How to shorten the distance from Farm to Table

Sep 15th, 2007

Summer is in full swing, kids are all out of school, visitors in town, and farms are once again making their way to open markets. When Lenore and I first arrived four summers ago, we began sourcing ingredients, which tends to take allot of time since our commitment is to use local, organic, seasonal, and sustainably produced products. Even with the frequency of deliveries at the coast, I still couldn’t get the best and freshest because the small farms were not dialed into our little strip up on the North Coast. I like many other chefs in our community participate in the chef-farm collaborative, where as the name implies, chefs and farmers meet one on one to talk about availability and what’s new. I met not only produce farmers, but was able to link up with ranchers, dairypersons, and seafood producers as well. For more on the Farm-Chef connection, visit www.ecotrust.org/foodfarms/farmerchef.

These producers, i.e., farmers, fisherpersons, ranchers, dairypersons, etc, are integral to our success in starting with the best ingredients. It is impossible on my own to stay up on all the trends, seasonal variables and multitude of things that impact products at the source. We depend on being educated by those producers and artisans and all those who support our efforts on a daily basis, including various brokers who are in the middle.

I have met artisan cheese makers who have helped me build our cheese counter. It is mutually beneficial because I carry their products to the beach, and their cheeses have helped EVOO pick up a few of the customers who loved buying cheeses from the old Osborne deli.

Lenore and I have always maintained that the best meals start with the best ingredients so once we became comfortable with our sources we wanted be sure that our students and guests could find the same quality where they shop. Of course, one of the shortest paths from farm to table is to grow your own. Hats off to those who maintain a sustainable vegetable garden! Unfortunately, the wide spread availability of organic and sustainably produced products in supermarkets still needs improvement. In the summertime, one of the best resources for the consumer is their local farmer’s markets. The internet provides ample websites to help source out seasonal markets as well as markets committed to sustainability. Look at such sites as Local Harvest, http://www.localharvest.org/, to find good resources across the United States.

Shortening the distance from farm to table by buying seasonal and close to home is one way to strengthen your community. Consider joining a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, where you actually partner with one or more local farms by paying them a fee early in the season when they are still buying seeds and planting. You then receive the freshest locally grown produce all throughout the growing season! In turn the farmers gain a guaranteed customer base throughout the summer. CSA’s and going to the open markets are small but significant ways to keep small farmers prosperous and working in our state.

Without opening up a political debate, I think there is still some confusion about “organic” vs. “sustainable.” Just being organic, that is, produced without chemicals, isn’t necessarily sustainable. The word sustainable speaks to the “long term” viability of what we do now. Can we live with our choices and the long term effects? This is most clear when considering the “green” aspects of sustainability. Of course there are consequences to depleting soil and over use of chemicals. Consider the contradiction in purchasing produce, for example, that is labeled organic from a South American country and the fuel it takes to get it to the markets in the Northwest. In addition, we want to consider the laborers and field hands and ask if they earn living wages, have healthy living quarters, and are treated equitably.

So for me, the best organic foods are those that are produced locally, in season, and by farms that integrate the principles of social and economic equity for workers as well as environmental health. It is important to note that there are many farms who practice organic farming as well as sustainability but who are not yet officially certified. And if they were, having organic certification does not ensure fair practices for workers. It takes a large financial commitment to gain organic certification for the smaller farms, so I think for now it is more important to be on the sustainable path than to have the certification paperwork. So I ask questions of my vendors and producers. Lenore asks questions on business practices of the manufacturers that produce the culinary tools and gifts we sell in our gift store as well. We humbly aspire to become more and more sustainable as a business, and know it is a process that is not accomplished quickly. We believe that every consumer can take small steps toward creating sustainability. The more we learn the more we apply in our own commerce the closer we get. Every little step adds up.

Much to my wife’s surprise, I have become adamant, no, she would say stubborn, about using produce not just sustainable but in the local season. It is my personal commitment to keep as many of the dollars I spend on ingredients in the state where I live, and so I am going to wait for Oregon’s season for tomatoes! I know I can get organically grown hot house tomatoes all year long, and California tomatoes that are in season earlier than Oregon, but my commitment is to Oregon farmers as much as possible.

