a mountain of sweet fried clams) and said I had to get over to Union Street to the new Small Oven bakery, where, he said, “They make everything from scratch. And they work really hard.” 

I don’t know anyone in food who works harder than the Captain, so this news caught my attention. 

I found Small Oven at 36 Union: a sunlit storefront with thick wooden tables inside and jars full of wildflowers; racks full of buttery, high-loft croissants; and brioche egg baskets topped with fried eggs, chives, and caramelized fennel. Crusty five-grain loaves. Éclairs with thick smears of bittersweet chocolate. Muffins jammed with fresh fruit. Cookies, meringues, cakes, scones, bars, Danishes—all of it full of the produce of local farms and dairies, much of it organic.

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Amanda Milazzo was arranging fresh tarts with a mother lode of peaches and blueberries that had just come in. Julie Copoulos rolled baguettes for the afternoon run on bread. Milazzo, 35, and Copoulos, 26, are the co-owners of Small Oven. Their workbenches abut and face each other, so they can work out recipes and techniques, dispute ingredients with extreme passion, and entertain each other for the long hours they work. 

“When we first opened we worked from 4 in the morning to 11 o’clock at night,” said Milazzo. “We had no idea how much we needed of anything. We were sold out that first day by 11am. It took us a week to figure out how much we really needed to make.”

“We were literally home for five hours a day, that whole first month,” said Copoulos.

It is tempting to notice Copoulos’ fascinations with wild yeast fermentation and the complex biology of, say, rye bread, and assume she is the bread baker; Milazzo’s tendency toward cake perfection and her valedictory status in culinary school for pastry making set her up as pastry chef. But actually the partners share equally in the day’s work, which, since March, has grown from breads and pastries (and a coffee bar with local roasts and tea merchants) to include quiches, soups, and sandwiches.

“You hone the pastries till they’re perfect,” said Milazzo, “then keep them there while you introduce new things like sandwiches. It’s long hours till you get sandwiches right. When we bring a new item on the menu, it’s like a mini opening. Meaning, it’s crazy.”

Small Oven’s errand list sounds like a Tolkien shire map: Mountain View, Ravenswold, Four Star, Bear Farm, Round Hill and Park Hill Orchards, Riverside, Mapleline. These are mainly Hampshire County farms and dairies; Milazzo and Copoulos source further afield for organic flour (at Nitty Gritty Grains in Vermont, for example) and cheeses (Cabot).

With a friend, they are building a permaculture ecosystem behind their shop, where ingredients will get even more local.

Local and community are the underpinnings of Small Oven (which, by the way, is a translation of the French confection, Petit Four), familiar ideals for Milazzo and Copoulos, who were raised in hard-driving, festive, communal food cultures themselves. Milazzo comes from Italian stock by way of Syracuse, where Feasts of the Seven Fish vigils stretched from Christmas Eve into Christmas. Copoulos is one of a Greek tribe in Westfield, where racks of lamb roasted all day and night in her grandfather’s—her Papou’s—ovens. 

Milazzo and Copoulos have built a work ethic around this idea of community. A community of friends supported them in the winter of 2013 when “the gals,” as they call themselves, started a bread-share program in Easthampton: bread and pastries baked in borrowed restaurant ovens, delivered to people’s houses every Friday. That same core community of 30 burgeoned into 216 donors who put in over $17,000 for the Kickstarter campaign that funded the opening of Small Oven in March.

A community of mentors, chefs, and teachers are a constant source of phone and Instagram advice (and even used kitchen equipment) for Milazzo and Copoulos. And now restaurants are buying their goods, wholesale. Two partners at home—Milazzo’s husband, Jeff, and Copoulos’ boyfriend, Ian—have been the strongest supports, lugging dough and scrubbing sheet pans when days and nights run together in an endless pile of work. And community is what you feel when you’re in the shop, where customers are greeted by name and conversation is festive.

Festive, yes. But still so much work to do. And yet, “The more normal our schedule gets, the more time I have,” said Milazzo. “Tonight? I can go to the farmers market after work. Pick out beautiful things. Go home and cook. I love it.”

Small Oven

Tue-Sat 7am-3pm, Sun 8am-2pm, Closed Mondays 

36 Union St.

Easthampton, Massachusetts

413-527-1785

SmallOvenBakes.com

Lynne Bertrand is a freelance writer who lives in Williamsburg. Georgia Teensma is a freelance photographer and a second-year student at Hampshire College.

