Pop quiz: what’s the New Root’s process for acquiring all the amazing, local, organic produce that we’ve gotten all season long?
A: Spell Casting (all it takes is a little bit of magic)!
The answer, truth be told, is a little bit of both. While spell casting has been the easy and quick part (can you tell we’re ready for Halloween?), it’s the forecasting that is the complicated and long process, albeit satisfying.
Forecasting is the process of working with both the farmers and the individual Fresh Stop Market farmer liaisons. Each market, all 14 in Kentucky and Southern Indiana, has their very own farmer liaison, whose job is to decide what their community is going to get each market. The process starts in January, when farmers must purchase their seeds for the next growing season.
The go between for each farmer liaison and each farmer is Mary Montgomery, New Roots’ Uber Farmer Liaison, who breaks down the forecasting process. “First, we bring in all the farmer liaisons to discuss what produce they think their community (shareholders) love the most. Then we invite the farmers in to tell all of us what they like to grow, what grows well organically in Kentucky. Finally, we all come to a consensus on what to forecast, and we choose the very best farmers for each item. For example, we know Barr Farms loves to grow carrots and they are the best in the region, so we forecast carrots with them. And our farmer liaisons tell us everyone loves carrots, so we decide to take them three times (out of eleven pop ups). It’s really an incredible process of learning what organic farmers need, what the community loves to eat, and coming to an agreement that makes everyone happy. We even come to a consensus across all the markets so that every shareholder gets basically the same product, no matter where they pick up,” says Montgomery. “The farmer gives us their best prices, and I negotiate on behalf of each farmer liaison to set that price for the next season. I try to keep both the farmers well paid and stretch our shareholder dollars so that everyone is well fed. And it works.”
To keep all of this organized, Mary utilizes a massive spreadsheet, which tracks every item ordered and offered, and compares it to the forecast made in January to make sure New Roots is sticking to their promises made to the farmers.
This forecasting process became serious the winter of 2016, when Rootbound Farms approached New Roots with the idea of having them supply five core items for each market. Doing the math, that’s half of the Fresh Stop Market supply. It was a tall order, but both Rootbound Farms and New Roots went for it. “Knowing we could commit to one small family farm, and guarantee them a good living, made us happy. At the same time, they are great farmers and we knew that the food would be outstanding.”
How does New Roots know how many shareholders will be coming, besides looking into a crystal ball? “That’s where the magic comes in. The farmer liaisons look back at the previous year, or if they are new, they estimate how many shareholder families will be coming. Once we set the forecast, we (New Roots and our Fresh Stop Market leaders) all pull together to make sure we implement our community organizing strategy to get the word out and recruit the families. It’s a wild ride, but this year we came very close to our forecast, and for that we are proud.”
Some people don’t know that New Roots is one of the only wholesale purchasers in the region that forecast with farmers and guarantee them a market. “It’s the key to our success,” says Ms. Mary. “Without that guarantee, the risk of growing would be too high.”
Rootbound Farm’s Ben Abel says one thing they’ve focused on in the last couple of years is to tweak their growing patterns to grow crops that people really love. “We’re trying to give people what they want,” Ben says. “Too many weird greens? We’ve learned to lay off those and focus on standard items like kale and tomatoes. We’re learning as we go. Grape tomatoes or slicing tomatoes? People prefer the slicing. Overall, though, it’s been going really well.”
When asked about the variety and quality of the produce this 2017 season, shareholder and volunteer Yolanda Hudson “thought it was outstanding.” “There was a ton of variety, which I enjoyed, because it gave me the opportunity to try new things,” Yolanda says. When asked about some of these new dishes, she gave all the New Roots staff a hot tip: “leek soup is my new thing.”
Acorn squash, Delicata squash, Butternut squash, and more squash! It can be a bit overwhelming with the enormous numbers of winter squash we have gotten from our amazing farmers this season. You may be asking yourself: How do I eat all this squash before they go bad? What delectable recipes are out there? How do I prepare them safely? How long do they keep? Which ones make the best pies? These answers and all other secrets can be found from a few of our leaders in our fresh food loving communities. Fear not, we have you covered!
Al Mortenson, a dedicated volunteer leader from the Smoketown Fresh Stop Market, gives some insight into his experience with winter squash.
Al: I grew up on a farm in Minnesota where we had a huge garden and grew much of our fruit and vegetable supply, eating it fresh in season, and canning or freezing it for the rest of the year.
We grew at least 100 winter squash each year—acorn and buttercup (not butternut). Buttercup squash is very similar to Kabocha (my favorite). We harvested them in early fall, then stored them outside in a cool (but not freezing) place until about the first of December. At that time, we would bake up the rest of the supply, scoop out the cooked pulp and freeze it in plastic containers.
How do you cook your winter squash?
