Belgrade Mobile Market

A few MSU students have created a new wonderful market that is run through the Towns Harvest program.  A bus was converted into a mobile market facility. The plan is to visit small towns around Bozeman where the access of fresh local is scarce, and sell it to community members at a very low cost.  There are 2 locations in which the bus travels, Belgrade Montana and Three Fork Montana. I had the pleasure of working in Belgrade last week.  The sites chosen in each town are the senior centers, there are the locations where the bus goes to and sets up food stands.  Apparently the market in Three Forks was more successful than the Belgrade Market, where we only had a handful of customers.  Food is sold at a really low cost, for instance, $1 will get you 6 farm eggs, or a big bag of lettuce, these prices are 50-70% less than the normal cost at a farmers market.  To me, this is a great opportunity for people to eat fresh local food, and it’s so cheap, I ended up buying 5 dollars worth of stuff before I left.

            As far as a critique on the mobile market, I think there just needs to be more advertising.  Things like flyers and radio add have been implemented, but there needs to be more.  I think things will pick up too once word of mouth has spread, and more people realize what a great deal this is.  Also, I do not think the location of the senior center in Belgrade is the best spot.  It is really far from main street, and there are no other buildings around it, plus it’s literally right next to the Gallatin Valley Airport.  We did however have volunteers go out to the street and hold a sign and wave as people drove by, but it didn’t seem to dram much attention.  I honestly think if the Belgrade location was on main street at a park or even at a gas station, we would kill it. Other than that, I am excited to see what the future holds for the mobile market. 

CSA DAY

Last Wednesday I helped out with the Towns Harvest Farm CSA distribution.  This happens once a week, and the farm provides its members with a wide assortment of fresh vegetables.  This week we had squash, kohlrabi, snap peas, cilantro, basil, sage, salad greens, bunch onions, beets, and cups of strawberries and raspberries.  There are 41 members of the Towns Harvest CSA, and all range in different age groups, from college students to seniors.  I really thought the CSA went well, everyone was really excited about the food, and no one complained about getting to much “rabbit food”, this was what members would call it when the CSA basket consisted of mainly greens, which is expected in the early season. 

            As far as a critique, I am not really sure what else I would change.  One thing I thought was a great strategy was placing the heavy foods in the front of the line and lighter foods like herbs and berries at the end, this is to avoid food being crushed in a members takeout bag.  I did notice one issue at the CSA, it was the placement of the pick up location, we were in a small storage structure, and we were not facing the drive way to the farm, if people hadn’t already known we were in there, then there was no way for anyone to find us. I think the CSA pickup should be at the west facing stoop of the newly built building.

            It was important for people to know how to cook the food, and most people did.  But kohlrabi was new to a lot of people, so we were sure to explained recipes to the members as they walked trough the line. 

Vacuum, dehydrate, freeze and blanch

Last Thursdays class consisted of learning about different food preservation techniques.  We discussed the proper procedures to freeze, blanch, dehydrate and vacuum food. All these techniques preserve food differently, but some of them can be used together.  For instance to efficiently store greens such as spinach, chard, or kale you would first blanch the greens in water, store them in a vacuum sealed bag and freeze them.  Blanching means boiling food for a short amount of time in salt water then plunging it into an ice bath, this cooks the food very briefly but keeps a lot of taste and nutrients.  We all know what freezing does, it’s just a great way to store food, but if your food is vacuumed sealed then it will keep in the freezer longer.  Vacuum sealing is the process of bagging food in a air tight environment which limits growth of aerobic bacteria or fungi.  If you just put meat in the freezer its kept fresh for about 6 months, but if you store it in a vacuum-sealed bag, then it can keep fresh for up to 2 years. Dehydrating food is the process of slowly cooking food so all the moisture is gone.  Most foods have a lot of moisture; fruits and vegetables can typically be about 80% water.  After dehydrating food the flavors are super concentrated. We used a electric dehydrator in class and dried out herbs. 

            Our class conducted an experiment in which we blanched a big batch of greens, then we separated them into 2 different group in which we vacuumed sealed half, and just bagged the other half and didn’t suck out any air. We will taste test the food next week in class.

            I have dried food before this class, and it worked out great.  I made venison jerky with a small charcoal grill.  It was a tedious process, but it worked out great. It was really difficult keeping the grill at a low temperature around 140 degrees.

 

Farmers Market Report

              I attended the Bogert Farmers Market on Tuesday and observed different marketing strategies used buy vendors.  Mainly I wanted to study the farmers selling produce, I am not really interested in the other vendors who sell candles and jewelry. I did notice many similarities throughout all the farmers; display was the most important part. Having a big sign also attracted many customers, but standing up behind the tables and being very social with everyone who stopped by was very important.  Displaying all the vegetables colors as much as possible was very important, things like showing the stems of chard and kale sold more than if they were just bagged up. 

            3 hearts farm was the only stand with zucchini and they killed it, they sold out in the first hour.  Planning ahead of the season and starting things early will be beneficial when the farmer’s markets start, if you’re the only one with a new crop, people will flock to you.  But demand for one product can change drastically as the season continues, for instance, 3 hearts sold out of beets the first week in the first hour, then the second week they brought extra beets to the market and only sold 3 bunches.  Location at the market is critical as well, if your at the end of the line, in most cases everyone has bought all the food they need, especially if your growing the same thing as everyone else.

            Some tips for a successful market are selling a variety of produce, and try to be different than everyone else.  Location at the market is very important.  Being social and standing up while people are walking by.  Display your food so it looks colorful and appetizing, have coolers in the back to keep things fresh such as greens that will wilt if its to hot out.  And if you grow organically or sustainable, show it off, people will support you more. 