New Lands Farm: Helping Immigrants Put Down Fresh Roots

New Lands Farm

Helping Immigrants Put Down Fresh Roots

Text and farmer photographs by Leslie Lynn Lucio; recipes photographed by Dominic Perri

Inside the city of West Springfield is a farm that gives opportunity to refugees and immigrants from all over the world. New Lands Farm, a part of Lutheran Social Services of New England, has worked with over 100 refugee and immigrant families since 2008. The farm assists them with finding the tools and resources to support building a life in their new country. In addition to the West Springfield farm there is a second farm in Worcester. Both locations have at least 30 families working on them.

New Lands Farm’s farming families have come from many different countries: When first arriving to the United States, they came through the United Nations Refugee Resettlement Program, which helps protect the rights of refugees. They were assigned to Lutheran Social Services of New England and New Lands Farm.

Many of the farmers have previous agricultural experience prior to coming the United States. New Lands Farm is one place where these farmers can use their agricultural skills, bringing something familiar to them into a new setting.

Farmers come from many countries, including Bhutan, Vietnam, Russia, Central African Republic, and Republic of Congo. The two primary languages currently spoken amongst the farmers are Nepali and Swahili. Despite the language barriers, the farm has been able to grow and work well with consistent hard work. When farmers first start at New Lands Farm, a translator is provided to help them with introductory classes.

Shemariah Blum-Evitts, program manager, says, “Many of the farmers that have gone through training have now been here three to five years. They have picked up some basic English, but we rely a lot on younger generations to help translate for a lot of the farmers. We will often talk with children or with somebody else in the group who knows English.” The farm staffers primarily use English and pictures as their languages. For instance, the staff uses posters with pictures of what needs to be washed and how to bunch vegetables.

New Lands Farm, via a partnership with Enterprise Farm and Gardening the Community, offers a mobile market for the city of Springfield. Three days a week the market brings fresh local food to four different parts of the city, for a total of twelve different locations. Partners for a Healthier Community has helped with the outreach. Shemariah says, “It’s been a great project. We are looking to increase traffic so that the profits are working.”

Recently, the farm started a new market in the Merrick neighborhood of West Springfield—home to many of the farmers. There are grocery stores in the area, but prior to opening the market, fresh local food wasn’t readily available.

The farm also offers a CSA to the public on Tuesdays. The CSA sells crops found in most New England markets, but sometimes offers exotic produce, such as African and Asian eggplants and bitter greens that aren’t commonly found here. Traditional family recipes are also given to CSA members to help introduce them to these new-to-them vegetables.

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Shemariah says, “It’s just so wonderful to see how excited people get. They are just so grateful to have access to land. I think anyone would be, but they have such an appreciation for it, in that it was their family tradition, their livelihood. When we ask them why they like doing this, the number one reason they say is because they are farmers, that’s the blood in them. It makes them feel like who they are, because that’s what they knew before.”

You can learn more about New Lands farm, as well as volunteer opportunities at LSSNE.org/NewLandsFarm.aspx. You can also

keep up with updates and events on their Facebook page.

Leslie Lynn Lucio has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was a small child. In addition to running Beets & Barley Catering, she writes for Hilltown Families with a column: Oak and Acorn. She can be reached at info@beetsandbarley.com

Fish Cooking Facts

First, when in doubt:  ask your fishmonger!

Whole fish can seem intimidating, but it can be very easy to cook. The easiest method is roasting, as described in the recipe for Roasted Redfish. Any size fish can be roasted whole, but 1- to 4-pound fish are ideal for home cooking. Have your fishmonger gut and scale the fish for you. Cut diagonal slashes in the fish if you wish (this gives you a great way to peek at the doneness as it’s cooking). Stuff the fish with aromatics like herbs and citrus.  Roast on an oiled baking sheet at high heat (425°) until cook through, about 10 minutes per inch thickness (measure the thickest part of the fish).

Skin-on fillets are best cooked by pan-searing, pan-roasting, or grilling. Pan-searing is the best approach for fillets under ¾ inch in thickness. See Chef Schrier’s technique in the Sea Bass recipe for this method.  Pan-roasting is best for thicker fillets (¾ to 1 inch-thick) starts the same way as pan-searing. Dry your fillets, season then and lay them into a hot, oiled skillet. Press the skin down onto the skillet to crisp it.  After a few minutes, the fillets will start to turn opaque on the edges.  Put you skillet directly into a preheated 425° oven for 8-10 minutes, until cooked through.

Skin-on fillets can stick to your grill. Two tricks that work well for us: make sure your grill is medium-hot before adding your oiled fish fillets to the it. Mayonnaise makes a non-traditional, but effective, non-stick surface for your fish. Rub the skin side of the fish with the mayonnaise and put the fillets skin side down on the grill.  Cover the grill, and cook, without turning the fillets over, until cooked through.

