Posts Tagged ‘Farm to Table’

Posted on February 15, 2011 - by

From Farm to Your Table: CSA Sign-Up Season

Sure, much of the U.S. is covered with dismal, soot-sprayed snow, and it may feel like we’ve entered Narnia (always winter, never Christmas), but guess what, a new growing season is about to begin!

If you haven’t already done so, this is peak season to sign-up for a community-supported agriculture program, or CSA. What’s a CSA, you ask? It’s a subscription program to a farm. For a set fee that is paid at the beginning of the growing season, you will receive a share of the farm’s harvest for the rest of the year. Usually, this includes a basket of vegetables and fruits, but can also include eggs, meats, dairy products and honey. Your food will be fresh, seasonal, and local, and you’ll have the opportunity to get to know the farmer who produced your food.

Sure, you could buy local and seasonal produce from the grocery store, but CSAs are unique in a few other ways. Since shareholders pay upfront at the beginning of the year, you help the farmer with his cash flow and act as an investor in this year’s harvest. This shared risk means that if the growing season is good, you reap the benefits with more abundant produce, and if the Northeast is hit by tomato blight, well, you will not receive any tomatoes in your CSA basket. In addition, because you have little control over what is in your share, you will have to be flexible with what you cook. This can might fill you with dread or excitement. Personally, I am always thrilled to find an unrecognizable vegetable in my basket, and find that CSAs force you to broaden your horizons.

To give you an idea of what you might get, one week last fall, I received an acorn squash, a bunch of beets, three heads of red leaf lettuce, half a dozen jalapeno peppers, green peppers, rainbow swiss chard, red potatoes, a sack of green and yellow beans, onions, parsley, and broccoli crowns. The next week, I received red onions, apples, oranges, pears, bananas, a bunch of swiss chard, jalapenos, potatoes, a butternut squash, and a nice stalk of brussels sprouts.

The only downside is you will spend a lot more time washing dirt off your produce compared to store-bought goods. And in the interest of using up your groceries before they spoil, you may also find yourself considering such avant-garde flavor combinations as brussels sprouts with orange-jalapeno chutney. But that is a small price to pay.

To find a CSA program near you, check out Local Harvest.

Drop a line at


Posted on May 7, 2010 - by

Feasting for a Cause: Meritage Farm to Table Dinner & Fresh the Movie

Guest Post by: Lori Fredrich of Burp! Where Food Happens

FRESH is more than a film, it is a reflection of a rising movement of people and communities across America who are re-inventing our food system. Directed by ana Sofia joanes, FRESH celebrates the farmers that are really making a difference — individuals like Milwaukee’s own Will Allen, whose vision and guidance has made Growing Power one of the most successful urban farming projects in the nation.Fresh is about inspiration — not scare tactics.The film offers a practical vision for the future of sustainable agriculture — and empowers ordinary people to take action that incites real (and lasting) change.

FRESH is currently being screened in selected cities (and homes) around the nation. And the screenings are being accompanied by a series of great events promoting local eating and sustainable agriculture.

Sustainability is at the heart of our food philosophy here at Burp! So, when the good people at FRESH asked us to be the official bloggers at one of their farm to table restaurant events, how could we resist? Of course, we had no idea that our dinner at Meritage would be one of the best we’ve eaten in the Milwaukee area.

Sure, Meritage has a Zagat rating of “Very Good to Excellent” with comments ranging from “a welcome addition to the West side” to “can’t wait to go back.” They’re soon to be named among the “Top 25 Restaurants” this week by Milwaukee Magazine. And yes — friends have recommended we eat there many-a-time in the past… but we failed to heed their call. Silly Peef and Lo!

