Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WESTERN MASS FARMER AND AG COMMISSION GATHERINGS - AGENDA
Saturday, Dec 12, 2009 – Deerfield Town Hall
Saturday, Jan 9, 2010 – Hancock Shaker Village
8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. / $10 Fee Includes Lunch, Coffee, Materials
(free registration if you attend only afternoon session)

8:30 – 9:00 Registration and Coffee

9:00 – 9:15 Welcome and Overview – Commissioner Scott Soares

FOR AGRICULTURAL COMMISSIONS AND FRIENDS

9:15 – 10:45 Roundtable for AgCom Members – Successful AgCom Projects, Excise Tax Waivers, Right to Farm Signs, Farm-Neighbor Disputes, Promotion of Farm Products, & How to Stay Up-to-date on Who is Doing What – Kathy Orlando, Sheffield Land Trust, Moderator (Hancock), Phil Korman, CISA, Moderator (Deerfield)

10:45 – 11:00 Break

FOR ALL FARMERS AND AGRICULTURAL COMMISSIONS

11:00 – 12:30 Current Laws and Issues – Food Safety, Standard Farm Practices, Crop Insurance, Dairy Loan Program, Chapter 61A, & many others – MDAR General Counsel Bob Ritchie, Asst Commissioner Nathan L’Etoile, Rep. Denis Guyer, Cris Coffin, AFT

12:30 – 1:15 Buffet Lunch and Informal Discussion

FOR ALL FARMERS AND AGRICULTURAL COMMISSIONS

1:15 – 3:30 Sources of Funding, Technical Assistance & Information for Farmers
Panel and Displays by Various Federal, State, and Private Agencies: Grant
Programs, Incentives, Loans, Farm Energy, Farmland Protection, Others.

Sponsors: MDAR, TTOR/Highland Communities Initiative, Berkshire Grown, CISA, Berkshire-Pioneer RC&D, Conservation Districts, Mass Farm Bureau, American Farmland Trust, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Sheffield Land Trust, Franklin Land Trust, Franklin Council of Governments, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Berkshire Natural Resources Council, Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, Deerfield Agricultural Commission, Hancock Agricultural Commission, Pittsfield Agricultural Commission, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Monday, November 30, 2009

Make a Gingerbread House for Share the Bounty!


Help Share the Bounty by making a gingerbread house for Wheatleigh's 6th Annual Gingerbread Competition and Silent Auction.

The rules are simple:
1. All ingredients used in and around the house must be edible
2. Except lights. You can use lights if you'd like. We can't eat those.

Then, bring your house to the Lenox Community Center by 2:30 on Sunday, Dec. 6th. We will have a silent auction for the houses, and all of the proceeds will benefit Share the Bounty.

Share the Bounty raises money to buy shares in CSA farms, and then we donate those shares to soup kitchens, food pantries and WIC participants.

Here's a recipe for gingerbread houses from Holly Evans, the pastry chef at Wheatleigh.

Gingerbread For Houses

1 cup shortening
1 cup molasses
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tap baking soda
.5 tsp salt
5 cup AP flour(approx)

-combine shortening, sugar and molasses in a pot-bring to simmer
-remove from heat and add baking soda, salt and cinnamon
-graddually stir in flour 1 cup at a time(you may not need 5 cups)
-roll out to 1/4 inch thick-chill
-cut shapes
-bake cold dough @300 for 20 minutes until firm

Icing Glue (for putting the house together)

This recipe is for a single batch. You will probably need several, but if you make them all at once, keep them in separate bowls: it dries very quickly and is like cement. Keep it well covered: one piece of saran wrap touching the icing itself and another on the bowl.

3 egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
3 - 3 1/2 cups icing sugar

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they begin to foam. Add the cream of tartar and beat until the whites are stiff but not dry. Gradually beat in the icing sugar, beating for about 5 minutes until it reaches spreading consistency. Keep it covered and refrigerated until needed.

For more info on the event, please contact Wheatleigh at 413-637-0610

Join us! Dec. 6th from 3 to 5! Free, fun event for the whole family!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holiday Farmers' Markets


Berkshire Grown hosted more than 60 regional farmers and food producers in the Berkshires reaching more than 2,000 community members at the first annual Holiday Farmers’ Markets on Saturday, November 21.

“The markets were an overwhelming success and we were thrilled to have seen such a turnout,” said Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown. “We had an impressive number of vendors at both locations and received very positive feedback from customers and vendors alike. Everyone wants to do it again next year,” she added.

In Great Barrington, more than 500 people shopped the 35-vendor Holiday Farmers’ Market at the old firehouse on Castle Street. The Williamstown Holiday Farmers’ Market, which took place at the Williams College Field House, attracted more than 1,400 community members. The two community markets helped extend the selling season of farmers while promoting the use of locally grown and produced food for the Thanksgiving season.

One vendor reported the Holiday Farmers’ Market was the highest-grossing farmers’ market on record for their farm. Every vendor said they would definitely do it again next year and community members requested a second market before the Christmas holiday.

“We could not believe the support we received for the Williamstown Holiday Farmers’ Market,” said Zheutlin. “We’re really energized by the demand for local food and for the creation of a community around our farms and food producers and are already talking about another holiday market (or two) for 2010,” she added.

In support of Berkshire Grown, this event was sponsored by Williams College (The Sustainable Food and Agriculture Program in conjunction with Dining Services), Mezze Restaurant Group and Slow Food of Western Massachusetts. Visit www.berkshiregrown.org for additional details.

Copy and paste in these links to see photos

http://picasaweb.google.com/barbro17/HarvestMarket?feat=directlink#


http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=williams+college+holiday+farmers+market&z=e

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wheatleigh's Gingerbread House Competition and Silent Auction to benefit Share the Bounty






Join with Wheatleigh for its 6th annual afternoon of holiday fun and spirited competition!

Sunday December 6th, 2009, 3:00 - 5:00 pm at the Lenox Community Center, 65 Walker Street, Lenox, MA

Create a Gingerbread House for a good cause!

Call Wheatleigh 413-627-0610 for entry details.

Donations welcome, all proceeds go to benefit Share the Bounty, Berkshire Grown's project to support local farms and food pantries.

Thanksgiving Dinners


Café Reva
Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
238 Tyler St.
Pittsfield, MA

(413) 442-6161
_______________________________________________

Cranwell Resort, Spa & Golf Club
Thanksgiving Dinner Buffet in the Mansion Ballroom
Thursday, November 26, 2009 from noon to 8 p.m.

For reservations, call (413) 637-1364, Ext. 0 or Ext. 605.