Skinless fillets can be cooked by either of the pan cooking methods described above and can also be baked or steamed. To bake, lay your fillets in a baking dish and top with a seasoned crumb or herb topping. Bake in a preheated 375° oven until cooked through, about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish fillets. 

Steam skinless fillets over simmering water or fish stock. Your fillets will take 10 minutes per inch (sense a theme here?). If you are steaming very tender fillets, wrap them in Swiss chard, lettuce leaves or another tender green before steaming.

A Fish Tale: Sustainable Seafood in the Valley 

A Fish Tale: Sustainable Seafood in the Valley 

By Samantha Marsh

Photographs by Dominic Perri, additional photographs by Mary Reilly 

Wes Malzone’s days begin long before the sun comes up. No, he is not a baker or an on-call doctor. He is a man on a mission—a mission to bring fresh, sustainably sourced seafood to Western Massachusetts. Even if that means driving to the Massachusetts coast three (very early) mornings each week.

Wes, the founder of BerkShore Native Seafood—a curator of native, seasonal, sustainable, and premium seafood, wakes up at 4am and starts his day with a two-hour drive to Boston. He visits his preferred group of fishmongers and personally makes his selections. Wes then makes the trek back to the hills of the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires, where he delivers his treasures (the very same day) to the landlocked and seafood-deprived masses.

Wes started BerkShore as a way to reintroduce the people of Western Massachusetts to our native coastal fish. He acts as a liaison between the fisherman and the consumer by the daily selection of seafood “based on freshness, harvest method, and harvest location.”

“A lot of people are really in the dark when it comes to fish,” Wes says. He goes on to explain that authors like Michael Pollan have done a great job bringing awareness to the industrial meat industry, but that education has yet to spread to the seafood industry. When it comes to buying meat, people are generally educated and free to make choices on what they are purchasing based on their knowledge of where that meat is sourced, its quality, and how it was raised. Fish, on the other hand, is still mysterious to many.DSC01061 copy

“People talk themselves into believing that fish is going to be fresh,” Wes says. The truth is, while it may be easy to think a fish is a fish is a fish, that most certainly is not the case. “People have lost touch with local and seasonal fish,” says Wes. He is doing his best to reconnect the people of Western Massachusetts with good-quality seafood and take the mystery out of fish once and for all.

Wes grew up in Scituate, Massachusetts, home to some of the freshest seafood on the East Coast, and has maintained his friendships with many of Scituate’s fishermen. A graduate of the University of Vermont’s environmental studies program, Wes worked for 10 years in corporate sales before realizing that he wanted to pursue a career that he was passionate about.

He had always been interested in food (“I’m Italian, food was a huge part of my upbringing”), but he never had any interest in being a chef. It wasn’t until Wes spent time living in San Francisco that he discovered food as a business.

“It was the first time I had ever heard of ‘locally grown,’” Wes recalls. After stints in San Francisco, Miami and Washington, DC, Wes moved to Western Massachusetts, where he saw that the supply of freshly caught fish was severely lacking. Curious about where local chefs were finding their seafood, he began to knock on the back doors of restaurants and ask if they would be interested in deliveries of fresh Massachusetts seafood.

“More people said yes than no,” Wes says. And that was that—in May 2011, BerkShore was born.

When asked about the biggest challenge his business faces, Wes replies that his biggest challenge isn’t actually a challenge at all, but an opportunity.

“The biggest opportunity is to reintroduce chefs and the public to the texture, seasonal availability, and varying prices of fresh fish.” Most people are not used to the unique flavors of fresh fish. This is largely because the majority of the fish displayed in supermarket cases has been frozen, thawed, shipped from hundreds (or thousands) of miles away, and has consequently been stripped of most of its flavor.

Fish from BerkShore, Wes says, is “harvested yesterday, cut this morning, in your kitchen this afternoon.” It’s fish that tastes, well, like fish. And that is definitely a good thing.

“I want to talk about fish,” Wes says of his conversations with both customers and fishermen.

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His first goal is to find out who his customer is, what they are looking for, and then will go to the source to find the freshest, best-quality fish he can. While price is certainly a topic on everyone’s mind, that is not what BerkShore is about.

“Price depends on supply and demand,” Wes explains. There is no way of knowing how much something is going to be one day versus the next. It all depends on what the fishermen bring in off their boats. Some days they will have a lot of a particular fish, and it will be cheap, and other days it will be more expensive. “I’m mainly concerned with quality, not price.”

BerkShore customers have tasted and seen firsthand the quality in fresh, seasonal seafood.