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were seated promptly. The host even granted our request to be seated at the window, where we’d have better natural lighting for our photography. Our waiter, Peter, was an absolute joy. Friendly and knowledgeable, Peter put his 25 years of restaurant service experience to work from the get-go. He started off by walking us through the prix fixe farm-to-table menu:

  • Spinach salad with buttermilk apple cider vinaigrette
  • Portabella mushroom pizza with feta cheese, spinach, and roasted tomatoes
  • Our choice of entrees: Bison ribeye with roasted fingerling potatoes and vegetables OR Vegetable paprikash with tofu, broccoli, carrots, and celery root
  • Meritage’s signature dessert: Chocolate Lover’s Cake

The spinach salad arrived at the table with a glass of Charles DeFere Brut — a delicate, yet concentrated, champagne with elegant bubbles and a pleasantly toasted aroma. It paired beautifully with the spinach salad — which featured locally grown (and stored) apples, local greenhouse spinach and red onions, with a delightfully sweet-tart buttermilk dressing.

The portabella mushroom “pizza” also paired nicely with the champagne. Composed of a grilled portabella mushroom cap, tomato-based sauce, sauteed spinach, roasted Roma tomatoes, and feta cheese, this dish reminded us of the sort of starter you’d find served in a Napa Valley eatery. The dish was bursting with flavors — salty, sweet, and briny — with the flavor of freshly cracked pepper lingering on the finish. Even the bed of watercress on which the “pizza” was served seemed to complement the dish swimmingly.

Our entrees were similarly impressive.
The vegetable paprikash was a virtual cornucopia of late winter vegetables — celery root, broccoli, carrots, and tofu — encircling a mound of rustic mashed potatoes. The sour cream-based sauce was perfectly balanced, with just the right amount of paprika, giving the dish a warm, yet sweet, flavor. The wine pairing, an Argentinian Malbec from Nieto Senetiner, turned out to be a well-rounded, honest wine with a surprising amount of character. Soft spices and pungent blackberry flavor mellowed into an oaky finish that seemed to balance well with the warm notes of the paprika.

The grilled bison rib-eye was perfectly cooked to a medium-rare — and covered in richly flavored sauteed wild mushrooms. It was accompanied by a generous helping of sweet, roasted fingerling potatoes, more of the roasted Roma tomatoes, and a luscious pile of roasted celery root. The dish was paired with a Wisconsin gem — Big Mouth Red by Stone’s Throw Vineyard — a wine bursting with cherry flavor, augmented by a bit of pepper on the finish.

And then there was the dessert: Chocolate Lover’s Cake. Although we were nearly too full to move, we couldn’t resist this sumptuous treat. Layers of flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and chocolate ganache came together in a chocoholic’s dream that was further topped with whipped cream and a sprig of mint. It was even more perfect when paired with Ramos Pinto Porto Riserva (Portugal) — an unfiltered ruby port with sweet cherry notes and plenty of complementary chocolate flavors.

Throughout dinner, Peter was happy to guide us through the menu — answering questions about the various farms that had supplied the dishes we ate, and running back to the kitchen to check on items about which we had questions. Turns out Peter himself grew up on a farm in Dubuque, Iowa, where his father farmed and his mother gardened and captured the summer bounty by canning and preserving. He learned first-hand what “farm to table” meant — and it’s fed his passion for the restaurant business. His eyes shone as he spoke about his boss, Chef Jan Kelly.

“There’s no Milwaukee chef better than Kelly…” he crooned, “she has the restaurant business in her blood, and there’s no one who pairs flavors quite like she does.”

Peter also introduced us to Chef Kelly, herself, who took the time to talk with us about her philosophy in bringing farm-fresh produce to her restaurant table.

Kelly has been involved with “restaurant supported agriculture” programs for almost three years now. She was a founding member of “Braise RSA” — the brainchild of David Swanson — an organization which provides the infrastructure for local farmers to easily distribute and sell to restaurants and businesses who support local food in Southeast Wisconsin. She also supports local farms and businesses like Growing Power, Sassy Cow Creamery, Simple Soyman, Yuppie Hill, Pin-Oak Ridge Farms, and Lakeview Buffalo Farm.

“These are not corporations,” Kelly commented, “they’re people. And we’re supporting families, not just buying product.”

Kelly suspects that up to 70% of the food she serves at Meritage is sourced either locally or regionally — which is pretty fantastic, considering we live in Wisconsin (a lovely place, but not one known for its long growing season).