55 Lee Road, Lenox, MA
Tel: (413) 881-1663 | Fax: (413) 637-0571 | www.cranwell.com
________________________________________________
Gala Restaurant
Thanksgiving Dinner 11:30am-2:30pm
222 Adams Rd.
Williamstown, MA
413.458.9611

$39.95 Adult, $33.00 Seniors, $12.95 Children 6-12 yrs, FREE Children 5 and under.
___________________________________
Gramercy Bistro
Thanksgiving Dinner
24 Marshall Street
North Adams, MA
413-663-5300

___________________________________
Haven Café
Take out Thanksgiving
8 Franklin St.
Lenox, MA
413-637-8948

Please order by Sunday, November 22th.
All orders must be paid in full at time of order.
____________________________________________________

The Interlaken Inn
Thanksgiving Buffet
74 Interlaken Rd.
Lakeville, CT

$29.95 for adults
____________________________________

Perigree
Thanksgiving dinner
1575 Pleasant Street (Route 102)
South Lee, MA

413-528-5225
___________________________________________

The Red Lion Inn
Thanksgiving Dinner
30 Main St.
Stockbridge, MA

Served from Noon - 6:30 PM
$49 adults, $24.50 children 12 and under
Please call 413.298.1690 for reservations
___________________________________________________

Rt 7 Grill
All you can eat buffet Thanksgiving
999 Main Street
Great Barrington, MA
413-528-3235

$30 per person - $15 per kid 12 & under
Noon -4
_______________________________________________________

Swiss Hutte
Thanksgiving Dinner
Route 23
Egremont, MA
(413) 528-6200

Served from 1pm to 6pm.
_____________________________________________

La Terrazza
Thanksgiving dinner
51 Walker St.
Lenox, MA

$50.00 Per Person*
*Plus Tax & Gratuity*
Serving 12Noon-6PM
Reservations: 413-637-2532
www.gatewaysinn.com
___________________________________________

The Williams Inn
Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner
1090 Main St.
Williamstown, MA
Serving 12 noon to 4 p.m.

$29. per person * Children under 10 years $14.50
Children under 5 years variable
Plus Massachusetts 6.25% Meal Tax

RESERVATIONS A MUST - CALL 413-458-9371

18% gratuity added to parties of eight or more
______________________________________________

THE WILLIAMSVILLE INN
Festive All-Organic Thanksgiving Menu
The Williamsville Inn, 286 Great Barrington Road (Route 41)
West Stockbridge, MA

Thursday, November 26, 2009 1- 6 p.m. By advance reservation

3-course prix fix menu - $48 per person/ children under 10 half price
(beverages, tax & gratuity not included)
***Also available pre-ordered as take-out ***
**Early reservations are highly recommended**

For reservations, please call 413-274-6118
www.williamsvilleinn.com

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Popular Courses for Farmers

MDAR is once again planning to offer two very popular courses for both aspiring and experienced farmers during the coming winter months:

1) Exploring Your Small Farm Dream (Explorer)

The Explorer Program is intended for those who are considering farming as a small and likely part-time business. Its purpose is to help pre-venture, aspiring farmers learn what it will take to start and manage their own profitable agricultural enterprise, and to decide whether this is a path they really want to/can take. Explorer makes use of four guided group sessions, an acclaimed workbook, Instructors experienced in starting ag businesses, and extensive supporting resources. The goal of Explorer is to help you decide whether starting an agricultural business is right for you and, based on that decision, to help you plan practical next steps. It was created to help you articulate the clear vision and goals you will need to guide a new agricultural venture. Explorer meets four times (6-9 PM) over a six week window, usually beginning in January or February.

2) Tilling the Soil of Opportunity (TTS)

This innovative, farmer friendly course focuses on existing agricultural businesses that will benefit from an organized look at their current operation in order to plan for growth and change. Over 240 Massachusetts agricultural enterprises have completed TTS.

The course Instructor guides participants through creation of a business plan to improve decision making on the owner/operator’s farm. MDAR has enhanced the 35 hours of group meetings with additional individualized technical assistance and confidential one-on-one financial planning. The Instructor visits every participant’s farm/ag enterprise at least once during the course.

TTS is facilitated by a nationally certified and experienced Instructor, and is monitored by the Director of the MDAR Agricultural Business Training Program. Our local partner agencies and organizations contribute additional and ongoing regional resources for participants.

Guest speakers are drawn from local farm businesses and service providers to personalize the key concepts of many sessions

After the course ends, selected students receive additional individual technical assistance in topic areas most important to completing a working business plan. Basic costs for this service are included.

The TTS business plan can simplify eligibility for federal, state and local assistance programs

This course qualifies as a "Borrower Training Program" for the USDA Farm Service Agency, and can enhance efforts to secure funds from any lender

TTS meets 10 times (6-9 PM) on a once weekly basis over an 11 week window that begins in January.

***As usual, we locate Explorer and TTS courses according to demand in a region. We have tentative plans to offer a session of each in Amherst and a session of TTS in Southeastern Mass. The sooner you get information and register (see information below), the sooner we can get them scheduled!

3) NEW! In addition, we will be piloting one session (in Amherst) of a new offering for past Explorer graduates who are still working on taking the next steps but are not ready for TTS. We are calling this session Small Farm Planner. It will begin in December and will meet three times over three months, with extensive email interaction between. If you have completed Explorer – here in MA or elsewhere – and are familiar with the workbook for that course, please contact Rick Chandler (see below ASAP!

TO RECEIVE REGISTRATION INFORMATION OR TO TALK TO THE PROGRAM DIRECTOR CONTACT:

Rick Chandler

Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources

101 University Drive, Suite C-4

Amherst, MA 01002

Email: rick.chandler@state.ma.us

Phone: 413-548-1905

Sunday, September 27, 2009

'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food'

The United States Department of Agriculture -- yes, that's the USDA -- Launches 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' Initiative to Connect Consumers with Local Producers to Create New Economic Opportunities for Communities!

"An American people that is more engaged with their food supply will create new income opportunities for American agriculture," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Reconnecting consumers and institutions with local producers will stimulate economies in rural communities, improve access to healthy, nutritious food for our families, and decrease the amount of resources to transport our food."

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/knowyourfarmer?navid=KNOWYOURFARMER

Friday, August 7, 2009

http://www.nofasummerconference.org/lateblight.html

"AMHERST, MA -- In response to a blight epidemic affecting tomato and potato growers throughout Massachusetts and all Northeast states this season, coordinators of the 2009 Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer Conference will hold an emergency meeting on organic methods for dealing with the disease on Sunday, August 9, at 10:00am at UMass Amherst in the Student Union Ballroom."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A farmer's notes


Hello Farm Girl Farmers

One week ago I never would have imagined that I would be writing about total crop loss on the farm.

I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that despite three solid days of spraying with an organic fungicide, we have lost our entire tomato crop with the possible exception of some cherry tomatoes. We will see in the next few days how these vines fare.

Our disappointment is enormous. In the best of conditions, tomatoes are a very labor intensive crop. From painstakingly choosing varieties in January to arrive at the perfect balance of early, middle-, and late-season ripeners, color shape and size...to starting the seedlings and potting them up into bigger cells and watering and fertilizing and transplanting outside...to buying and laying the plastic and buying and pounding in stakes every four feet and trellising, trellising, trellising, we have invested enormous time, money, and love into our tomato crop. To lose these plants, laden with green fruit, on the brink of tomato season is unfathomable.


Last week was the first instance I heard of farmers in our area struggling with the blight. I began hearing from friends close-by that they had spotted the fungus in their fields and were considering pulling their tomatoes—within 24 hours, all three of these farmers HAD pulled their tomatoes and told me of many others in New York and Massachusetts who had done the same. I’d been monitoring my plants, of course, and had seen no signs of the blight.