“My customers are constantly saying ‘I didn’t know ‘x’ could taste like that!’”. On a recent Tuesday at the Northampton market, local resident Theresa Carter bought a pound of Pollock. She has been buying from BerkShore for two years and says that before Wes “I wasn’t sure about what to buy, whether it was sustainable and fresh. I know what I’m getting now.” That day’s purchase was destined for fish tacos, which she says even her young son likes to eat.

 

After three years in business, Wes’s reputation as a stickler for quality has resulted in him getting the best seafood on the dock. Recently, when Wes asked one of the partners on the fish pier about a recent catch, the purveyor went on to say “Well, I have this swordfish … but it’s not for you”—that particular fish was not of the quality that BerkShore demands.

Wes works hard to cultivate his relationships with his customers and the fishermen that he sources his fish from. “The value is in the relationship,” Wes says. Executive Chef and Owner, Daniel Martinez of Bistro les Gras in Northampton has tried a few different species in his restaurant thanks to BerkShore: “Customers will always surprise you! Sometimes we put a "non-traditional" fish on and it will sell quickly and other times I have to revamp the dish a bit to make it more "comfortable". If I am concerned about it, I'll lure them in with a preparation or accompaniment that has been successful in the past with a different fish or meat. We definitely gave fun playing the ‘will it sell?’ game, win or lose.”

DSC01055One of Wes’s goals is to promote the lesser-known species of seafood. Selling less-familiar types of fish is important to sustaining the fish industry in general, as it focuses on eating what is in season and what is available, versus farming fish for a particular demand or increasing the amount of bycatch (fish or other marine species that are unintentionally caught while a boat is out fishing for a particular fish). These lesser-known species are also almost always just as good as, if not better than, the more familiar types of fish. Wes sells a lot of hake and pollock (light, flaky, white fish that can be used in place of cod) as well as red fish (ocean perch), mackerel, and other smaller fish species.

An advocate for these lesser-known species, Wes also advocates for the livelihoods of fishermen, many of whom fish for fresh Atlantic cod.

 

Nate Sustick, Executive Chef of Paul and Elizabeth’s in Northampton has had success with redfish. “Customers have really enjoyed [it],” he says. “Normally we run it as a blackboard lunch special, broiled with a parmesan herb crust. I most enjoy the scallops & cod, though I have to say all the products gave been five star and an honor and pleasure to eat and serve.”

 

“I love selling cod,” Wes says. Fresh cod is far more flavorful than the cod many of us are used to—BerkShore customers continually tell Wes “I didn’t know that cod tasted this good!” and “Supporting local fisheries is so important.” Not only does it sustain our fish, our oceans, and ourselves, but it supports so many jobs and the livelihoods of fishermen—an occupation that must be sustained.

“Fish is a complex issue,” Wes says with a sigh. While this is true, BerkShore is doing its best to bring these issues to the surface and educate diners about seafood. Where to start? By taking the “fishiness” out of fish and reconnecting with the delicious, fresh, and sustainably harvested seafood from our very own coast.

 

BerkShore fish is available for sale at the Tuesday Market in Northampton, the Great Barrington Farmers Market, and Mountain View Farm in Easthampton. Find them on Facebook and Instagram too.

Local restaurants serving BerkShore fish include Paul and Elizabeth’s in Northampton, 30 Boltwood in Amherst, Chez Albert in Amherst, The Lumberyard in Amherst, and The Alvah Stone in Montague.

 

Samantha Marsh is a writer and food enthusiast living in Amherst, Massachusetts. A graduate of the UMass Amherst Journalism and Anthropology departments, Samantha now works as a literary associate at The Lisa Ekus Group, a culinary agency in Hatfield, MA. Samantha is a lover of lemon desserts, seafood, and all types of hot sauce.

 

 

DIY: Hot Stuff!

2014_July24_EdiblePioneerValley_Recipes_1262Hot Stuff!

By Don Lesser 

There are three families of bottled hot sauces: chili pepper-salt-vinegar combos, like Frank’s or Texas Pete; fermented hot sauces, like Tabasco; and flavored hot sauces, like sriracha or Melinda’s. About six years ago, I set out to make my own hot sauce using local peppers. It’s taken a number of batches, but I’ve settled on the recipes that work well.

The basic technique is pretty simple: Simmer chopped hot peppers—cayenne, Serrano, jalapeño—in vinegar and salt, pass them through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds, and thin the resulting purée with enough vinegar to get the texture you like. You can use either green or red peppers, but any amount of green peppers results in an olive-drab color that is not very appealing. McIlhenny, the makers of Tabasco, reportedly have a red stick, a baton rouge, that they used to select peppers of the proper bright color.

