Green Gardens, Part 2

(For Part I, click here.)

About 90% of Green Gardens’ sales are direct-to-consumer, either through their CSA or at the local markets, with the other 10% wholesale to restaurants, the People’s Food Co-op, and through Sprout Urban Farm’s small food hub in Battle Creek.I ask whether it would be a benefit to Green Gardens to have a larger wholesale outlet close by, one that could take their excess produce, and Trent says “yes, definitely.” Tomatoes were especially abundant this year, for example, and it would have been great to have a place to sell them in bulk, even at the lower prices he gets for wholesale. For a farm of his size, though, the margins are so much better with the direct-to-consumer options that they will remain his focus, and the CSA is the foundation of those, since it provides for consistent predictability in terms of both harvesting needs and income. They’re hoping to grow this portion of their business as they make infrastructure improvements, but still, Trent notes, thinking both about their own operation and those of other vendors they see at the markets, “farmers have to be smarter about how they market and sell their product if they’re going to be competitive. I just don’t think you can keep throwing stuff out on a farmers’ market table and hoping it’ll sell.” They need to “find ways to reach out to people and get them excited about food, get them to come out.” One of the efforts in this direction that Trent and Ruthie are most excited about is an on-farm market they opened this year that anyone can come to, not just CSA members. “We’re doing all the veggies,” Trent says, and “I buy local fruit from other people,” including apples from Molter Family Orchards and The Country Mill. Chicken and (soon) pork come from Green Gardens alum Clay Smith at EarthSmith Food and Forest Products, and a variety of other things ranging from quiche to maple syrup come from other local producers. The goal, explains Trent, is “to be a one-stop convenience shop for people,” so they can get most of what they eat on a regular basis from local producers with just one stop.

DSC_0303 Continue reading “Green Gardens, Part 2”

Green Gardens Community Farm, Part I

Snow flurries swirl along I-94 as I drive out to talk to Trent Thompson of Green Gardens Community Farm, east of Battle Creek, a week before Christmas. It’s been an unusually warm fall, allowing field crops to continue to be harvested far past when they can be most years. Yesterday was a day to get as much picked as possible, so today is the semi-official end of the season, or as close to the end of the season as Trent gets. Several of his hoop houses are full of greens which, along with carrots and other vegetables in storage, will send him every week to the indoor winter market in Kalamazoo. DSC_0297This makes eating a lot tastier and healthier for those of us who try to source as much as we can from local growers, but it also means a lot less down time for farmers after the relentless work the usual spring-fall crops demand. Trent has had only two half-days off since May before today, something a January trip to Florida will only do a little to make up for. But Trent isn’t complaining.

Though I’d met Trent at a dinner Donna McClurkan organized several years ago, and though hardly a week has gone by when I haven’t bought something from his stand at the Bank St. Market, I’ve never been to his farm, either the original one he started on rented land in 2008 or this one, which is on twenty acres that he and his wife Ruthie purchased in 2012. I pull up and park in front of a long low barn sitting perpendicular to a row of six big hoop houses and next to a stately old white farmhouse with a wraparound porch, columns, and shade trees in front. Trent and Ruthie, along with toddler Jorah, will soon move into the main house out of an apartment built off the back that they’ve been renting, just one of many steps forward that they’re taking as their farm grows. Trent calls to me before I can ring the wrong doorbell, and I walk over to meet him where he’s come out of the barn. He greets me with a strong handshake and then we head inside to talk for a bit with Ruthie before he and his feline helper, May, give me a tour of the farm.

DSC_0308 Continue reading “Green Gardens Community Farm, Part I”

The Food Lab

No, not her:DSC_0242

 

That’s Julep. Nothing makes her happier than standing next to the counter during meal prep and scarfing up whatever you drop, or stealing the occasional piece of toast from an unguarded child’s plate on the table, or cleaning up after the cat when she’s just barfed up her breakfast. Though truth be told, given the genetic soup Julep was ladled from, she’s more of a food hound than a food lab.

But no, what I’m talking about is this: Continue reading “The Food Lab”

Magical Orbs of Happiness

That’s what a guest called these potatoes when we served them to her last summer. They were just as magical last night. Fortunately, it’s easy magic to make: get enough little spuds (dime to nickel in diameter) to cover the bottom of whatever skillet you’re going to use (cast iron is best). Any kind of potato will do, but the German Butterballs we got at the market on Saturday stood out from the others in the pan in the way only something named “German Butterball” can. Put some good fat in with them (olive oil is fine, but use chicken or duck fat if you’ve got it), salt and pepper, and some thyme or rosemary if you feel the need — but try them once with just salt and pepper first. Then pour in enough water to come maybe a quarter of the way up the potatoes. You can cook them either in the oven (400ish) or on the stovetop. As they cook, stir them occasionally. The water softens the potatoes then evaporates, leaving the oil to coat and crisp them. Finishing them briefly under the broiler isn’t a bad idea if what you’re after is just the right amount of crispityness. And who isn’t after just the right amount of crispityness? And should it be spelled “crispittyness”? One isn’t sure. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that when you pop one of these potatoes in your mouth the skin should resist just a little, enough to remind you that not everything in life is easy, before you feel your whole being flooded with warmth and love. Like hugging grandma. Only it’s a potato.

potatoes roasted

(Lots more to come; I’ve taken a few weeks off from writing, but not from eating!)