But on Thursday, I went out to the fields to inspect again and found infected plants in all beds of tomatoes. We began spraying on Friday despite the knowledge that this would probably be ineffective—how could we not at least try? We sprayed on Saturday and Sunday and on Monday, had to concede that we’d lost the battle and lost the tomatoes.

The fungus affects potato plants as well, and this fact could be the most serious aspect of managing the spread of Late Blight: if the fungus makes its way from the vines down into the tubers themselves, the fungus will survive the winter on any potatoes that remain in the ground. Growers are being advised to harvest all potato crops now, ready or not. We are almost done harvesting our early potatoes and will not be planting a fall crop.


At Farm Girl Farm (and, I’m sure, at all the neighboring farms), we have three intertwined priorities now: first is to get alternative crops in the ground as soon as possible. With the weather continuing to make it nearly impossible to till the fields, this is more difficult than it would be in an ordinary season, but we did have two partially dry days (Monday and today, Tuesday) and we’ve got the rototiller running.

Second, we need to manage the disposal of the affected plants in the best way possible so as to minimize further spread to our neighbors and minimize residue left in the soil for next season. There is conflicting information about the best way to achieve this goal, in sum, it seems the tomato vines must be bagged and removed or buried far from our growing spaces. Either way will be time consuming and tough on morale!

Thirdly, we hope against hope that a few plants may survive—a few hot days could stem the spread of the fungus and stop the progress of the damage. We haven’t heard of this happening in anyone else’s field—the power of hope and denial are enormous, though!

I almost forgot to end on a bright note: the beauty of being a diversified vegetable farm is that tomatoes were not the only thing we had going for us. I take much solace in casting my gaze on the unaffected crops which are doing their best to produce in this crazy season: the peppers and eggplant, the melons (come on melons!), the cucumbers and squash, the kale and collards…we’ve got food, and more food on the way.

Dealing with late blight, a farmer's notes


“During the last couple of weeks dealing with the reality of late blight has been incredibly frustrating. Even though we knew of its imminent threat, we still have been stunned to see it on our plants. We realize that for all of you, especially for those who haven’t been following this issue in the news, this information regarding the tomatoes and potatoes is shocking. The saddest aspect for us is that, after putting in a tremendous amount of work preparing the soil, seeding in the greenhouse, transplanting to larger containers, moving the plants in and out of the greenhouse when frost was forecasted, planting them individually in the field in holes dug with a post hole digger, covering them with row covers when the frosts came around in late May/early June, pounding stakes in every 2nd plant, trellising them up to 4 times with twine so that they are held up, and spreading straw at their base to provide a mulch, we will be lucky to distribute even a handful of tomatoes to farm members. And, just last week the plants looked so large and healthy.

“Tomatoes and potatoes are important crops for our members, for our apprentices, and for our family. This is a big deal. It is the most extensive crop loss that we have ever faced in my past 14 years of farming. Please know that we are trying our hardest to both deal with these challenges and still keep the wheels turning on the rest of the land so that we can keep providing a wide diversity of vegetables. Thank you again for your continued support of the farm and our crew as we work to provide your food.” Don Zasada, Caretaker Farm

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Wild Oats Market to Host Second Annual
Eat Local Challenge

Wild Oats Market in Williamstown is sponsoring the Eat Local Challenge from July16 through August 14. To encourage participation and make the challenge fun two levels of participation are available this year:

Level One participants are encouraged to eat local foods for one meal out of every three.

Level Two participants are challenged to make two out of every three meals local.

Participants can sign up for all or part of the month. All participants are eligible to win a raffle prize of a basket of local food from Wild Oats.


Throughout the challenge month Wild Oats will be featuring local food specials, local menu ideas, and prepared foods made with local ingredients. On July 14 from 7-8 pm, the store will host an evening on "How to Shop for and Prepare Meals Using Local Foods" with General Manager Michael Faber.

Eat Local Challenge begins
July 16 with a local foods BBQ


"There are so many good reasons for eating local," said GM Michael Faber. "It's healthier, safer, and good for the community and the local economy. And local foods are fresh, which makes them taste better. Wild Oats is lucky to be located in a region of the state that offers a variety of local produce, meat, dairy, eggs, honey, bulk foods, and many other products, making it not only a pleasure to eat local, but relatively easy, especially at this time of year."

http://www.wildoats.coop

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pick Your Own Strawberries!


This summer pick your own sun-ripened Berkshire Grown Strawberries!

Harvest is weather dependent, call ahead for picking details.

The Berry Patch, Stephentown, NY (518) 733-1234

Ioka Valley Farm, Hancock (413) 738-5915

Mountain View Farm, Lanesboro (413) 445-7642

Noble’s at Tweenbrook Farm, Pittsfield (413) 443-2210

Thompson Finch Farm, Ancram, NY (518) 329-7578

Monday, June 1, 2009

An Interview with Erica Heinlein and Joyce Nelson from Guido's Fresh Marketplace



Have you been to Guido's? With locations in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, this fresh market offers all types of natural and gourmet foods, from fresh breads and pastries to a large produce department to dairy to prepared foods and a deli. I had the opportunity to interview Joyce Nelson, Guido's webmaster and local products contact, and Erica Heinlein, the special events manager. You can find out more about Guido’s events and special tastings by visiting their website, or call Erica at 413-442-9912 x122.

How does Guido's connect with local farmers and producers, and go about choosing which products to sell?

JN: Most of our local suppliers are farmers with whom we’ve done business for many years. We maintain our connection to these “tried and true” farmers because their product is reliable, of excellent quality, and available in the quantity our stores require. It’s very important that farmers are able to meet these base line criteria; otherwise, we are not able to offer consistent high quality product to our customers.

Occasionally, a grower will approach us about purchasing a certain fruit or vegetable. Sometimes, we receive a phone call about a just-picked crop, or a farmer simply drives up to our dock with goods in his or her truck. Our buyers do a quick assessment, which would of course include inspection of the items offered, if possible, or close questioning about quality and condition. If the product meets our standards and is something we know our customers will purchase, we will negotiate a price and pass on the season’s local bounty to our clientele.

Because we have done business with a core group of growers for so long, our produce managers/buyers know just about when product will be available. We touch base with our local suppliers as harvests are due – or hear from the farmers themselves when they anticipate the “due date” of their products. We infrequently seek out new growers unless our established farmers experience crop failure or an unusual interruption of availability.

If customers don’t see a locally sourced fruit or vegetable that does indeed thrive in our climate, it’s generally because we have had lengthy experience trying to find a reliable supplier with no success. It can be frustrating for both our produce department and customers alike to find spotty availability, large price fluctuations or quality that varies significantly from day to day.

In summary, we follow these base line requirements: we need our farmers to be able to provide a steady supply of healthy, fresh, attractive products which have proven over time to sell well. We may occasionally make exceptions for exceptional products or circumstances, though overall our connection to local growers in a well-oiled machine built of many years’ experience.



Tell me about your community events. How can I find out about them?