For a sriracha-style sauce, add garlic and sugar to the simmering mash. A Melinda’s-style sauce includes shredded carrots and habaneros. Once you have the basic technique down, you can experiment with ingredients until you have created your own unique blend. You can always raise the heat level (see the sidebar for a discussion of Scoville units) by adding one or two habanero peppers to the mash.

I keep my pepper mash in the refrigerator for several months before finishing and bottling it. The aging helps the flavors meld and mutes the bite of the vinegar. If you start the sauce in September, it will be ready for gift-giving by December. I also keep my finished sauce in the refrigerator; the salt and vinegar are preservatives and the sauce will keep for months, but the cold keeps the color nice and bright. The sriracha-style sauce stiffens and separates after a month, so I consider it a fresh sauce, best used soon after it is are made.

Cayenne PeppersI’m not as fond of the taste of fermented sauces, but I’ve experimented with them enough to see the key problem is keeping a white mold from forming on the mash. McIlhenny seals its mash in barrels with holes bored in the top and covered with mesh. A two-inch layer of rock salt over the mesh keeps mold spores and insects out. You can approximate this with a French press: put the mash in the press, layer rock salt on top of the plunger and make sure to leave enough space between the mash and the plunger to keep the salt dry. Leave the mash in a dark, not-too-hot place to ferment. Bubbles will form on the side of the mash. When they stop forming, after a week or so, the mash is ready. McIlhenny ages its mash for two years for Tabasco. 

Born in Queens, NY, Don Lesser came to the Pioneer Valley for an MFA in fiction in 1977. He has spent the last 30+ years living, cooking, and writing here. He currently lives in Amherst. He can be contacted via russelnod.com.

 

Chili Peppers from Your Local Farmer

Tim Wilcox owns the Kitchen Garden Farm with his wife, Caroline Pam. They are big fans of hot chilies and have found several varieties that grow well in our climate.

Jalapeños: We grow the El Jefe variety. It has a nice level of heat and is great for pico de gallo or roasting for tomatillo salsa. Hotter than other jalapeños, it’s probably bit too hot for poppers. 

Sriracha Peppers: Huy Fong sriracha is made with red ripe jalapeño peppers, but we like to use a mix of cayenne, cherry bomb, and large paprika peppers instead. We find that they ripen earlier and give us a longer season for making our sauce. Paprikas give volume and color, cayennes give heat, and the fleshy cherry bombs give a nice thick texture to the sauce.

Thai Chilies: We grow a variety called Bangkok, which makes a very large plant that is loaded with hundreds of skyward facing, bracingly hot chilies. At the end of the season we harvest whole plants, dry most of the red ones and freeze the remaining green peppers for making Thai food throughout the year. Fresh or frozen, they’re perfect for green papaya salad and various dipping sauces and condiments like nam pla prik (chilies in fish sauce). The dried peppers can be roasted and made into roasted chili powder and roasted chili paste (nam prik pao).

Habanero Types: The habanero family of peppers (Capsicum chinese) contains a multitude of gorgeous chilies of all different colors. These peppers are insanely hot, but also have amazing tropical fruity flavors. In addition to the typical orange variety, we love Fatali, a large African pepper that is pointy and scary-looking, and Caribbean Red, which makes a beautiful red, heavily ribbed habanero-type pepper. All three are easy to grow and high yielding here in Massachusetts. 

Ghost Peppers: We grow Bhut Jolokia ghost peppers. Despite what you may read online, these peppers are no harder to grow than habaneros. They are indeed seriously, perhaps dangerously, hot, but they’re also really flavorful and make a great hot sauce just boiled with a little salt and vinegar and puréed. A few drops of the sauce allows you to experience the intensity and flavor of these peppers without overdoing it. 

Seed sources: Our favorite sources for pepper seeds are Johnny’s Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Totally Tomatoes

Tradition and Transformation: Century Farms in the Pioneer Valley

By Sarah Platanitis

The Pioneer Valley is home to nearly 40 Century Farms, farms that have remained in the same family and been in continuous operation for 100 years or more. This honor is bestowed by the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation and is well-earned considering how much of the bountiful Connecticut River corridor has been lost to large-scale building projects and the burdens of time. There are many stories to tell and here are three of them. 