Aside

Preservation Report

 

            Thursday’s class was all about canning and preserving food.  This was one of the most interesting classes so far. The first half of class consisted of an intense overview of proper canning techniques.  This was all new information to me; I have never canned anything before. A MSU extensions agent guided the class through all the important information we needed to know before we started.  If canning is not done properly it can be deadly, botulism is a disease that grows in food that is not properly processed. There are two ways to can food, either with a pressure canner, or a water bath canner.  A pressure canner is a great tool, it can destroy botulism spores by heating water hotter than 210 degrees, it can get up to 250.  Water bath canning works well for high acidic foods because botulism won’t grow in an acidic environment.

           

             The second half of class consisted of canning. First we made strawberry jam. The class was split into groups, each group used a jam recipe that required less sugar, then we taste tested each one. I preferred the jam my group cooked, it called for half the amount of sugar than the standard recipe.  My group accidentally added lemon juice to out jam, but it ended up tasting great.  Next we canned tomatoes, which was very easy.  First we blanched the tomatoes so they were easy to peel.  Then they were quartered and stuffed in cans.  Finally we made pickles, also a very easy process. After the pickles are processed in the hot bath, they need to sit in their jars for a week, needles to say I cant wait to try them in class this coming Thursday.

           

            I’m looking into purchasing a water bath canner pot and rack soon. 

Lunch with Cruzado

Last week our class prepared a lunch for the President of MSU.  This was no typical lunch; all the dishes served had ingredients from the Towns Harvest Farm.  This was a bit tricky because the lunch was planed 2 weeks earlier than the lunches prepared in the past.  So, this limited the types of crops we could use for our dishes.  Crops that were available consisted of eggs, arugula, honey, cilantro, garlic, snap peas, strawberries, and some other short season crops.  We made due with what we had, and the lunch was a great success.

            I was in charge of two spreads.  The first dish I made was honey lavender butter.  I learned how to make butter in the week prior to the Presidents lunch, so I used the left over butter from that class, and then I harvested lavender from the farm, and used honey from the bees on the farm.  I loved the butter, and it was so easy to make.  I added about 7 sticks of butter, 4 tablespoons of honey, and about 3 tablespoons of a mix of minced fresh lavender and dried lavender.  The next dish I made was a sauce I made the first week of class, mojo cilantro sauce.  Originally a Spanish Island sauce, it can go well with everything.  The sauce consisted of garlic, cilantro, and cumin processed into a paste, then olive oil and a little bit of water was added slowly, then salt and sherry vinegar was added that the end for taste.  Apparently President Cruzado loved the sauce.

            This was the first time meeting the President, and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.  She really seemed interested in the Towns Harvest Farm, and was excited to talk to each student individually.  Everyone else seemed impressed with the meal as well, other big shots like the head of the agriculture department was there as well.  It was great to listen to my advisor talk about how well the farm was doing, and how funding has skyrocketed to the point that the farm looks completely different since I worked on it 3 years ago.  One thing that really stuck with me was when Bill Dyer stated that this time 3 years ago, he was pretty much begging people at the lunch to help fund out program, and now we have all the funding we need and then some.

            Everyone in the class did a wonderful job cooking and helping out.  No one slacked off, and everything tasted great. I hope this tradition keeps going on for years to come, even Cruzado stated that this was the event that she looked forward to the most every year. 

Culinary Marketing: Farm to Table Reflection Blog #1

          Its always great going back to the Towns Harvest Farm, this being my third year involved on the farm, it feels good to see it still running strong.  Day one on the Towns Harvest Farm consisted of reviewing the expectations of the class, and a farm tour.  Chaz Holt runs the Towns Harvest Farm, and has been doing it for 3 years.  I did my sophomore internship during his first year, so its great to see all his new projects coming along.  The 3 acres on the field are in a 6-year rotation, consisting of cover crops and all different classes of vegetables.  Because this class starts at the end of June there really isn’t much to harvest. Also, we need to take into account the food needed to supply the CSA pick ups and the different mobile farmers markets.  So the first day we were able to pick mainly greens, green garlic, turnips, cilantro, and a few other vegetables, so our options were limited.

            My partner and I chose to pick turnips, cilantro and green garlic.  Our recipe revolved around this cilantro garlic sauce that I previously tasted in my Nutrition and Society class I took in the spring. It was originally served over boiled potatoes, but we decided it would go great with turnip chips. The sauce recipe needed 4 cloves of fresh garlic and a bunch of cilantro blended into a paste and mixed with cumin powder.  Then 4 tbs of water and a cup of olive oil was slowly poured into the mixture, then salt and vinegar was added to for a stronger taste. After learning this recipe I personally planted extra cilantro in my home garden so I can make this sauce throughout the summer, its so good.   Next was the turnip chips, which was very simple to make.  First, the turnips were washed and sliced thin to resemble potato chips, the oven needed to be pre heated to about 400 and the chips were coated with olive oil and seasoning.  Then the chips were baked for about 20-25 minutes until brown and crispy. It turned out to be a great combination.

            My favorite part of this class is the fact that we pick fresh farm food and prepare dishes for lunch the next day, it is such a treat to be able to eat fresh food like this. Every one else’s dishes were amazing as well, and the cilantro garlic sauce we made went well with almost all the other dishes.  Its going to take some creativity to make some new recipes next week because there isn’t many new vegetables to choose from.