EH: I would group our community events into three categories: donations, participation at events, and seasonal open houses.

Guido’s has a long-standing and year-round commitment to fulfilling requests of the community. We work closely with several pantries, area charities and advocacy groups, arts and student programs, and more. Every week, we sit and process the many requests we receive for food donations, advertising donations, and gift certificate donations. We respectfully request that those seeking a donation fill out our Donation Request Form in order to process the donation as expediently as possible. Please call Dona Senecal at 413-442-9912 x102 for more information.

The special events department represents Guido’s at several area events including Cultural Pittsfield’s Third Thursdays, Truck Day and BerkShares Bash in Great Barrington, community health expos all around the county, environmental and economic development expos, and more. We have two basic setups: an information based setup and a “market” based setup that sells a few kinds of produce and a few healthy beverages. We love being in the community, seeing our favorite customers and meeting new ones too! We post our participation in community events on our website.

Guido’s hosts several open houses throughout the year. 2009 will mark our 3rd annual Harvest Open House (October 17th and 18th) our 2nd Annual Gluten Free Weekend (November 7th and 8th), and our Third Annual Holiday Event this December. For the first time, Guido’s hosted a “Meet Your Local Food Hero month” during April 2009 with great response. We see the open houses as opportunities to present a “dream trip to Guido’s” for our customers. Each open house is different, but we always sample lots of food from all departments, provide cooking demonstrations, have great discounts, raffle prizes, and more (it’s a lot of fun!)

Another type of Open House Guido’s hosts is to benefit the community. In Spring 2008 and 2009, we put on wine tastings to benefit area non-profits. Also, we have hosted Chamber of Commerce networking events in the past and look forward to hosting two more this fall in our Great Barrington store.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Growing new farmers

http://thegreenhorns.wordpress.com/
is a blog with information for new farmers and on the site there are wonderful links

http://thegreenhorns.netLink/ is a site about a documentary film on new farmers

http://beginningfarmers.org/
is an online resource of information

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

WHAT?!? Frito- Lay is going local?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/13/dining/13local.html

Read the article in the NY TIMES, here's an excerpt:

"Frito-Lay is one of several big companies that, along with some large-scale farming concerns, are embracing a broad interpretation of what eating locally means. This mission creep has the original locavores choking on their yerba mate. But food executives who measure marketing budgets in the millions say they are mining the concept because consumers care more than ever about where their food comes from.

“Local for us has two appeals,” said Aurora Gonzalez, director of public relations for Frito-Lay North America, which is owned by PepsiCo. “We are interested in quality and quickness because we want consumers to get the freshest product possible, but we have a fairly significant sustainability program, and local is part of that. We want to do business more efficiently, but do it in a more environmentally conscious way.”

The original “eat local” movement, an amalgam of food and environmental politics, came of age a decade or so before the term locavore was coined in 2005.

"To a certain set of believers, supporting locally grown food is part of a broad philosophical viewpoint that eschews large farming operations, the heavy use of chemicals and certain agricultural practices, like raising animals in large, confined areas.

“The local foods movement is about an ethic of food that values reviving small scale, ecological, place-based, and relationship-based food systems,” Ms. Prentice said. “Large corporations peddling junk food are the exact opposite of what this is about.”

"But people on the other side of the argument say the widening view of what it means to eat locally is similar to the changes the term organic went through as it grew from a countercultural ideal in the 1960s and 1970s to an industry with nearly $25 billion in sales last year. A related debate about how to define sustainable farming is now gathering force in government, agriculture and business."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

An Interview with Jennifer Foley of Berkshire Co-op Market

Looking to find lots of local produce and products in a one-stop shop? Then check out the Berkshire Co-op Market on 42 Bridge Street in Great Barrington. This Member/Owner-owned operation offers organic produce and groceries, and is open to all Owners and shoppers. The Co-op also has a large hot bar and salad bar selection, a cafe, and Grab-and-Go choices. You can find the updated hot bar menu here. To learn more about cooperatives, check out the National Cooperative Grocer's Association.

Thanks to Jennifer Foley, Marketing & Owner Services Manager, for conducting this interview.

How does Berkshire Co-op Market link with local producers?

The Berkshire Co-op Market connects with our local producers in many ways. At the beginning of the growing season, the Co-op hosts a Local Grower/Producer meeting to let our local vendors know what the Co-op’s guidelines to selling product and what our needs will be in the upcoming season. At the same time, the Co-op explains what ways we will be promoting local products, and asks local producers what they need from the Co-op.

The Co-op also offers farmers and producers the opportunity to participate in our Farm Tour program, which the Co-op invites and promotes the showcased farms and production sites to our Owners and shoppers. This gives the community an opportunity to see and learn first-hand about the food they buy and the people that produce it.

In each issue of our quarterly newsletter, the Co-op features a local grower/producer, which again allows readers to learn more about the local people who are producing their food. We also invite and encourage our local vendors to come in to the store and demo their products and meet our Owners and shoppers face-to-face. The Co-op is also a member of Berkshire Grown and attends meetings and events with local farmers and producers which allow us the opportunity to mingle and brainstorm throughout the year.

Tell us about your education programs. How do you educate the community, and what subjects do you focus on?

We currently have a thriving “Healthy Snacks” program that we bring to local schools to teach children about healthier choices in snacking. We bring natural and organic versions of “conventional” snack items as well as different seasonal, local fruits and vegetables with which the children may not be familiar. In addition to the tasting, the children learn to read nutritional labels, and in some instances help to create simple recipes. We have been collaborating with the Community Health Program (CHP) Nutrition Center to present some of these classes, as well as partnering with schools as a part of their grant initiatives.

Again, our Farm Tours are very popular and educational. Just this year we have brought groups to Mead’s Maple Syrup Farm in Canaan, CT where participants learned the process of maple syrup production and enjoyed a pancake breakfast featuring Mead’s Maple Syrup, and to Berkshire Mountain Bakery where we learned what goes into creating the delicious breads we sell at the Co-op. More Farm Tours are being scheduled for the rest of the season.

Also, each year we send “Free Local Apple” Coupons to the 2 school districts with an educational piece about why local is better for the environment and for the local economy. As a regular practice, we also participate in tabling at various events in the community, always promoting healthier choices, local choices and sustainability.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Farmed + Foraged: A weekend of spring flavors May 15 - 17, 2009

Call the restaurants for menu, date, time & price info, each has created a unique event:

Participating restaurants’ contact information:

allium restaurant + bar, Great Barrington – 413.528.2118

Barrington Brewery, Great Barrington – 413.528.8282

Café Adam, Great Barrington – 413.528.7786

Café Latino at MASS MoCA, North Adams – 413.662.2004

Castle Street Café, Great Barrington – 413.528.5244

EnlightenNext, Lenox – 413.637.6000

Gramercy Bistro, North Adams – 413.663.5300

Inn at Sweet Water Farm, North Egremont – 413.528.2882

John Andrews Restaurant, Egremont – 413.528.3469

Mezze Bistro + Bar, Williamstown – 413.458.0123

The Old Inn on the Green, New Marlboro – 413.229.7924

Pearl’s Restaurant, Great Barrington – 413.528.7767

Pittsfield Brew Works, Pittsfield – 413.997.3506

The Point at Thornewood Inn, Great Barrington – 413.528.3828

The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge – 413.298.5545

Route 7 Grill, Great Barrington – 413.528.3235

Stage Coach Tavern, Sheffield – 413.229.8585

The Williamsville Inn – 413.274.6118


Friday, April 10, 2009

Interested in our interview series?