 

WHEEL-VIEW FARM

Carolyn Gowdy Wheeler and her husband, John, of Wheel-View Farm in Shelburne, purchased their property from her parents in 1979. “We bought the farm from my parents and, in a way, that’s unusual because many people inherit the family farm. Farmers don’t have any retirement accounts so that paid for their retirement,” said Carolyn. Wheel-View Farm, which sits upon the land of a homestead dating back to the mid-1700s, was originally purchased in 1896 by Carolyn’s grandparents, William Charles Reynolds and Mary Barrett Wilson. It was passed down to their son, Stanley, in 1916 before being inherited by his daughter, Betty Reynolds Gowdy, and her husband, Harry. “Even though it was in my mother’s family, my father worked it. My parents sold half the dairy farm for development. We purchased the rest and rented pastures until we couldn’t find anyone to take them anymore,” said Carolyn. “We decided to get some beef cattle to keep the land open. It never was the plan to raise grass-fed beef but people wanted it and it’s really become a business now.”

The Wheelers started with three Scottish Highland cows in 2002 and welcomed 41 calves this past spring to bump their total cattle count to over 180. With the farm and sales growing more over the past dozen years than expected, they’ve added a store with 10 box freezers to meet customer demand. 

“We send six animals on a regular basis to Athol to be processed. We don’t have a cattle trailer or freezer truck but we team up with those who do. There’s a certain amount of competition with other farms but it’s really a cooperation to do things together,” said Carolyn. John, who grew up on another dairy farm two miles away, went to school nights on GI Bill to get a degree in business management. He farmed part-time during his 20-year tenure at Mohawk High School teaching business and computer technology. The Wheelers were early adopters of computers and admit that life on the farm would be very different without them.

“When John first said he was going to get a domain name, I thought whoever is going to find us? It was so new at that point. Now, if we didn’t have the webpage, we probably wouldn’t be in business,” said Carolyn, sharing that first-page Google searches and webpage advertising leads locals to their driveway and that being tech-savvy has made daily schedules, marketing, accounting, and keeping in touch with clients as easy as picking up their smart phones. The internet has also helped get word out about the farm’s apple orchard and maple syrup production, part of their efforts to diversify the bounty coming from the 320-acre mix of pasture lands and woods.  

 

SZAWLOWSKI POTATO FARM

Swaz Brothers SEP 76 Color copy

Frank Szawlowski and his brothers, John, Chet, and Stanley, continue the family tradition of growing potatoes at Szawlowski Potato Farm. The farm started in Northampton in 1910 under the supervision of their “gentleman farmer” grandfather, John R., and steadily expanded to include acreage in Hatfield under the direction of their father, Chester. The family homestead and business headquarters moved permanently in 1972 after eminent domain claimed their Northampton land for the city’s industrial park.

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“My grandfather knew how to do business and he started the contract with the A&P. He came over from Poland at 16, raised carrots and potatoes, then worked in the mill all night,” said Frank. “My father was a farmer in overalls; he joked that he ‘made’ his help. The four of us boys did the work of 10. We didn’t play, we worked.”
Frank recalled how his high school football coach would send the team to help finish the day’s work so the boys could play during the fall potato harvest season.

The brothers are all equal participants in the business, but each has a specialty. When he was 18, Frank started going to the Springfield Market for his father and the daily trips acquainted him with buying and bidding. John focused on farming and pest management; mechanically inclined Chet helped with machinery, while Stanley concentrated on trucking and packing. Now, their children and grandchildren, fourth and fifth generations, are assisting them with the daily operations of the bustling company.

“All of us had careers but we came back to the farm,” said Diane Szawlowski-Mullins, marketing and public relations manager and daughter of Frank. “Everyone is different and we all have a role. We bring our skill sets to the plate and it all comes together to keep making it all work.”

Szawlowski currently handles over 3,500 acres between their own land and local grower partnerships. It is rare these days to see local farms centering on a single crop, and diversifying came about as a successful venture into the packing and processing of other growers’ potatoes from around the country. This ensures the freshest product for their brand and private label customers.

“It’s a big business and it’s getting more expensive to operate. Farm land is so scarce but we recently purchased protected land in Hadley-Sunderland to help with rotation,” said Frank. “We bid our potatoes in June for the August harvest. You got to sit back, figure it out and hope you’re right. The weather is more unpredictable than ever. It’s surely a lot of stress but it’s a good life.” 

 

McKINSTRY MARKET GARDEN

McKinstry Market Garden, a multi-crop farm in Chicopee, earned its Century Farm status in 1985.
“Farming goes back many generations in my family,” said 86-year-old Alfred McKinstry. “My great-grandmother was a Chapin and they were the first settlers in Chicopee. My grandfather took over this farm in the 1880s and my father started the vegetable business in 1908 with a horse and wagon.”
McKinstry’s hallmark farm stand was built in 1950. Alfred recalled how his father had scolded him because it was built too far away from the road. Today, it’s on the edge of the widened and formerly busy Montgomery Street that connected Chicopee and Holyoke before Interstate 391 was constructed.

