Tag Archives: produce

Milwaukee’s Growing Power hosts winter market

Since mid-fall, the fourth annual Growing Power Winter Market has been taking place in Milwaukee.

The second half of the 2016-17 winter market season will begin Jan. 7 at 5500 W. Silver Spring Drive.

Growing Power, an urban farm, has earned national recognition for its mission to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for all people in the communities in which they live.

A Growing Power goal  is to bring together vendors from Milwaukee and the surrounding area to form a local market where the Silver Spring community can shop for fruits and veggies, as well as handmade crafts, goods and products.

Founding vendors include Lopez Bakery, Vadose Orchid Jewelry, River of Dreams Meats and Don the Farmer.

New vendors are joining the market every week.

If you go …

 

What: Growing Power Winter Market.

Where: 5500 W. Silver Spring Drive, Milwaukee.

When: 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays, through March 25.

14 Wisconsin groups in national Good Food guide

Fourteen Wisconsin-based groups are listed in the annual Good Food Org Guide announced this week.

The guide includes these Wisconsin-based groups: Hunger Task Force, Wellspring, Wisconsin Local Food Network, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, REAP Food Group, Central Rivers Farmshed, Community GroundWorks, FairShare CSA Coalition, FRESH Food Connection, Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, Madison Waste Watchers, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and Milwaukee Urban Gardens.

The James Beard Foundation (www.jamesbeard.org) and Food Tank (www.foodtank.com), along with an advisory group of more than 70 food system experts, developed the third annual Good Food Org Guide, which features 1,000 food-related organizations across the United States.

This guide highlights organizations that are “doing exceptional and dedicated work” in the areas of food and agriculture, nutrition and health, hunger and obesity and food justice.

The guide, expanded for 2016, incorporates new initiatives from across the nation and will be released at the seventh annual James Beard Food Conference in New York City Oct. 17-18.

”Working in collaboration with the James Beard Foundation, we are proud to bring the total number of listed organizations to the 1,000 mark. It is a testament to the tremendous amount of growth and support we have seen in the ‘good food’ sector,” said Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank.

She said the vision and objective of the annual publication is to focus attention on the organizations “that work every day in fields, kitchens, classrooms, laboratories, businesses, town halls and Congress to create a better food system.”

Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, said, ”The Good Food Org Guide continues to serve as a useful tool for individuals looking for opportunities to improve their local food system. The guide’s user-friendly design makes it the go-to resource for identifying nearby organizations doing good work in the areas of food justice, hunger, and agriculture.

Experts, including past recipients of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award and food and agriculture leaders, collaborated to generate the list.

Here’s a closer look at the Wisconsin institutions, as described by the creators of the guide:

  • Hunger Task Force

The Hunger Task Force, based in Milwaukee, operates a food bank that provides healthy and nutritious food free of charge to a local network of food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, as well as a 200-plus acre farm that grows fruits and vegetables for the express purpose of feeding the hungry.

In addition, a dietitian educator teaches a nutrition education curriculum to children in local elementary schools. Kids learn about nutrition, healthy eating and how to make healthy recipes. During the growing season, these kids make regular field trips to The Farm where they get to work in our school garden and demonstration kitchen, and get hands-on experience.

  • Wellspring

Wellspring is a nonprofit education and retreat center and organic farm whose mission is to inspire and teach people to grow, prepare and eat healthy food. In so doing, Wellspring hopes to transform food systems and build community. Programs in wellness education, ecology and gardening, the arts and personal growth have been offered to the public since 1982. The group offers a variety of cooking classes and workshops on horticulture and permaculture. It also operates a Farm to School program in addition to their Summer Farm Camp.

  • Wisconsin Local Food Network

The Wisconsin Local Food Network is a collection of individuals and organizations that all share a common vision for Wisconsin: a state that offers communities and businesses a local food system that supports sustainable farms of all sizes, a strong infrastructure for those farms and supporting food business to thrive, and affordable access to healthy locally grown food for all Wisconsin residents.

  • Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

Established in 1948, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association is one of the oldest organizations to be included in our guide.

Wisconsin is the third largest potato producing state in the country and this coalition of 140 farmers aims to educate Wisconsinites on their practices, research more sustainable growing methods, and create a social network of farmers where information can flow easily.

The group also operates the “spudmoblie,” a mobile potato farm that travels around the state educating children on the art of growing potatoes.

  • Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems

The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems is a research center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The outreach and training programs are helping farmers, educators, crop consultants, businesses, and eaters put these research nonprofit land trust committed to the acquisition and preservation of land in Milwaukee.

Through partnering with neighborhood residents, communities cultivate healthy, locally sustained gardens and improve the quality of life in Milwaukee.

  • REAP Food Group

REAP Food Group wants to see locally produced food on every plate in Southern Wisconsin. The organization has also produced a Farm Fresh Atlas that maps the food organizations, organic restaurants and farmers’ markets in the region. REAP’s Farm to School program partners with the Madison Metropolitan School District to offer fresh, healthy food at school. The program includes classroom education, local food procurement for school meals and a snack program that serves a fresh, locally grown fruit or vegetable to over 5,000 low-income students every week.

  • Central Rivers Farmshed

Perhaps the first “farmshed” in the country, Central Rivers defines the term simply as a network of people, businesses, organizations and productive lands that create a local food economy. Similar in concept to a foodshed, the farmshed idea helps envision and strengthen a community’s relationship with regional landscape. Farmshed organizes events, resources and partnerships to support a local food economy by providing opportunities for participation, education, cooperation and action to support a local food economy in Central Wisconsin.

  • Community GroundWorks

Since 2001, Community GroundWorks has managed Troy Gardens, 26 acres of public protected farmland, prairie and woodlands in Madison. Hands-on educational programs for children and adults, in gardening, urban agriculture, nutrition and environmental protection, allow Community GroundWorks to realize a goal of connecting people with nature and food.

  • FairShare CSA Coalition

The FairShare CSA Coalition, based in Madison makes CSAs more accessible by linking consumers to local farmers through outreach, education, community building and resource sharing. Annual FairShare CSA Coalition events includes the FairShare CSA Open House, a free event where attendees can learn more about CSA products and meet local farmers. The coalition also organizes two annual fundraising bike tours called Bike the Barns and Bike the Barns West, which work highlight local farms and food.

  • FRESH Food Connection

FRESH Food Connection is a group of farms in southern Wisconsin sustainably producing vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, cheeses, canned goods, wool and other farm commodities. As farmers seeking to produce in harmony with nature and with the least environmental impact, they sign onto a sustainability pledge that enumerates the principles they follow and adhere their practices to those sustainable standards.

  • Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative

The Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative is a farmer-led cooperative owned by the producers and the Wisconsin Farmers Union. They are dedicated to securing the most profitable markets for producer-members. The hub makes it easy for the retail, institutional, and foodservice sectors to buy locally. The organization helps local farmers by providing them with the opportunity, through marketing, sales, aggregation and logistics, to access wholesale markets they could not access easily before.

  • Madison Waste Watchers

Madison Waste Watchers is a Madison initiative dedicated to waste reduction in the city. The program provides recycling and composting education to communities to help reduce the amount of waste produced. The organization has been busy all through 2015, hosting a number of local food events and offering internships for youths to learn more about sustainable farming.

  • Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute promotes the ecological, social and economic resiliency of food and farming systems through programs like their Crop and Soil Research program, which uses classic plant breeding and modern screening methods to produce plants that perform highly and can be used in organic systems. In addition, the Public Policy program engages grassroots support for sustainable agriculture while helping farmers and others take full advantage of sustainable agriculture programs.