Is your farm or shop interested in participating in our interview series, joining Hawthorne Valley Farm and Hancock Shaker Village? We're looking for people and places to showcase.



Email Lisa for details.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

An Interview with Ellen Spear of Hancock Shaker Village



The Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is an outdoor living history museum with preserved buildings from the Shakers. Originally called The City of Peace, the village was created in 1783, and focused on communal living, hard work, and the values of honesty and simplicity. In March I had the opportunity to visit the Village to check out their newly opened Village Harvest Café, which offers delicious, Shaker-inspired lunches. I also sampled items from Savory Harvest Catering, another new venture at HSV, offering catered menus for a variety of events. Both the café and catering services use locally grown foods as much as possible.



I held an interview with Ellen Spear, President and CEO of Hancock Shaker Village.

LF: How does the Hancock Shaker Village change with the seasons?

ES: HSV’s program offerings mirror the Shaker calendar. In spring, “Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm”, one of our signature events, heralds the birth of new barnyard babies, and gets visitors engaged in learning about how to wake up the garden and prepare for the growing season. During the main season, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, visitors can explore the historic Village center and take hikes on our trails past Shaker archaeology sites and other natural features. Fall is time for our “Country Fair,” which celebrates the harvest, bringing together local food producers and farm products. Visitors can help harvest crops, pick out a pumpkin and learn how to store food for the winter. In the winter, we feature snow shoeing and cross country skiing, as well as guided tours and a special Winter Weekend with ice cutting, maple sugaring, seed saving, and other winter activities.

Throughout the year our café features seasonal menu items from our farm and from local food purveyors. Our Village Store stocks seasonal items, and our website lists seasonal offerings and goods for sale.

Herb Roasted Chicken with Field Greens, Roasted Beets, Berkshire Bleu Cheese & Balsamic Vinaigrette

LF: Tell us about the traditional Shaker diet. How does Hancock Shaker Village support it?

ES: The Shakers’ first purpose is for their own supply: “They raise the best they can, and they eat the best they raise.”*

The Shaker economy was based on agriculture, so cooks in Shaker villages usually had a wide variety of foodstuffs to work with. Typical Shaker diet at HSV closely resembled the diet of ordinary rural New England households of the time period - an unpretentious, simple and wholesome vernacular style of cooking largely determined by the seasonal availability of foodstuffs, the technologies available for preserving and cooking, and cultural norms of taste. In addition to seasonal ingredients (vegetable, fruits, berries, and field crops), when available, meals largely consisted of dried, smoked, canned, salted, and pickled foods; and dairy products of all kinds. Some foods were imported, such as selected grains, and fish included seafood, but the majority of the daily fare was produced within the community. Typically, meats were included in the diet. Special diets were followed by certain communities and families from time to time, such as Grahamism and vegetarianism.

Shaker diet enjoyed a number of advantages over the diet of their middle to lower class neighbors due to the uniqueness of the Shaker lifestyle, which emphasized communal food production methods, quality, and striving for perfection in all they did. On the whole, Shaker diet was well balanced by the standards of the day, as well as modern standards, and Shaker kitchens utilized tools, utensils, and technologies usually more advanced than those of their Worldly neighbors.

*Taken from a report on HSV agriculture by Henry Coleman, in The Farmers’ Cabinet; Devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture, and Rural Economy, Vol. III, 1839, published by Prouty, Libby & Prouty, Philadelphia.

LF: Where do you see HSV one year from now? In five years? Fifty years?

ES: HSV will celebrate its 50th Anniversary as an outdoor living history museum next year. We will be working with our cultural colleagues to celebrate this important milestone. HSV’s creation was at the forefront of the historic preservation and land conservation movement. We will highlight our leadership and our role now. In fifty years, we will continue to be a place where people can explore principled living and can take lessons from the Shaker way and apply them to contemporary life. The Shaker perspective – emphasizing community, simplicity, celebration of a thing well made, respect for the land, and sustainability are enduring values that will be as relevant fifty years from now as they are today. We hope everyone who visits will learn one thing they can do to change the way they live. This will change their families, their neighborhoods, their towns, their states, their regions, the country and eventually the world. We look forward to celebrating fifty years of service to the public by demonstrating the enduring culture of the Shakers and helping visitors understand and value the influence Shaker culture and design still has on the world today.

Thank you to Ellen and the rest of the HSV staff for participating in Berkshire Grown's interview series.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Meet Your Farmer


Stone-Buhr flour company's website introduces eaters to farmers... Josh Dorf (pictured here from the NY TIMES) created the Findthefarmer.com website after he bought the Stone-Buhr flour company. Eaters want to know their farmers.

read the whole article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/technology/internet/28farmer.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=find%20your%20farmer&st=cse

Friday, March 6, 2009

Interview with Seth Travins of Hawthorne Valley Farm


"The most exciting time of the workday is taste testing products which have been fermenting and aging for as little as two weeks to as much as a year. Fresh sauerkraut made in October and sampled in the dead of winter tastes like nothing else. It really hits the spot." Seth told Lisa in an interview.

Seth's Kraut Cellar currently produces the following lacto-fermented vegetables: plain sauerkraut, caraway sauerkraut, curry sauerkraut, jalapeno sauerkraut, ruby sauerkraut, ginger carrots, kim chee, dilly beans, and pickles. Check out the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store or sellers of local food products near you to try it out these treats yourself. Learn more about lacto-fermented vegetables here.

To read the complete interview

http://berkshiregrown.blogspot.com/2009/03/interview-with-seth-travins-of.html

Brooklyn's New Culinary Movement from the NYTIMES

"These days, with a kitchen and a bit of ambition, you can start to make a name for yourself in Brooklyn. The borough has become an incubator for a culinary-minded generation whose idea of fun is learning how to make something delicious and finding a way to sell it.

"These Brooklynites, most in their 20s and 30s, are hand-making pickles, cheeses and chocolates the way others form bands and artists’ collectives. They have a sense of community and an appreciation for traditional methods and flavors. They also share an aesthetic that’s equal parts 19th and 21st century, with a taste for bold graphics, salvaged wood and, for the men, scruffy beards.


For the whole article

http://berkshiregrown.blogspot.com/2009/03/brooklyns-culinary-movement-from.html

Brooklyn's Culinary Movement from the NYTIMES

February 25, 2009

Brooklyn’s New Culinary Movement

TO get the slightly battered convection oven for their new Brooklyn chocolate factory, Rick and Michael Mast traded 250 chocolate bars.

The chocolate is as good as legal tender for Andrew Tarlow and Mark Firth, owners of Marlow & Sons, the restaurant and specialty shop that bartered away the oven. “We can’t keep it in stock,” Mr. Tarlow said. “It sells better than anything else.”