“Railroad tracks used to run up to Westover, too. They’re gone now but they cut our farm right in half. It was an awkward thing to do,” said Alfred. “My father had another farm for asparagus in Chicopee that was taken for Westover. We were fortunate we were able to come here because he had lost most of his land to the government.”

Alfred purchased the 30-acre farm from his father in 1959. A 1951 graduate of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts, he has seen harvests become increasingly more mechanized and diverse.

“Years ago there wasn’t as much refrigeration available so you had to move your crops almost the same day. We grow all kinds of vegetables: sweet corn, a lot of tomatoes, all kinds of beans, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. It’d be a lot easier if we just grew one or two crops but today you have to do a little bit of everything.”
Bill McKinstry, Alfred’s son and 1983 Stockbridge alum, and his wife, Nicole, have taken over the charge of the farm along with a second inherited farm in Granby. The farm stand shutters in October to start planning for the next year and to tend their largest and most laborious wholesale crop: squash. He credits a loyal line of customers for the long life of their stand and is proud of the family that pitches in to work.
“We couldn’t do it without each other. This farm wouldn’t be what it is without my dad and we’re lucky my father is still working as he is,” said Bill. “When someone’s missing, it’s a little harder for everyone. When my mom passed, I picked up some of her jobs and so has my wife. My three sisters have their own careers but they still help with the things they used to do with mom.”

Alfred’s grandsons are interested to continue the business that began so many years before they were born.
“I want to go into farming. I’ve always helped and want to keep doing it,” said 15-year-old Will McKinstry, a sophomore at Chicopee Comprehensive High School who plans to attend Cornell to study crop production and management. “My brother is a year younger and very good with customers. We want to make it better in the future but we’ll keep the way we grow our corn the same.” 

Read the stories of farms across the Commonwealth that have withstood time in Massachusetts Century Farms, a book by the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation Women’s Committee and published in cooperation with the Massachusetts State Grange. To learn more about Century Farms, visit mfbf.net/MACenturyFarms.

Wheel-View Farm
212 Reynolds Rd.
Shelburne, MA
413-625-2900
WheelViewFarm.com 

Szawlowski Potato Farms
103 Main St.
Hatfield, MA
413-247-9240
SwazPotato.com

McKinstry Market Garden Inc.
753 Montgomery St.
Chicopee, MA
413-536-2043
Find them on Facebook here

 

Sarah Platanitis is a food & lifestyle journalist from Feeding Hills, Massachusetts.  She is the curator of the Women & Food Project and authors the cooking blog, Sarah in the Kitchen.  To learn more about Sarah, visit sarahplatanitis.com.

A Busy Restaurant Serves up Stone Soup

By: Jacqueline Church 

The largest restaurant in Chicopee may be one you’ve never considered. Serving over 100,000 meals per month, the Chicopee School District may not appear in any dining guide, but just like at popular eateries, local and seasonal foods such as roasted asparagus or kale chips regularly appear on the menu.

In a scenario reminiscent of the old stone soup legend, cooperation, resourcefulness, and contributions from many corners produce a healthy, delicious outcome for the whole Chicopee community.

In the original tale, hungry travelers enter a village asking for food. Townspeople are reluctant to feed the strangers but when the clever travelers plop a stone into a pot of water and begin cooking their “stone soup” curious villagers ask what they’re making. The strangers describe their soup, which is quite good, but could be better with just a carrot. Ah, that’s no problem, the first villager spares a carrot to improve the soup. An onion, though, that would improve the stone soup even more. A second villager is enticed to contribute. And so it goes until everyone chips in something. In the end the whole town enjoys the delicious results of their combined efforts.

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The Chicopee “stone soup” recipe includes:
-    feeding students (and seniors) nutritious meals year-round
-    incorporating locally grown foods
-    supporting local farms
-    building nutrition awareness in students and their families
-    creating jobs and supporting new small businesses 

National Issues, Local Flavor
Nationwide, over 14% of families experience food insecurity, meaning that their access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources. Nearly 60% of Chicopee School District students receive free or reduced-price meals. For many of the youngest, their only access to fresh fruits and vegetables is at school.

Joanne Lennon, director of food service for the district, ensures students get nutritious meals featuring local produce. Through the support of WestMass ElderCare she also serves 200 seniors per day. Constant innovation, grants, and relationships with local farmers like Joe Czajkowski exemplify efforts that make other farm-to-school projects successful. Community support comes from the Massachusetts Farm to School Project (Mass Farm to School) and the Franklin County Community Development Corporation (the CDC).