Al: (On the farm) we just prepared it very simply—cut them in half, scooped out seeds and baked them. Then when it was done, we'd scoop out the pulp and put butter, and a little salt and pepper on it. Once in a while, we would put a little brown sugar or maple syrup on it, too. (Or put the brown sugar or maple syrup on it before baking.) I eat a lot of winter squash and still prepare it that way. I usually bake it in the microwave—anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes per half; time varies depending on size of squash. Once in a while if I am making roasted winter vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, etc.), I'll put in some cubed winter squash also. At my home, we eat our vegetables prepared very simply. Our philosophy is that if you have good quality, fresh vegetables, the taste is so good that you don't need to "fancy them up.”
Cybil Flora (pictured above), our Parkland Fresh Stop Market check-in leader, said she grew up only eating pumpkin pie, but as she got older, she was glad she ventured into the world of winter squash.
So how long do squash last?
Cybil: Last year there was an abundance of winter squashes towards the end of Fresh Stop Markets - so I went into winter with four Butternut and five or six Spaghetti Squash. They lasted me most of the winter. I looked up how to store them—cool dry location with plenty of ventilation. I also had roasted a lot of butternut and acorn squash and frozen the flesh for later use. I have already started freezing squash for use during the next winter!
Which squash is your favorite?
Cybil: I think my favorite is the Delicata - if you roast it after tossing it in olive oil then it caramelizes up and you can eat not only the flesh but the skin.
What is the safest way to cut up winter squash?
Cybil: I tend not to peel butternut right away because when you peel it then it’s more difficult to handle and that leads to more injuries. I also dry the squash after washing it before starting to use a knife. I have found that knives and wet hands do not mix well.
What you need:
What’s the difference between all of these Fresh Stop Market winter squashes? (From nytimes.com)
Now get to cooking (or storing!) for the winter season!
These days, the process of finding, ordering, and getting vegetables to New Roots’ 10 Louisville area-based Fresh Stop Markets is a relatively smooth process – with the occasional hiccup finding its way in just to keep things interesting.
But that was not always the case. The process has evolved since the organization was founded in 2009. For example, “this year, we haven’t had to go out to the farms and physically pick anything,” said Mary Montgomery, New Roots’ Uber Farmer Liaison.
“There have been times when we’ve gone out to the farms and picked vegetables and brought them back to the market so they would have what we forecasted,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes the shareholders don’t know the length and time that is involved in getting the food to the market for them.”
Despite the effort, she said it is worth it to make sure shareholders are not disappointed. “We love and enjoy seeing the community eat healthy and being happy,” she said.
Creating something from scratch has meant a learning curve for everyone, including the farmers who have partnered with New Roots. Montgomery said she and the farmers have had to learn to speak the same language.
“I have to work with the farmers because they like to sell a lot of their items by the pound, which makes financial sense for them, but we need to buy them by the ‘eaches,’” she said.
Each Fresh Stop Market share contains ten items, and when ordering things such as cucumbers, Montgomery said it has to be done per item, as sometimes an individual piece of produce can weigh a pound or more.
“If a particular market wants two cucumbers per share, I need to make sure I’m getting 72 cucumbers and not 72 pounds,” she said.
Montgomery gives a lot of credit to the farmers who have changed their ways to work with New Roots, which has proven beneficial for everyone.
But no matter how much New Roots works to continue to improve the Fresh Stop Markets, there is one thing that can’t be controlled – the weather.
“Trying to have all of the Markets eating on the same accord has been a task this season, because we don’t want any disparities in our markets,” she said. “And a lot is due to the weather as to when that crop is going to be available to us. They may have peppers one week for our markets and the next week (of the two-week cycle), they may not have enough to offer.”
Montgomery said they are always looking for ways to improve the process, but one of the most important things people can do is volunteer at the Markets.
“Be understanding, patient, and volunteer, because if they don’t help, then these markets go away,” she said. “We really do need the volunteers, not just buying the shares. Yes, we want you to enjoy the food, but these markets are alive and it takes volunteerism.”
It also goes the other way around. New Roots Executive Director Karyn Moskowitz reminds us that, “All volunteers really should be purchasing shares. We want everyone to gain access to this beautiful food, and leave the market and go home and experience delicious, nutrition-filled meals.”
For our Jewish shareholders, this time of year holds special meaning. On Wednesday evening, at sunset on September 20th, we ushered in Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. Jews ushered in that evening and into the next two days the mystical “Birth of the Universe,” and celebrated it as the head of the Jewish year. It is a time of renewal and hopes for a year ahead full of peace, prosperity and blessing. Coming up on the evening of September 29th and lasting until September 30th, is Yom Kipper, the day of atonement and fasting, with even more holidays coming in October, most notably, Sukkot. This season, for many Jewish families, is also all about the food.