About two years ago the Masts were trading truffles for beers at a local bar. Now Mast Brothers Chocolate has a national following as one of the few producers in the country, and the only one in the city, to make chocolate by hand from cacao beans they’ve roasted, in that oven. These days, with a kitchen and a bit of ambition, you can start to make a name for yourself in Brooklyn. The borough has become an incubator for a culinary-minded generation whose idea of fun is learning how to make something delicious and finding a way to sell it.

These Brooklynites, most in their 20s and 30s, are hand-making pickles, cheeses and chocolates the way others form bands and artists’ collectives. They have a sense of community and an appreciation for traditional methods and flavors. They also share an aesthetic that’s equal parts 19th and 21st century, with a taste for bold graphics, salvaged wood and, for the men, scruffy beards.

Rick Mast, 32, said he and his brother were initially attracted to the borough because it was cheaper than Manhattan. “But now I think the real draw is the creativity,” he said. “In Brooklyn, to be into food is do it yourself, to get your hands dirty, to roll up your sleeves. You want to peek in the kitchen in the back, as opposed to being served in the front.”

Gabrielle Langholtz, the editor of Edible Brooklyn, which chronicles the borough’s food scene, said it has grown along with the arrival of what she calls the “new demographic.”

“It’s that guy in the band with the big plastic glasses who’s already asking for grass-fed steak and knows about nibs,” Ms. Langholtz said.

“Ten years ago all of these people hadn’t moved to Brooklyn yet,” she added, comparing Brooklyn today to Berkeley in the 1970s. “There’s a relationship to food that comes with that approach to the universe,” Ms. Langholtz said. “Every person you pass has read Michael Pollan, every person has thought about joining a raw milk club, and if they haven’t made ricotta, they want to.”

The prevailing attitude is anticorporate, she said.

“Pre-industrial revolution tactics with food,” is how Frank Castronovo describes what he and Frank Falcinelli are up to at Prime Meats, a restaurant, specialty shop and butcher they are starting in Carroll Gardens, as well as Delightful Coffee, a cafe that will share a warehouse with the new Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Red Hook.

Along with butchering whole animals, Mr. Castronovo and Mr. Falcinelli, the owners of Frankies Spuntino restaurants in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, will be making their own charcuterie at Prime Meats.

“The whole process, truthfully, will take a long time.” Mr. Falcinelli said. “The aged stuff will take a year to understand. Pâté will take a few months.”

Most of the artisans started simply and have stayed simple, like Salvatore Bklyn, makers of a superbly light ricotta. “We were selling it out of the back of a truck,” Betsy Devine, who makes the ricotta along with her partner, Rachel Mark, said of their first retail efforts. Now their product is in eight stores.

They learned their craft on a visit to Tuscany. The Masts essentially taught themselves. Others, like Tom Mylan at Marlow & Daughters, a butcher shop opened in December by the owners of Marlow & Sons, found mentors.

Mr. Mylan apprenticed himself last year at Fleisher’s, a highly regarded butcher shop in Kingston, N.Y., where he slept in the owners’ TV room for a month and a half.

At Marlow & Daughters, all of the butchering is done in plain sight. “We do this out on the floor because we want you to see the difference,” Mr. Mylan said. “We can tell you it’s all local, and it’s all pastured, and buzzword, buzzword, buzzword, but until you take out a whole animal and put it on the table people have no idea what it means to bring really good meat into the city and break it down.”

Mr. Mylan also teaches butchering at the Brooklyn Kitchen, a kitchen supply store in Williamsburg. He demonstrates with a whole pig. Every student goes home with six pounds of fresh pork.

“The classes have turned out to be much more of a success than I imagined,” said Harry Rosenblum, who opened the Brooklyn Kitchen with his wife, Taylor Erkkinen, in 2006.

Next month, Bob McClure, of McClure’s Pickles, will teach pickling there, and later this spring the Masts will teach chocolate-making.

“We’ve become something like a community,” Mr. Rosenblum added, explaining that the store holds the occasional potluck and has a food literature book club. When baking no-knead bread in Dutch ovens was popular a couple of years ago, customers who bought the pots often returned with gifts of freshly baked bread.

The Brooklyn Kitchen carries major brands, but it is the sole retailer for knives from Cut Brooklyn, a local specialty knife maker.

“It’s difficult to keep those guys stocked,” said Joel Bukiewicz, Cut Brooklyn’s owner and solitary employee. “It’s like sweeping a dirt floor.”

Maybe that’s because Mr. Bukiewicz takes 10 to 12 hours to fashion one eight-inch chef’s knife. In an average week he will make between four and six knives. He first learned how to make hunting knives in Georgia, and started creating kitchen knives in his small Gowanus workshop in 2007.

“There’s an appreciation here for craftsmanship and people who work with their hands,” Mr. Bukiewicz said. “I had no idea there was going to be this convergence of artists, artisans and food culture in Brooklyn.”

To design a boning knife, Mr. Bukiewicz has been sitting in on Mr. Mylan’s butchering classes and taking note of how his hands move.

That sort of collaboration is common.

Two weeks ago Sixpoint Craft Ales, in Red Hook, introduced Dubbel Trubbel, an ale made with cacao nibs from Mast Brothers Chocolate. Sixpoint Craft Ales already brews Gorilla Warfare, an American porter made with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from Gorilla Coffee, the Park Slope cafe and roaster. At Wheelhouse Pickles, based in Park Slope, Jon Orren uses wort, a byproduct of brewing from Sixpoint Craft Ales, to flavor his Ploughman’s pickle, a mild, earthy relish made with Greenmarket root vegetables.

And McClure’s Pickles, of Williamsburg, is making a strong, grainy mustard with Brooklyn Brewery’s Brown Ale. (Mr. McClure, by the way, sometimes pays his picklers in pickles.)

Local store owners play an important role, more collaborators than simply merchants. Urban Rustic, Spuyten Duyvil Grocery, Blue Apron Foods, Bedford Cheese Shop and Marlow & Daughters all make a point of carrying Brooklyn-made foods.

Stinky Bklyn, a cheese shop in Carroll Gardens, carries wild boar pâté made by one of the salesmen at Smith & Vine, its sibling wine shop across the street. Robert Fischman, the fishmonger at Greene Grape Provisions in Fort Greene, sometimes sells fluke or striped bass he catches himself on one of the charter boats that departs from Sheepshead Bay. And later this spring the owners of Franny’s restaurant in Prospect Heights will open Bklyn Larder, which will sell salumi cured in-house.

Steven Manning, a manager at Urban Rustic, said he wants to make things easy for local food makers.

“There’s no red tape,” Mr. Manning said. “It’s, Give me the chocolate, here’s your money.”

Another culinary stage is the Brooklyn Flea, the Fort Greene flea market, now in winter quarters in Dumbo.

“I try everything that’s served there,” said Eric Demby, one of the market’s founders, recounting the time he slurped down six bowls of soup in one sitting.

“There’s an opportunity to be recognized, not just locally but nationally,” Mr. Demby said, explaining that Salvatore Bklyn created chocolate- and lemon-studded cannoli specifically for the market.

