Entries tagged with “Food Producers”.


One of the things that surprised me the most about the massive salmonella-related peanut recalls earlier this year was how many of the people we think of as “the good guys” got caught in the mess along with everyone else. Small, local companies, trying their best to source high-quality ingredients, wound up using the same nuts as the country’s biggest chains, from a company that reportedly knew it was sending out contaminated goods.

I wrote in the Sunday Seattle Times about how companies get caught in the national food distribution web, and how some locals are trying to disentangle themselves from it as best they can. We looked at why CB’s Nuts will never be another Peanut Corporation of America, and how Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream is making its add-in ingredients by hand, from fresh caramel sauce to cookie dough. 

The full story is online here.

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One of the first and best resources for eating local in the Northwest was Seasonal Cornucopia, chef Becky Selengut’s well-researched compendium of when local foods are in season. Most of us know when to expect fresh asparagus — and the site does include growing seasons for all the common fruits and vegetables — but for lingonberries, watercress, matsutakes, even sea cucumbers and sanddabs, it was the only place most of us had to turn.

I don’t mean to speak in the past tense, because Seasonal Cornucopia is actually entering a new era. Selengut just passed it on to John and Patricia Eddy of Cook Local, whose recipes and locavore resources were a logical match for her comprehensive database of fruits, vegetables, foraged goods, seafood, and more. They’ll be linking seasonal search results with Cook Local recipes, so that when visitors ask, say, when to expect apriums at the farmers market, they’ll also get some idea what to do with them. They’re excited about maintaining and even enhancing the site, “both regionally and technologically,” Patricia told me in an e-mail. (Cook Local already has a Bay Area branch site, which seems to me a logical spot for expansion.)

“It has always been our ultimate goal to connect our readers with the food that they eat and the farmers who grow that food,” Patricia wrote. “We had dreams of creating our own database, not necessarily to tell people when things were in season (since obviously SC did that very well), but to tell people where they could find everything. I wanted to have a database that told people that quinces were available from Mair-Taki at the U-District and Columbia City Farmers Markets in mid-October, or that if you wanted to make your own beef stock, you needed to talk to Eiko of Skagit River Ranch or Brent and Ang from Olsen Farms.”

Becky told me in an e-mail that she thought of Cook Local as “the perfect sister site to SC, in that it provided all the things that SC didn’t, up to date farmer’s market info, CSA stuff, and recipes. I respect their commitment to our local food and providers.” She thinks they’ll be able to bring the site to a more useful level, with photos, recipes, maybe even an iPhone application — all things she wanted, but couldn’t afford the time to do.  Selengut “sold” the site for $10 (and, if it were to make money, a percentage of revenue), but she’ll stay involved to advise and help the Eddys if they want or need it. And she says she’s thrilled to see it going strong.

 ”It was my baby and now it’s growin’ up and off to bigger and better things with my 100% support.”

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SweeTango apple

Seattle is one of three test markets in the U.S. for the SweeTango apple, a new cross between a Honeycrisp and a Zestar, hailed as the next big thing in the apple world. Like its parents, the SweeTango was developed at the University of Minnesota. Locally, it’s being grown by Wenatchee-based Stemilt, who also recently bought the rights to grow Pinata apples in the U.S

Stemilt offered to send me some apples to sample before they were available here, and I found them crisp and clean, attractive and crunchy and sweet. The skin was a bit thick, but I loved the texture, though Stemilt says in press materials that it expects an even better texture next season. As the Associated Press reported, the apple’s being seen as a successor to the Honeycrisp. But the way it’s being marketed is quite different: The university licensed the apple to a co-op of growers who control “who can grow SweeTango and where, and how the apple is marketed and shipped.” It’s the same sort of “managed variety” as Pink Lady and Jazz apples, more common overseas than in the U.S., the AP notes. SweeTangos are now on the shelves at QFC (the only place they’re available locally), and, at my neighborhood store, they priced out at $2.99/lb. It’s a dollar more than most other varieties there, though in line with what I usually see at the top end of apple prices.

Minnesota Public Radio noted that some growers find it unfair to restrict who can grow the apple, as the previous varieties developed by the university had been available to any grower who paid a one-time fee. The story continued: (more…)

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Farmers markets have been rising in popularity for years, but they still mainly appeal to hardcore customers. A vast potential audience of “second-tier” shoppers claims in surveys to want locally-grown foods, but fears it will be too expensive, too inconvenient, or otherwise too complicated to shop at a farmers market. 

Now the non-profit Cascade Harvest Coalition is launching an interesting research project with the help of a state grant, working with Good Food Strategies to “address and overcome the triggers that are putting a ceiling on the kinds and numbers of consumers who look for and buy locally grown foods.” Three markets statewide - Phinney, Anacortes, and Shelton — are participating, and each one gets $4,500 for promotions to draw new customers in. At Phinney, you’ll see the results over the next two weeks in the form of $2 “Fresh Bucks” coupons available at various Phinney and Greenwood businesses. (more…)

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I have an article in Pacific Northwest magazine in The Seattle Times this week on veal — specifially, a look at the calves raised on Vashon Island’s Sea Breeze Farm. I became interested in the topic after seeing veal on the Sea Breeze tables at the farmers markets — a meat that’s been so closely associated with animal cruelty campaigns that it was hard to find a companion willing to order a piccata or parmigiana in my food critic days.