  • Milwaukee Urban Gardens

Milwaukee Urban Gardens, a program of Groundwork Milwaukee, is a mobile potato farm that travels around the state educating children on the art of growing potatoes.

Green Gaze: Organic entrepreneur grows fresh food in Ripon

By NATE BECK, Fond de Lac Reporter

In a basement below Bluemke’s appliance shop in downtown Ripon, thousands of vegetables sprout every week, bound for the aisles of one of northeast Wisconsin’s biggest grocers.

Since it was founded two years ago, Ernessi Organics has grown to supply its greens to 16 grocery stores, including 13 Festival Foods locations across Wisconsin, the Fond de Lac Reporter reported.

Basil, amaranth and other veggies grown here can be found nestled in entrees at The Roxy, Primo Italian Restaurant and other eateries in the Fox Valley.

Ernessi’s fast success turns on consumer appetite for fresh and wholesome ingredients prepared locally and retail’s efforts to catch up.

Ripon approved a $60,000 loan to the company last summer that helped pay for custom-made lights and other infrastructure. With a facility that produces 3,000 packages of fresh greens weekly, Ernessi can hardly keep pace with demand so the company recently launched an expansion that will double how much it can produce this fall.

So what does it take to start a blossoming company like this?

It’s about charging forward, head down, at the hurdles before you, said company founder Brian Ernst. “As an entrepreneur, you see a vacuum in the market and you go for it,” he said.

A geologist educated at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Ernst found work after college at a large company, but soon tired of the work. He began tinkering with hydroponics, the process of growing plants without soil, in his basement. Ernst and his friend Tim Alessi began testing how light affects the growth of herbs and vegetables, settling on a combination that tricks plants into thinking that spring has just sprung, causing them to sprout faster.

In 2014, Ernst’s employer laid him off. Rather than shopping his resume around to other companies, Ernst, at the urging of his wife, decided to turn this hydroponic hobby into a company.

But to do that would require cash.

So he and his wife sold everything they could: TVs, furniture, Ernst’s 401(K), all of it. With $10,000, the company was born, three months after he and his wife had their second child, while raising a 3-year-old.

So, no. Starting a business isn’t about safety.

The draw about this breed of farming is that it can be done anywhere. Inside the Ernessi operation, floor-to-ceiling steel racks support rows of budding plants on trays. One four-foot-by-eight-foot palate of veggies yields 576 plants in just 35 days, using much less water than a typical farm would. And here in Wisconsin, with its brutal winters, there’s no end to Ernessi’s growing season.

This latest expansion will allow the company to double its production and deliver its plants faster, with a new refrigerated truck. The company’s business is built on supplying plants to grocery stores or restaurants less than 24 hours after they are cut, for the same price as producers elsewhere.

To meet this, Ernst said expanding the company to different parts of the Midwest will likely require him to franchise the company. These veggies are no longer local, he said, if they travel more than two hours to their destination. So in the next five years, Ernst hopes to start a location in Duluth, Minnesota, for example, that would supply produce to grocery stores and others in that market.

For now though, Ernst is focused on the company’s expansion, and growing new products, lettuce, gourmet mushrooms and more. He plans to use leftovers from the beer-making process at nearby Knuth Brewing Co., a Ripon-based brewery, for the soil to grow mushrooms. Lately, he’s been wheeling a blue plastic drum two blocks up Watson Street to the brewery to collect the stuff.

“If you have the drive, starting a business is not a hard decision,” Ernst said. “Any entrepreneur will tell you, there’s never a good time to start a business.”

The harder you work, the smaller these hurdles seem.

 

Study: Conventional strawberries most contaminated with pesticides

Conventional strawberries top the Dirty Dozen list from the Environmental Working Group’s 2016 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

For the past five years, apples had topped the list.

Nearly all strawberry samples — 98 percent — tested by federal officials had detectable pesticide residues, according to EWG.