Not everyone who tries out is a star.

“The longer I do this the more I get a sense of who’s doing this for fun and who’s doing this for a life’s pursuit,” Mr. Demby said. “The ones who are doing it seriously are the ones who wait before they approach me because they want to make sure they have it right before they come to the Flea. The ones who are doing it for fun are the ones who think it’s a glorified bake sale.”

Some sellers at the Flea make sporadic appearances, like Plan B Foods, which sells caramelized onions in a jar. Now the onions are available at Greene Grape Provisions.

Others are regulars, like Mr. McClure and his brother, Joe, and Daniel Sklaar, a former financial analyst, who produces Fine & Raw, a velvety, complex chocolate made with unroasted cacao beans.

“I love being a part of this community,” said Mr. Sklaar, 28, noting that Fine & Raw’s packaging was created by a lingerie designer paid with chocolate. “Brooklyn is always in beta testing.”

But for all the momentum, most members of this food movement are taking time to refine their crafts.

Even though they could more than double their output to 2,000 bars a week, the Masts don’t have a timetable for increasing production in their new factory, a tastefully raw space with exposed brick walls and a counter salvaged from a 100-year-old Pennsylvania ice cream parlor.

“We’re not sure how a micro-batch chocolate factory is supposed to run,” Rick Mast said. “We’re going take our time and let it evolve.”

As Michael Mast, 29, said, “Slow growth, slow design, slow food. Slow, but without being flaky.”

The mantra is similar at Prime Meats, which has been opening in stages since January.

“It’s going to be incremental,” Mr. Castronovo said. “But when it’s ready you’re going to totally trip.”

The East Coast of Berkeley

Here are ways to find the Brooklyn artisans and merchants in this article.

BEDFORD CHEESE SHOP 229 Bedford Avenue (North Fourth Street), Williamsburg; (718) 599-7588 or bedfordcheeseshop.com.

BLUE APRON FOODS 814 Union Street (Seventh Avenue), Park Slope; (718) 230-3180.

BROOKLYN BREWERY 79 North 11th Street (Wythe Avenue), Williamsburg; (718) 486-7422 or brooklynbrewery.com.

BROOKLYN FLEA 76 and 81 Front Street (Main Street), Dumbo, through March; starting in April, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, Lafayette Avenue between Clermont and Vanderbilt Avenues, Fort Greene; brooklynflea.com.

BROOKLYN KITCHEN 616 Lorimer Street (Skillman Avenue), Williamsburg; (718) 389-2982 or thebrooklynkitchen.com.

CUT BROOKLYN cutbrooklyn.com.

FINE & RAW fineandraw.com.

GORILLA COFFEE 97 Fifth Avenue (Park Place), Park Slope; (718) 230-3244 or gorillacoffee.com.

GREENE GRAPE PROVISIONS 753 Fulton Street (South Portland Avenue), Fort Greene; (718) 797-9463 or brooklyn.greenegrape.com.

MARLOW & SONS 81 Broadway (Berry Street), Williamsburg; (718) 384-1441 or marlowandsons.com.

MARLOW & DAUGHTERS 95 Broadway (Berry Street), Williamsburg; (718) 388-5700 or marlowanddaughters.com.

MAST BROTHERS CHOCOLATE 105A North Third Street (Berry Street), Williamsburg; (718) 388-2625 or mastbrotherschocolate.com.

MCCLURE’S PICKLES mcclurespickles.com.

PRIME MEATS STORE 187 1/2 Luquer Street (Court Street), Carroll Gardens; (718) 254-0327.

SALVATORE BKLYN salvatorebklyn.com.

SIXPOINT CRAFT ALES 40 Van Dyke Street (Dwight Street), Red Hook; sixpointcraftales.com.

SPUYTEN DUYVIL GROCERY 218 Bedford Avenue (North Fifth Street), Williamsburg; (718) 384-1520.

STINKY BKLYN 261 Smith Street (Degraw Street), Carroll Gardens; (718) 522-7425 or stinkybklyn.com.

URBAN RUSTIC 236 North 12th Street (Driggs Avenue), Williamsburg; (718) 388-9444 or urbanrusticnyc.com.

WHEELHOUSE PICKLES wheelhousepickles.com.

From the NYTIMES, It's Organic, but does that mean it's safer?

New York Times published on March 4, 2009

It’s Organic, but Does That Mean It’s Safer?

MOST of the chicken, fruit and vegetables in Ellen Devlin-Sample’s kitchen are organic. She thinks those foods taste better than their conventional counterparts. And she hopes they are healthier for her children.

Lately, though, she is not so sure.

The national outbreak of salmonella in products with peanuts has been particularly unsettling for shoppers like her who think organic food is safer.

The plants in Texas and Georgia that were sending out contaminated peanut butter and ground peanut products had something else besides rodent infestation, mold and bird droppings. They also had federal organic certification.

“Why is organic peanut butter better than Jif?” said Ms. Devlin-Sample, a nurse practitioner from Pelham, N.Y. “I have no idea. If we’re getting salmonella from peanut butter, all bets are off.”

Although the rules governing organic food require health inspections and pest-management plans, organic certification technically has nothing to do with food safety.

“Because there are some increased health benefits with organics, people extrapolate that it’s safer in terms of pathogens,” said Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy analyst with Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “I wouldn’t necessarily assume it is safer.”

But many people who pay as much as 50 percent more for organic food think it ought to be. The modern organic movement in the United States was started by a handful of counterculture farmers looking to grow food using methods that they believed were better for the land and produced healthier food. It was a culture built on purity and trust that emphasized the relationship between the farmer and the customer.

By 2002, those ideals had been arduously translated into a set of federal organic regulations limiting pesticide use, restricting kinds of animal feed and forbidding dozens of other common agricultural practices.

To determine who would be allowed to use the green and white “certified organic” seal, the Department of Agriculture deputized as official certifiers dozens of organizations, companies and, in some cases, state workers.

These certifiers, then, are paid by the farmers and manufacturers they are inspecting to certify that the standards have been met. Depending on several factors, the fee can be hundreds or thousands of dollars. Manufacturers who buy six or seven organic ingredients to make one product are especially dependent on the web of agents.

If agents do a thorough job, the system can be effective. But sometimes it falls apart.

Texas officials last month fired a state worker who served as a certifier because a plant owned by the Peanut Corporation of America — the company at the center of the salmonella outbreak — was allowed to keep its organic certification although it did not have a state health certificate.

A private certifier took nearly seven months to recommend that the U.S.D.A. revoke the organic certification of the peanut company’s Georgia plant, and then did so only after the company was in the thick of a massive food recall. So far, nearly 3,000 products have been recalled, including popular organic items from companies like Clif Bar and Cascadian Farm. Nine people have died and almost 700 have become ill.

The private certifier, the Organic Crop Improvement Association, sent a notice in July to the peanut company saying it was no longer complying with organic standards, said Jeff See, the association’s executive director. He would not say why his company wanted to pull the certification.

A second notice was sent in September, but it wasn’t until Feb. 4 that the certifier finally told the agriculture department that the company should lose its ability to use the organic label.