You can read the full story here. And, just to drum in the reality of farm life, Sea Breeze noted on Twitter that the calf featured in the story is currently being served up on the dinner menu at La Boucherie.

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Meadowbrook farmers market

Meadowbrook farmers market

 
Traditionally, farmers markets in Seattle have belonged to one of two market associations: The Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which runs the granddaddy U-District market and six others, and Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets, best known for the Ballard Farmers Market. This year, though, we’re seeing a change. At least four new markets have sprung up: Two are complete standalones, at least for now. Two others are backed by a city institution, Pike Place Market

What’s the reason for the change? There’s a bit of happenstance — backers of the Queen Anne farmers market, opening Thursday (June 18), organized an independent market when another group bowed out of the market that originated in 2006. Organizers of the Meadowbrook farmers market didn’t realize they might have the option of joining up with a coalition — and their goals are different enough that they might have gone out on their own regardless. But there’s general agreement that a big serving of city support for farmers markets this year, including grants to help kick-start some and a move to make processes like their street closures less complex and expensive,  made a big difference. ”We are so grateful to the city…” said James Haydu of Pike Place Market, which is spearheading new “Pike Place Express” markets at downtown’s City Hall Plaza and in South Lake Union. “They streamlined and helped decrease the cost of doing business for a neighborhood farmers market, which is a boon to everybody.” 

We’re always personally happy to see a new market, but a new USDA study questions whether farmers markets are growing at an unsustainable rate. Chris Curtis of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance is thinking that there are too many, saying in this post that she’d like to see Seattle study how many the city can support and where to put them. She also notes the growing national issue of “how do we get the ‘farmer’ back into farmers markets,” eliminating the crafts, kettle korn, massage therapists, etc. who are a staple of some. 

“We need more markets that are organized solely for the purpose of supporting local farmers,” Curtis wrote.  ”Many (markets) are organized because a neighborhood wants a revitalization event or a community wants a weekly food fair.  Those are great events, just don’t call them a “Farmers Market”. 

Meadowbrook farmers market

Meadowbrook farmers market

 

Here’s what’s new this year (and one extra: I learned today that there will also be an occasional summer South Park “Market On Wheels” with some great neighborhood vendors):
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The number of farmers markets in the U.S. is growing fast, but sales aren’t keeping pace with that growth, according to a new study from the U.S.D.A.

Nearly 30 percent of all seasonal markets in the U.S. are less than five years old, and “most still appear to be establishing themselves economically,” with fewer vendors, fewer customers, and monthly sales that total only half the national average. The disparity raises questions “as to whether current levels of industry growth can be sustained over time,” the study said.

The study is based on data collected in 2006, focusing on the 2005 season. In farmers market years, that already feels like a long way back — I’d be curious to see more up-to-date data. Certainly, in our area, the number of markets has risen sharply even since 2005.

Coincidentally, I had been talking with Chris Curtis of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance for an unrelated story I’m doing on the city’s new 2009 farmers markets (watch for that next week), and she suggested that the saturation point, at some level, is here.

“Some markets cannibalize each other.  They need to be sited so that they serve a specific population, which isn’t easy.  I’d love to see Seattle do what Portland has done – which is a city funded study of farmers markets; how many can the city support, where should they be sited; what food dollars can realistically go through a farmers market, how many farmers need to be involved, etc.,” she wrote.

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I love CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), where customers pay for a weekly box of whatever’s fresh from a given farm’s fields. I also love gardening, though, and I especially love regular browsing trips through the farmers markets — and there isn’t room in my budget or refrigerator to do all three.

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Gabriel Claycamp of The Swinery and Culinary Communion announced yesterday that (after various delays) the King County Health Department “has fully approved our bacon” and that it is now available for pre-order (e-mail him at sales@swinerymeats.org). Claycamp also also urged “any haters out there” to call the health department and verify that he is 100% legal.

Not being a hater, but being a journalist, I checked in with the health department, and got this caveat: While Claycamp has indeed received a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points permit to make and sell bacon at his Beacon Hill business, a different permit — his annual permit to operate a food establishment in that space — has actually expired. It was only good through March 31.

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We took the ferry to Vashon Island to visit friends, but as long as we were there, we didn’t want to miss the Vashon farmers market and a stop at La Boucherie, the restaurant run by Sea Breeze Farm. I’m accustomed to buying raw materials such as meat and milk from Sea Breeze at Seattle venues; I liked the idea of sampling how they would cook and serve their own products, in their own island environment.

This early in the season, we were glad just to wander without fleece or raincoats; we knew we’d be lucky to find even salad greens to contribute to our friends’ kitchen. By the time we arrived around 1 p.m., though, even the greens were gone — but, unlike the Seattle markets, where eggs sell out post-haste, we still could have scored a basket of pastel beauties practically custom-laid for Easter.

Eggs at the Vashon Island Farmers Market

Eggs at the Vashon Island Farmers Market

Hogsback Farm table: "Sorry! We sold out!"

Hogsback Farm table: "Sorry! We sold out!"

Some markets stick purely to harvest goods, but I’ve always liked a mix of vendors. I was glad to see, especially in this spare season, some crafts, a Vashon winery, a chocolatier, and homemade caramels, among other tables. 

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