What it all boils down to is that though it is tempting to buy foods off season, we are sticking close to the natural growing season and buying in our own food community as much as possible to shorten the distance from farm to table.

Here’s a short list of what we are getting right now from Oregon farms:

Beets
Blackberries
Blueberries
Braising Mix
Carrots
Cherries
Edible flowers
English peas
Fennel
Garlic
Green beans
Herbs (cilantro, basil, chives, rosemary, lemon verbena, mint, sage, tarragon)
Leeks
Radishes
Shallots
Squash blossoms
Stone fruits like peaches, plums, apricots
Summer Squash
Sweet Onions
Wild greens

Here’s an example of what you might receive from your CSA partner this week in the summer and a week this Fall.
Summer CSA Box Winter CSA box
Blueberries
Raspberries
Peaches
Marion berries
Oregon wild rice
Summer Squash or Squash blossoms
Golden Beets
Haricot vert green beans
Sweet onions
Goat Cheese
Melon Heirloom Tomatoes
Radicchio
Pimiemtos
Arugula
Apples
Grapes
Pears
Melon
Leeks
Dry roasted hazelnuts
Chevre goat cheese

HABONARO CHILI SALSA
1 yellow bell pepper
1 sweet onion
¼ cup cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic, paste
1 red bell pepper
1 Habanero chili pepper
2 each summer squash
1 TBS lemon verbena
As needed sea salt, coriander and lime juice Method: Grill the vegetables and cool; dice the vegetables and place in large bowl (be sure to remove the membrane and seeds of all the peppers); chop the herbs and add them and remaining ingredients to the vegetable mixture; adjust seasonings and serve with pork or fish.

PEACH CRUMBLE
4 –5# firm, ripe peaches
1 orange, zested
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1½ cups plus 3 tsp All Purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
½ cup Amaretti cookies, crushed (optional)
½# cold butter, diced Method: Preheat the oven to 350F; butter the inside of a 10 by 15 by 2 1/2-inch oval baking dish. Blanch the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock them in cold water; peel the peaches and slice them into thick wedges and place them into a large bowl; add the orange zest, ¼ cup granulated sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, and 2 TBS of flour; toss well. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes; if there is a lot of liquid add 1 more TBS of flour; pour the peaches into the baking dish and gently smooth the top.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, oatmeal, cookies and the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly; sprinkle evenly on top of the peaches; bake for 1 hour or until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly.

SUMMER PEAS & LIGHT PASTA CARBONARA ( NO CREAM OR EGG)
4 oz Pancetta or bacon, rendered and chopped ¼”
3 TBS shallots, minced
2-3 TBS EVOO
½ cup parmesan, finely grated
1# spaghetti
1-2 cups fresh peas*
sea salt, to taste
3 TBS flat leaf parsley, minced
Method: Cook spaghetti in 1 ½ gal salty water until tender to the tooth (al dente), according to package. (all brands do not cook the same rate)

Sauté pancetta or bacon with shallots in medium sauté pan and cook to render fat and crisp bacon. (Shallots should be aromatic and translucent) Add drained cooked pasta to pan along with olive oil and peas. Tossing to warm peas.

Remove from heat and toss with cheese; taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

*You may substitute frozen peas for fresh; fresh peas may be blanched before adding. To blanch, drop shelled peas into boiling salted water for 30 seconds; shock in ice water and drain immediately.

SUMMER BEET SALAD (RAW)
1 lb young summer beets
1 red onion
¼ cup basil, chiffonade
2 TBS cherry vinegar
3 TBS EVOO (orange flavored-if available) *
To taste: sea salt, fresh ground coriander, fresh ground pepper Method: 1# beets, 1 red onion, ¼ cup basil, 2 TBS sherry vinegar, 3 TBS orange EVOO – method: julienne the beets into a medium bowl; slice the onions and toss together with beets; loosely chop the basil and add to the vegetables; add the vinegar – toss; add the oil – toss; adjust seasonings with sea salt, coriander and pepper.

*You may infuse 3 TBS good EVOO oil with 2 tsp orange zest for 2-3 hours if you cannot find Orange infused oil in the market.