Forty percent had residues of 10 or more pesticides and some had residues of 17 different pesticides. Some of the chemicals detected on strawberries are relatively benign but others are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems.

Strawberries were once a seasonal, limited crop, but heavy use of pesticides increased yields and stretched the growing season. In California, where most U.S. strawberries are grown, one acre can be treated with about 300 pounds of pesticides. More than 60 pounds are conventional chemicals that may leave post-harvest residues but most are fumigants — volatile poison gases that can drift into nearby schools and neighborhoods, according to EWG.

“It is startling to see how heavily strawberries are contaminated with residues of hazardous pesticides, but even more shocking is that these residues don’t violate the weak U.S. laws and regulations on pesticides in food,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst. “The EPA’s levels of residues allowed on produce are too lax to protect Americans’ health. They should be updated to reflect new research that shows even very small doses of toxic chemicals can be harmful, particularly for young children.”

 

Recent studies of insecticides used on some fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, found children exposed to high levels were at greater risk of impaired intelligence and ADHD. Research also indicates the levels of pesticides in the bodies of elementary school children peaked during the summer, when they ate the most fresh produce. But after just five days on an organic diet, they were essentially pesticide-free.

The Dirty Dozen lists the fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated by multiple pesticides and which have higher concentrations of pesticides.

More than 98 percent of strawberries, peaches, nectarines and apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.

Clean 15

Avocados, on the other hand, remained on the group’s Clean 15 list, with less than 1 percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides. No single fruit sample from the Clean 15 tested positive for more than four types of pesticides and very few for more than one.

The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, updated every year since 2004, ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables. EWG’s analysis is based on results of more than 35,200 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. This year’s update found a total of 146 pesticides on fruit and vegetable samples tested in 2014 – residues that remain on produce even after items are washed and in some cases peeled.

New USDA rules could improve choices for consumers with food stamps

The Agriculture Department unveiled new rules on on Feb. 16 that would require retailers who accept food stamps to stock a wider variety of healthy foods or face the loss of business as consumers shop elsewhere.

The proposed rules are designed to ensure that the more than 46 million Americans who use food stamps have better access to healthy foods although they don’t dictate what people buy or eat. A person using food stamp dollars could still purchase as much junk food as they wanted, but they would at least have more options in the store to buy fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and bread.

“USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet,” Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said in a statement. “This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program.”

In 2014, Congress required the Agriculture Department to develop regulations to make sure that stores that accept food stamp dollars, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, stock a wider array of healthy food choices.

Under current rules, SNAP retailers must stock at least three varieties of foods in each of four food groups: fruits and vegetables, dairy, breads and cereals, and meats, poultry and fish. The new rules would require the retailers to stock seven varieties in each food group, and at least three of the food groups would have to include perishable items. In all, the rules would require stores to stock at least 168 items that USDA considers healthy.

The proposal would also require that retailers have enough in stock of each item so that the foods would be continuously available.

The rules could mean that fewer convenience stores qualify to be SNAP retailers. The convenience store industry has argued that it often operates the only stores that serve certain neighborhoods and at certain times, like overnight. Concannon said the department would try to ensure that the rules don’t affect SNAP recipients’ access to food retailers, and the department may consider waiving the proposed requirements in some areas.

The rules come as a key House Republican is pushing for drug tests for food stamp recipients and new cuts to the program.

Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees USDA spending, introduced a bill earlier in February that would allow states to require drug testing. The move is designed to help states like Wisconsin, where conservative Republican Gov. Scott Walker has sued the federal government, to permit screening.

USDA has pushed back on such efforts, as it did when Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to cut 5 percent from the program during negotiations over the 2014 farm bill. The push comes as SNAP use has skyrocketed — the program served more than 46 million Americans and cost $74 billion last year. That’s twice the program’s 2008 cost.

“While I have not seen Rep. Aderholt’s proposed legislation, I have serious concerns about an approach that could deprive a family of access to food and basic necessities simply because a member of the family is struggling with addiction,” Vilsack said after Aderholt introduced the bill.