“This is the hardest time of the year,” she confesses, though judging from the meal we’d just finished, she’s doing pretty well. “Braise is great,” she added, “but Growing power gives us balance during the winter months — fairly soon we’ll be able to get green tomatoes from their greenhouse.”

Ah — the thought of fried green tomatoes made us feel a little bit woobly inside. And we couldn’t help but feel excited when she told us that they’d be growing Chinese long beans for Meritage during the next growing season.

We chatted for almost a half-hour as we sipped our locally roasted Alterra coffee. It was difficult not to feel utterly welcome — as if we’d been invited into Kelly’s living room for a visit. Of course, that might not be so far from the truth. In fact, our night ended with a hug from the Chef… and the feeling that we’d just done something pretty awesome.


Of course, one night of awesome only goes so far… we need to stick with it… which is exactly what FRESH is all about. One person at a time, making little changes that have a big impact.

Here are a couple of things you can do right now to bring a little bit of “FRESH” into your own lives:

We’ll be back next week to tell you all about the movie. And talk a bit more about things we can do to really make a difference. One little bite at a time.

Disclosure: We were not paid or compensated in any way for writing this post.  We were asked to write about the experience by the crew over at FRESH, but the opinions are our own. In other words, the experience really was that awesome — which makes it all the easier to share.


Posted on May 7, 2010 - by

FRESH Farm to Table Dinner: La Merenda

Guest Post by: Haute Apple Pie

Buying local is nothing new. 100 even 50 years ago, buying and eating local wasn’t a choice. Everybody had to do it.

When you put it that way, “local” is far from a new concept but the buy & eat local craze is sweeping the nation and the ladies of HAP are excited about it. We recently attended a “Farm to Table” dinner hosted at La Merenda, an international tapas restaurant and a true Milwaukee gem. The dinner was hosted in promotion of the movie “FRESH,” a documentary exploring the world of sustainable farming and shedding light on what has become the industrial agriculture market.

A member of Braise RSA, La Merenda is a local restaurant with a focus on buying local. With an eclectic mix of flavors from around the world, you would never guess many of the ingredients come from our own backyard. Local businesses like Sweet Water Organics, an urban farm that uses hydroponics to grow crops, make it possible for restaurants like La Merenda to support the cause.

Executive Chef Peter Sandroni prepared a four-course meal, with every ingredient hailing from Wisconsin…not an easy task for April in Wisconsin. Wisconsinites are lucky at this time of the year to escape spring snowfalls. But Sandroni mastered his courses with the freshest of ingredients and bold flavors that kept us wanting more. When we asked about our favorite seasonal dish, the Butternut Squash Ravioli, we found that not only does he buy local for that dish as well, but Sandroni houses the squash in the basement of his house to ensure he has enough! We were also treated to sustainably produced wine at each course, expertly paired by local sommelier, Nate Norfolk.

Don’t think that you can make a restaurant style meal using all local ingredients? Check out the menu and you’ll be amazed at what you can find.

Course 1: Toasted Goat Cheese Salad
Honey Goat Cheese: Montchevre Belmont, WI
Mixed Greens: Sweet Water Organics, Milwaukee
Pancetta: La Quercia Norwark, IA
Wine: 2008 Tangent Sauvignon Blanc – Edna Valley, CA

La Merenda Toasted Goat Cheese Salad

Course 2: Spinach Ravioli in Rosemary Cream Sauce
Spinach: Pinehold Gardens Oak Creek, WI
Ricotta: Grande Cheese Brownsville, WI
Cream: Sassy Cow Creamery Columbus, WI
Rosemary: from Peter’s house!
Parmesan: Sarveccio Plymouth, WI
Wine: 2005 Vitanza Chianti Colli Senesi – Tuscany, Italy

Course 3: Braised Pork with Mushroom and Blue Cornmeal Polenta
Pork: Wilson Farm Meats Elkhorn, WI
Prosciutto: La Quercia Norwark, IA
Carrots: Tipi Produce Evansville, WI
Onions and Mushrooms: River Valley Farm Burlington, WI
Blue Corn Meal: Pristine View Farm Hillsboro, WI
Half and Half: Sassy Cow Creamery Columbus, WI
Asiago: Belgioso Denmark, WI
Wine: 2008 Ecologica Syrah/Malbec – La Rioja, Argentina