Mass Farm to School began 10 years ago, with a focus on agricultural and economic development. Lisa Damon, farm-to-cafeteria coordinator, says students at more than 200 schools enjoy local foods as a result of their efforts to find new markets for farmers. Matching farmers and schools, facilitating relationships and providing promotional assistance are all part of the crucial bridge between farmers and customers. Increasing the access to healthy, locally grown food is another goal. Promotions such as the Harvest of the Month Club reach students in this important market segment; 130 schools participated last year with materials like “I tried it” stickers, trading cards, and posters.

Lennon and her staff of 100 full- and part-time workers produce from-scratch meals though many come with little or no prior culinary experience. Recipe contests are one way she encourages them to put the Pioneer Valley on the menu.

Weighing innovation against budget and time constraints ensures multiple goals are met. The high rate of reimbursement at Chicopee means each project carries the opportunity to cover labor costs and impact her bottom line. (The USDA provides funding to cover some or all of the costs of reduced-cost or free meals.) Time can be a challenge however. The wait in a lunch line can push students toward grab-and-go options. Expanding the lunch hour, however, would mean longer days and more teacher hours, budget the schools don’t have.

Still, Lennon is proud of successful programs that are improving her students’ and their families’ access to more nutritious foods. The “Breakfast in the Classroom” pilot coming to the Stefanik School is one of the most exciting grant-enabled pilots on the horizon. Each school offers breakfast before classes, but if kids run late they’ll often skip it. This has consequences for their nutrition, their ability to concentrate, and impacts the classroom environment. By offering breakfast after the start of school, in the classroom, almost no kids miss breakfast.

This a positive outcome for the kids, as well as the budget. At Stefanik 90% of the population are on free or reduced-cost meal plans, so building breakfast into the day should boost participation from 50% to 80%, covering costs and labor via USDA reimbursement.

Supported by a Kendall Foundation grant and facilitated by the University of Massachusetts, Chicopee High and Comprehensive High will feature local vegetables in new stir-fry stations this year. And in a move Lennon believes might be a first, she’s just hired a sustainability coordinator for the K–12 dining program.

Third-generation farmer Joe Czajkowski speaks highly of Lennon and of the support of Mass Farm to School Project that brought them together. Czajkowski farms 300 acres, over one third of which is certified organic. In addition to supplying local Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and others, he’s seen steady growth in the orders from Chicopee since they began to work together.

Last year Czajkowski’s farm sold 27 different types of fruits and vegetables to schools. He’s happy to put his land to more beneficial use and is looking forward to providing even more locally grown produce to schools going forward. Logistics are a challenge. While the food miles are reduced by buying locally, he still has to make 13 stops for 13 schools. It’s trickier to manage than a school like Worcester where it’s a single stop. Overall, selling to the schools works because of the strong local relationships this farm-to-school project engenders.

He credits Lennon with sincerity, communications, and tenacity to make it work. These are the very same qualities noted in the USDA Farm to School Team’s Summary report (July 11) issued after a survey of 15 school districts’ implementation of farm-to-school programs in the year 2010.

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As a small-business incubator, the Franklin County Community Development Corporation, or CDC, is all about sustaining growth in the local economy Nico Lustig, food business development specialist, says helping local businesses grow is its chief goal. From exploring small food business formation, to providing business counseling and small business lending, to offering food processing and packing, the CDC has been an important part of many thriving local startups.

Now in its 35th year, the CDC and its Western Mass Food Processing Center operation have completed an experiment in using freezing and canning technique to extend the growing season.  As we go to press, they are installing new equipment to improve capacity and efficiency. This will enable them to meet the growing demand for services along the farm-to-schools continuum.

The ability to freeze, can, and store the harvest is beyond what any individual school or farm can handle. Lustig anticipates the CDC freezing up to 250,000 pounds of regional produce for schools and hospitals. The primary crops will be carrots, broccoli, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes.  Later they will experiment with other frozen vegetables including zucchini, beets, cauliflower, and vegetable medleys.

The CDC’s expansion is the last contribution to Chicopee’s stone soup, begun by Mass Farm to School’s pairing Joe Czajkowski with Joanne Lennon. Students and their families enjoy local produce, and the community benefits from job creation, good land use, and local spending.

 

When Jacqueline Church is not teaching people to cook food they love with Kitchen Confidence, she talks to strangers about food. Whether at the farmers' market, in guided tours, articles, at a podium, or at the bar. You can also find her at JacquelineChurch.com or @LDGourmet on Twitter.