Focusing on local: (l-r) Chelsea Coombs, sous chef and Susan Joy, chef and owner of Blue Heron Catering in Easton, MD.
 
The Chef’s Perspective
 
By Bri Farrell – Chesapeake Harvest Regional Sales Manager
 
Those of us who catch the cooking bug are relentless. We lie awake thinking about white Hayman sweet potatoes, why they’re so unique and how hard those farmers have to work to produce a bountiful crop. For us, cooking goes beyond how we do it, it becomes why we do it.
 
Susan Joy of Blue Heron Catering is that sort of chef. A relatively new user of Chesapeake Harvest, she has quickly become a trusted partner with valuable feedback. When we spoke, Susan explained her theory on local: “You can’t do 100 percent local, because we don’t have things like pineapple and rice growing in our region. But you can do 50 or more percent.” Even when the flush of summer produce is past, there are hydroponic and long-storage crops, like lettuces, tomatoes, root vegetables and apples that are available year-round. At the mention of apples, Susan remarked about her budding relationship with Blades Orchard owners, Lynda and Stephen. “These people whose lives are their farms, they’re so much more willing to have conversations about what we want or need – they’re invested.” The same could be said of the chef who chooses to use local food. Susan remarked, “You’re more connected and portrayed as more passionate about what you do.”
 
I first met Susan for a sales pitch. We wanted to bring her on board with Chesapeake Harvest for a multitude of reasons: she’s well-known, her food is delicious, and a catering company is constantly busy. There was no pitch to that meeting; it was an open, honest conversation about how important it is to marry local food with local chefs who then set it in front of local people.
 
In our more recent conversation, she told me, “It was scary at first, going local, because it comes off as more expensive. But then, I bought a case of this beautiful bibb lettuce, you know – the one from Baywater Farms, and it actually got lost in the fridge!” (She was laughing at this point – this stuff really happens.) “When we found it, I was shocked! It had been at least 10 days and it was still PERFECT! That never happens with other lettuce. Give it three days and you throw away half the container!” With Chesapeake Harvest product, you don’t have to make a second purchase later in the week, you don’t have to factor waste into your food cost, and you’re supporting a local farmer. For a chef, that’s a no-brainer.
 
Susan advises newcomers, “If you’re on the fence about joining Chesapeake Harvest, just try it for one week. When our first delivery came, everything was so beautiful we all just stopped to look at it. I even had to post a picture to Facebook, I couldn’t believe it!” She added, “The platform is pretty seamless and knowing what’s available helps me plan menus and inspires us to try something new.” 
 
Even more inspiring is what’s happening on the other side of the pasture. These farmers, our neighbors and fellow community members, are seeing an increase in business. They’re given a chance to expand their markets and respond to customer needs. On behalf of each and every one of them, thank you for your business. We wouldn’t be here without the support of local people invested in local businesses and local food. It’s all part of why we do it.

 
Sweet Potato Gnocchi 
 
Ingredients:
  • Two pounds of sweet potatoes (any color)
  • 2/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (more for dusting)
 
Method
 
  1. Wash the potatoes well. Puncture a few times with a fork. Wrap in a damp paper towel, and microwave until soft, about 7 minutes. Or, bake in the oven for about an out the flesh into a mixing bowl. Discard the skin. Mix the ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg and salt until well combined and almost completely smooth. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, kneading very gently after each addition (don’t over knead it or it will become tough).
  2. When the dough becomes easier to handle, transfer it to a clean floured work surface. Shape into a loaf, about 9×5 inches. Cut a slice off of dough off as if you were slicing a loaf of bread. Roll and stretch the slice on a floured surface until it forms a long, skinny rope-like shape. Cut the rope into 1-inch segments and transfer the gnocchi to a bowl.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add the gnocchi, and boil until the gnocchi rise to the top of the water. Drain and toss gently with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. At this point you can top with any sauce that you might enjoy: tomato sauce, chopped greens sautéed in olive oil and garlic, brown butter with lemon zest and fresh sage.
 
Serves 6
For a gluten free version, click here

At Turtle Pace Farm in Melfa, VA, even the grandchildren take part in creating a culture of food safety.
 
Food Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility
 

Everyone wants safe food. Consumers want to have faith that the foods they consume won’t make them ill, and farmers want to provide a product that is as free of risk as possible. One of Chesapeake Harvest’s primary missions, as we cultivate economic opportunities for farmers, is to support our region’s specialty crop producers in their food safety goals. For farmers, this is a complex task that, depending on customer demands, can require a written food safety plan, annual and pre-harvest risk assessments, frequent water testing, training workers in health and hygiene policies, wildlife monitoring, frequent equipment cleaning, intensive record keeping, the capacity to implement the plan and pass an annual audit, and many more details.

While our focus is on the farmer, the assurance of food safety is best viewed as a shared role. Federal and state agencies provide the framework to promote the delivery of safe food. Food producers and distributors must continue to maintain high food safety standards. And, consumers can become educated about food safety risks and adopt practices to avoid risksin the home and in their food choices. Chesapeake Harvest enhances these efforts with multi-level education, training, and resources to support both buyers and suppliers.


November Produce Picks

Carrot

You may see carrots as a backdrop vegetable, something you can’t live without but that rarely make center stage on your table. Allow us to shine a spotlight on fall carrots! One taste and you’ll be ready to give them a starring role in your fall menus. The secret is in the sweetness. When temperatures drop, certain plants begin converting natural starches to sugars to help prevent them from freezing. Lucky for us, because all that survival instinct means that carrots and other cold-hardy vegetables actually get sweeter and the mercury drops. Although, contrary to folklore, they won’t give you the ability to see in the dark, carrots do contain copious quantities of carotenoidswhich guard against vision loss, cancer, stroke, and other diseases. Use them raw, roasted, souped or stewed. Or try juicing them into a nifty sangria!

Onions

While we’re on the subject of gotta-have-em vegetables, now is a great time to get your hands on the last of the sweet onions. Not intended for long term storage, these sweet show stoppers will become increasingly difficult to find as winter moves forward. It’s worth a little extra effort to snag some before they’re gone. Unlike their smaller, firmer cousins, sweet onions are less likely to burn your eyes due to reduced quantities of certain sulfur compounds. This also makes them sweeter, and friendlier on the tongue if eaten raw. They’re also perfect grilled, roasted, or fried. Here’s an idea for a seasonal frittata that will be perfect for you this holiday season.