Mr. See said the peanut company initially appeared willing to clear up the problems. But he said the company was slow to produce information and then changed the person in charge of the organic certification, further delaying the process.

He said his organization finally decided to recommend suspending the organic certification after salmonella problems at the plant were exposed.

Although certifiers have some discretion in giving organic companies time to fix compliance problems, Barbara C. Robinson, acting director of the agriculture department’s National Organic Program, said her agency is investigating the gap between the first notice of noncompliance and the recommendation that the peanut plant surrender its organic certification.

To emphasize that reporting basic health violations is part of an organic inspector’s job, Ms. Robinson last week issued a directive to the 96 organizations that perform foreign and domestic organic inspections that they are obligated to look beyond pesticide levels and crop management techniques.

Potential health violations like rats — which were reported by federal inspectors and former workers at the Texas and Georgia plants — must be reported to the proper health and safety agency, the directive said.

“For example, while we do not expect organic inspectors to be able to detect salmonella or other pathogens,” Ms. Robinson wrote, “their potential sources should be obvious from such evidence as bird, rodent and other animal feces or other pest infestations.”

Even some certifiers say that while their job is not to assure that food is safe, taking account of health inspections will help consumers.

“It’s a reassurance that they have another set of eyes, and more eyes is always a good thing,” said Jane Baker, director for sales and marketing of California Certified Organic Farmers, a nonprofit certifying organization in Santa Cruz, Calif., and one of the largest and oldest in the country. “But let’s not confuse food safety controls with the organic side of things.”

Organics has grown from an $11 billion business in the United States in 2001 to one that now generates more than $20 billion in sales, so the stakes for farmers, processors and certifiers can be high. But the agency overseeing the certifying process has long been considered underfunded and understaffed. Critics have called the system dysfunctional.

Arthur Harvey, a Maine blueberry farmer who does organic inspections, said agents have an incentive to approve companies that are paying them.

“Certifiers have a considerable financial interest in keeping their clients going,” he said.

Meanwhile, consumers are becoming more skeptical about certification, said Laurie Demeritt, president of the Hartman Group, a market research firm.

Some shoppers want food that was grown locally, harvested from animals that were treated humanely or produced by workers who were paid a fair wage. The organic label doesn’t mean any of that.

“They’re questioning the social values around organics,” Ms. Demeritt said.

The Organic Trade Association, which represents 1,700 organic companies, wants to shore up organic food’s image. This week it’s beginning a $500,000 Web-based campaign on the benefits of organic food with the slogan: “Organic. It’s worth it.”

Supporters of the National Organic Program think additional money in the recent farm bill will help improve its reach.

And great hope is being placed in Kathleen A. Merrigan, director of the agriculture, food and environment program at Tufts University, who was appointed the deputy agriculture secretary last week. Dr. Merrigan helped design the national organic standards, and is seen as a champion of organic farmers and someone who can help clarify and strengthen federal food laws.

Meanwhile, consumers remain perplexed about which food to buy and which labels assure safer and better-tasting food.

Emily Wyckoff, who lives in Buffalo, buys local food and cooks from scratch as much as possible. Although she still buys organic milk and organic peanut butter for her three children, the organic label means less to her these days — especially when it comes to processed food in packages like crackers and cookies.

“I want to care, but you have to draw the line,” she said.

But the line stops when it comes to basic food safety.

Recently, a sign near the Peter Pan and Skippy at her local grocery store declared that those brands were safe from peanut contamination. There was no similar sign near her regular organic brand.

“I bought the national brand,” she said. “Isn’t that funny?”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An Interview with Seth Travins of Hawthorne Valley Farm



In January 2004 I began interning with Hawthorne Valley Farm's Visiting Student Program. During my internship we took part in many sides of the farm: caring for the animals, planting in the greenhouse, baking in the bakery, and working in the dairy. We also had the opportunity to work in Seth Travins' Kraut Cellar, where we shredded and hand packed fresh vegetables into jars. Also called "Sauerkraut Seth," he began producing lacto-fermented vegetables at Hawthorne Valley in 1998.

Seth's Kraut Cellar currently produces the following lacto-fermented vegetables: plain sauerkraut, caraway sauerkraut, curry sauerkraut, jalapeno sauerkraut, ruby sauerkraut, ginger carrots, kim chee, dilly beans, and pickles. Check out the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store or sellers of local food products near you to try it out these treats yourself. Learn more about lacto-fermented vegetables here.

I had the opportunity to get in touch with Seth again, to learn more about the Berkshires krauter.

LF: How did you become interested in sauerkraut and lacto-fermentation?

ST: I became interested in sauerkraut and lacto-fermentation in the fall and winter of 1998 when I was an apprentice at Hawthorne Valley Farm. There were a few pounds of leftover storage cabbage. At the time I had read about different food preservation techniques and they all seemed very fuel intensive. At about the same time I tried raw sauerkraut for the first time and I had a "Eureka" moment. I had to try to make it myself. Fermented vegetables seemed so alive and tasted so good compared to canned or frozen (or even fresh Californian) vegetables. I had grown up in New York eating raw sour pickles without it even registering; all of a sudden it clicked, and I had a goal in mind.

LF: Who do you consider your mentors and biggest influences?

ST: The first time I tried raw sauerkraut was when I met Peter Young. He made sauerkraut at the Hill Farm in Marshfield, Vermont back in the 1990s. In the spring of 1999 I visited his farm, and I was on my way. Louise Frazier is a longtime vegetarian cook, sauerkraut maker, and supporter of Biodynamic Farming, and I was lucky to ask her many many questions when I got started.

LF: What does a typical Sauerkraut Seth day look like? How does it begin, how does it end, and what happens in between?

ST: A typical day for me starts with checking into the Kraut Cellar, and look at that orders that need to go out. Orders often drive how the workday goes, particularly in the late winter and early spring. We try to package a whole barrel of product at a time, and keep a little ahead of our orders. As a USDA certified organic producer, we have quite a bit of record keeping to do. This gives us a very good tracking system, which in the long run is a very good thing.

The most exciting time of the workday is taste testing products which have been fermenting and aging for as little as two weeks to as much as a year. Fresh sauerkraut made in October and sampled in the dead of winter tastes like nothing else. It really hits the spot.

A typical production day (3-4 days a week) in the fall involves prepping hundreds to thousands of pounds of vegetables (with 1 or 2 helpers), shredding these vegetables, and packing them into barrrels with salt and spices. Such production days can take 8 hours. We have made as many as seven 300 pound barrels in an 8 hour shift. That's a lotta cabbage! In the late winter and early spring months we pack sauerkraut 2-3 days a week, depending on orders, so things are not as hectic as in the fall.

The interest in lacto-fermented vegetables has increased over the last ten years. The Weston A Price Foundation seems to have had a lot to do with this resurgence of fermented food in general, as well as raw milk, and grass raised livestock. With this interest in lacto-fermented vegtables I seem to average quite a few phone calls a week. I have advised and consulted other kraut upstarts as well.

A big thanks to Seth for taking the time to conduct this interview.

Next month: An interview with Ellen Spear, President and CEO of Hancock Shaker Village.