La Merenda Milwaukee Braised Pork with Polenta

Course 4: Chocolate Hickory Nut Crème Brulee
Chocolate: Omahene Milwaukee, WI
Cream: Sasssy Cow Creamery, Columbus WI
Eggs: Yuppie Hill Farm Burlington, WI
Hickory Nuts: Twin Hawks Hillsboro, WI
Wine: NV Lautenback’s Orchard Country Sweet Black Cherry – Fish Creek, WI

La Merenda Chocolate Creme Brulee

Similar to Food Inc and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, FRESH digs in and asks viewers to reconsider where their food comes from and why they buy what they buy.  Without being all doomsday-style, FRESH will definitely make you think twice about what you eat and how even small decisions with your dollar might cause corporations to listen up.

We were also thrilled to see a fellow Milwaukeean, Will Allen of the Growing Power urban farming initiative, play a prominent and truly inspirational role in the film.  If you thought “farm” and “city” can’t go hand-in-hand, think again.  Based in a rough Milwaukee neighborhood, Growing Power’s two acre headquarters is home to 6 greenhouses, aquaponics stations, beehives, hen houses, goats, a compost center and more. We can’t wait to check out their goods at the Fox Point Farmer’s Market and hope to pop by HQ sometime soon.

How do you get involved with this Fresh movement? What are your favorite “fresh” places to eat? Share your ideas here or get more involved by hosting your own farm to table event with ideas from the FRESH community.


Posted on January 26, 2010 - by

Café Boulud – Palm Beach

Guest Blogger: Bill Couzens, Founder of

lobsterCafé Boulud – Palm Beach opened its doors in 2003.  Its location in the historic Brazilian Court, a 1920’s Spanish styled Palm Beach landmark turned luxury boutique hotel, is in the heart of Palm Beach and moments away from the famed Worth Avenue. Café Boulud’s cuisine is not unlike its New York City sister restaurant Café Boulud NEW YORK where classic French dishes are prepared with ingredients sourced from the seasonal specialties available at local markets.

Chef-Owner Daniel Boulud is a seasoned restaurateur with five restaurants; one in New York City, one in Palm Beach, FL and three abroad with plans to open additional locations in Miami, London and Singapore in the coming year. Chef Boulud is also an accomplished author having published several books, including Cooking with Daniel Boulud (1993), Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud Cookbook (1999), Daniel Boulud Cooking in New York City (2002),Daniel’s Dish, Entertaining at Home with a Four Star Chef (2003), Letters to a Young Chef (2003), Braise: a Journey Through International Cuisine (2006).

Boulud credits much of his restaurants’ success to his world–class team. One such invaluable team member is Chef Zach Bell, Executive Chef of Cafe Boulud-Palm Beach, recognized by StarChefs in 2008 as a Rising Star Chef and twice nominated for “Best Chef: South” by the James Beard Foundation.

Chef Bell makes it a practice to visit local farms and markets to personally inspect the local foods the restaurant will be serving. Local vendors Chef Bell shops with include:

Deep Creek Ranch for beef and lamb as they do not use hormones or other growth stimulants or routine antibiotic treatment.

Wild Ocean Seafood Market providing some of freshest local seafood.

Green Cay Produce CSA in Palm Beach County and as well as Swank Produce for hydro-natural lettuces, greens, micro greens tomatoes, beans, baby beats and carrots. According to their website, Swank Produce does not use fungicides, herbicides, or pesticides. This is important re the unintended consequences of pesticides that can cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment.

Erickson Farm
The Erickson family manages the tropical fruit, spice and vegetable farm. Mangoes are their specialty and they are grown with the philosophy that includes alternative practices instead of the use of pesticides and herbicides by using the effective organic solutions available and implementing cultivation techniques that aid in pest and weed control when possible.

longplateIn addition to making every effort to shop local, organic ingredients, Chef Zach has a house rule of no corn syrup in any ingredient – including the ketchup – and so the restaurant no longer uses purchased ketchup but rather cooks its own from scratch.