On Rosh Hashanah, special challah bread is dipped in honey to symbolize a prayer for sweet things to come in the new year. Challah is round on Rosh Hashanah, recalling the cyclical nature of the year. It is also symbolic of a crown, alluding to the desire to crown G-d as king. Apples are important on this day as well.
“Many Jews consider apples to be a perfect fruit—beautiful to the eye, the smell, and delicious to eat. Apples are dipped in honey during Rosh Hashanah for added sweetness,” says New Roots director Karyn Moskowitz, who is very immersed in her Jewish culture, especially the food. “I use this as an opportunity to buy a big supply of local honey from ValuMarket and use in all my Rosh Hashanah cooking so our upcoming year is sweet as well.”
Both the body and head of a fish are symbolic for Rosh Hashanah. Fish swim in schools and breed in plenty, and as a result, have traditionally been seen as representations of abundance.
Some foods are treasured because they are a play on words, meaning the word for the food sounds like something else you’d want to wish for in the new year. Egyptian Jews and others eat black-eyed peas because they are called Rubya, related to the Hebrew word rov meaning a lot, many. Black-eyed pea dishes, such as Hoppin’ Jack, are traditional New Year’s eats in the American Southeast. Ashkenazi or Jews of eastern European descent added carrots, “ma’rin” in Yiddish, which can also mean increase, in order to ask that merits be increased. Some say the sliced carrots in a dish like tsimmes look like gold coins, making this a way of asking for wealth.
Parkland shareholder Marcia Segal gives her take on tsimmes, “I love to make traditional tsimmes out of sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots, dried fruit like prunes, and a bit of honey. Tsimmes is a great dish because it is sweet and has beautiful Fall flavors and colors.”
For Yom Kippur, after a day of fasting, traditional foods cooked and served by Karyn to her guests include gefilte fish (both vegan made out of tofu and freshwater fish), as well as kasha varnishkes, or buckwheat groats and bow-tie noodles.
All shareholders who are interested in joining Karyn’s break the fast on Saturday evening, September 30th, can RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited so write soon!
Okra is one of those foods that elicit a strong response: either you love it or hate – there is no in between.
That was the case for Fresh Stop Market shareholder Michael Sabes.
“Both my wife and I grew up never eating okra and not liking the sliminess of it,” he said. “In my parent’s house, it is almost a taboo vegetable to mention.”
On those rare occasions when he did eat it, the okra was deep fried or in vegetarian gumbo. It wasn’t until one of his weekly shares at the Gendler Grapevine @ the J market included okra that he decided to give it another shot.
“When picking up our food share at the last Fresh Stop Market, I was surprised to see okra as one of the 10 items,” Sabes said. “I gladly took my share and wondered what in the world I was going to do with the okra. When I saw Karyn I said, ‘You are going to make me try to cook with okra?’
Sabes said he knew that adding acid such as vinegar would help decrease the sliminess that makes okra so unpopular with many people.
“I went home and did some research on the internet and found a recipe for roasting okra on the stove,” he said. “I was amazed at how much they shrunk down. The okra was fantastic! It was crunchy and there was no sliminess at all. My wife and I truly enjoyed it.”
Sabes enjoyed the okra so much that when the next Fresh Stop Market brought more okra, he was excited to try it in a different recipe.
“I took the okra and sliced it lengthwise and put it in a hot pot,” he said. “I then added sliced mushroom and cooked it dry until a little tender. I added fresh garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and a little sugar and some fresh chopped tomatoes and let it cook for several minutes. It was a fabulous side dish for dinner.”
It’s too early to say if okra will become one of his and his wife’s favorite vegetables, but it’s no longer on the do-not-serve list.
“I am no longer afraid of it and will enjoy making it more often,” he said. “I even hope to roast some when the family comes over for a special dinner.”
The History of Okra
By Stephen Bartlett, creator of the non-profit Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville, which educates, trains, empowers, and accompanies the next generation of farmers in the rebuilding of a just and local food economy in Louisville and its regional foodshed.
Okra, is a subtropical or tropical plant from the botanical family that includes cotton, hibiscus, and cocoa. The okra flower looks identical to the hibiscus flower and is a perennial that grows up to 6 feet tall, but is grown as an annual in temperate climates. The greatest diversity of okra varieties exists in West Africa, but Ethiopians and South Asians also claim okra originates in their regions. Okra came to the New World on slave ships from West Africa, as early as the mid-1600s in Brazil, and in the 1700s in North America. It is nutritious and a hardy plant easy to cultivate in varied conditions. Okra is most famous in the US as the raw ingredient for "gumbo" type sauces.
If you harvest the pods young and tender, there is less "goo" in them. Favorite recipes for okra dishes include frying in a corn meal breading, or stewed with tomatoes and hot peppers. Young pods are delicious to eat raw in the field. Okra dishes in the US have a strong association as a kind of African or "soul" food. Less widely known in mainstream culture in the US are the many recipes from South Asia based on okra.