Most notably Chef Bell and Café Boulud have joined in the supporting The Glades to Coast Convivium, a chapter of the slow food movement that includes Broward and Southern Palm Beach Counties. Slow Food is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.

Palm Beach and the surrounding counties are mostly noted for the production of tomatoes, peppers, beans, corn, cucumbers and squash–though it is often difficult for consumers to find local produce for sale in neighborhood supermarkets which rely on larger farms that ship produce nationwide. However, large increases in the population during the winter months coincide with the growing season, opening possibilities for local marketing of produce. Every Saturday the Palm Beach farmer’s market promotes locally-grown fresh fruits, just-picked vegetables, fresh seafood, meats and poultry, dairy products, specialty teas and coffees, fresh-cut local and imported flowers, specialty foods, foods to go, pies, and breads.

“Beyond the obvious benefits in freshness, quality, and flavor, eating seasonally and sourcing food locally can be make  important contributions to reducing carbon emissions. The local farms that are additionally certified organic and the markets that sell organic foods also have great potential for reducing exposures to pesticides and other chemicals, benefiting both  the environment and  human health” according to Dr. Maryann Donovan, Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Devotees of Daniel Boulud will not only find comfort in Cafe Boulud’s exquisite fare and quality but they will discover that standards for buying local, organic and eliminating corn syrup from the restaurant is one best practice in working towards healthy people and healthy communities.


Posted on November 12, 2009 - by

The Local Foods Movement and the Recession

By Khaled Allen
Originally posted on Farm to Table


The Sustainable Food Movement Gains Momentum

We all know that locally grown sustainable food is better for us and the environment, but it often seems to be bad for our wallets. Even though foodies are willing to go to extreme lengths to support good food, will mainstream America ever do so?

With the country’s economy in shambles, paying three dollars per pound for organic potatoes seems ridiculous. As a recent college graduate, I have to carefully weigh the cost of eating responsibly.

I have been told that my dedication to sustainable, local agriculture, while praiseworthy, will never displace our mainstream food system because of the increased costs, that sustainable eating is a luxury. I have been told that conventional agriculture was the most responsible way to feed the growing population. This opinion is proffered by those who view sustainable food as a fad. As long as it does not interfere with conventional agriculture, it is nice to have around, but should not be thought of as the central way to feed the country. Economics would win out in the end, and people would vote with their wallets. And yet, this attitude did not mesh with my recent experience.

The sustainable food movement seems to be gaining momentum, despite the recent and crushing recession. What better time to test peoples’ dedication to revamping the food industry than during a recession?

Investigating at the source

I headed to several local farmers’ market to ask the farmers themselves how the economy was impacting their businesses. What I found was that farmers and farmers’ markets are actually doing very well.

lizards 300x225 The Local Foods Movement and the RecessionMost of the farmers I spoke with said that the recession has not impacted their business at all. A representative of Riverbank Farm, an organic farm in Roxbury, Connecticut, cited consumers’ growing concern with healthy food as sufficient motivation for them to frequent her farm’s stand. She did point out, however, that the local community was fairly wealthy, and that fact might impact peoples’ food purchasing choices. Another farmer, however, said that he travelled to farmers’ markets all over the state and had done well at all of them, regardless of the affluence of the local community.

Not every farmer I spoke with was doing so well. One organic farmer felt that consumers treated local produce as a luxury, and spent their extra cash on other things, or bought cheaper food to compensate. A farmer from Middlebury, Connecticut gave a different reason for his farm’s difficulties: an increase in the number of farmers’ markets. According to him, because consumers now have more flexibility in when they get their produce, they are less likely to visit any particular farmers’ market, unwittingly hurting individual farmers.

While this development might be a bad thing for the farmer, it is a good sign for the movement as a whole, indicating an increased interest in locally grown produce and a consumer base large enough to sustain growth in farmers’ markets. This farmer also voiced his opinion that while people may be cutting back generally, he felt that they were buying proportionately more local food.