Farm in a box: Shipping containers reused for fresh produce

Shipping containers have been turned into housing, art, even playgrounds. Now, a Boston company is recycling them into high-tech mobile farms as part of a new wave of companies hoping to bring more innovation to agriculture.

Freight Farms and other indoor agriculture companies are looking to meet the growing demand for high-quality, locally grown and sustainable produce by farming fruits and vegetables in non-traditional spaces such as warehouses, industrial buildings and containers.

They’re using hydroponics and other longstanding methods to grow plants without soil and incorporating technology that automates much of the work and reduces waste.

“The food system needs to be designed around technology and equipment that’s available today,” says Brad McNamara, Freight Farms’ CEO and co-founder. “It was designed 100 years ago without the right technology to reach the level that it needs to. The whole system needs to be modernized.”

The company says its Leafy Green Machine helps farmers produce a consistently bountiful crop — roughly the typical yield of an acre of farmland — while using 90 percent less water, no pesticides, and just 320 square feet of space.

Climate controls, automated lighting and irrigation systems, and mobile apps for monitoring and maintaining crops remotely also allow farmers to grow year-round with minimal oversight.

“Starting a farm is a lot to ask of one person,” says company president and co-founder Jon Friedman. “So we’ve put together a system that gives even a novice the tools to produce thousands of plants and get them to market.”

So far, Freight Farms customers say the benefits outweigh the costs, which include the $82,000 base price for the 2016 model, as well as an estimated $8,000 to $16,500 a year in electricity, water and growing supply costs.

“The beauty of the Freight Farm is in its ease of use and its mobility,” says Thomas LaGrasso III, chief operating officer at LaGrasso Bros., a Detroit produce wholesaler that’s been growing lettuce in its unit since September. “We harvest to meet our customers’ daily needs. You cannot have it any fresher.”

Launched in 2010, Freight Farms is considered a pioneer of container farms. About a half-dozen other companies in the U.S. offer them, including CropBox in Clinton, North Carolina; Growtainers in Dallas; and PodPonics in Atlanta.

Freight Farms has sold 54 Leafy Green Machines, with ones already in operation on Google’s campus in Mountain View, California; Stony Brook University on Long Island; and Four Burgers, a restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Most Freight Farm customers are growing high turnover, compact crops the company recommends _ lettuce; hearty greens like kale, cabbage and Swiss chard; and herbs like mint, basil and oregano — and selling them to local restaurants and groceries and at community markets, according to McNamara and Friedman.

Jon Niedzielski, who heads the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in Massachusetts, says his office has already approved a handful of loans to farmers using Freight Farms’ containers.

“Efficient, hydroponic systems that need little open space can make a lot of sense, particularly in urban areas with lots of potential consumers willing to pay top dollar, year-round, for lettuce and herbs,” he says.

Industry experts caution that upfront costs and annual operational expenses like electricity for lighting systems that often run 18 hours a day can mean slim profit margins for would-be farmers.

But they also suggest technological advances are helping make indoor growing more feasible.

“I think it will take some development to make these systems truly sustainable,” says Andrew Carter, an urban agriculture consultant in New York and North American region manager for the Germany-based Association for Vertical Farming. “But I’m a firm believer in indoor agriculture and small-scale growing and think it will supply healthy, sustainable, and local food.”

The fine art of the simple tossed salad

Summer time is salad time. When it’s hot out and the garden is bountiful, everyone’s in the mood for a light and refreshing entree salad.

And what could be easier? You just toss together a bunch of lettuce with some cooked protein, add an excellent dressing, and boom! You’re done. Or not. Turns out that if you pay a little more attention to the components of the salad, you won’t need to rely quite so much on the dressing to provide all the flavor. In fact, it’s easy to make something wonderful.

Here’s the basic formula per serving of salad: 2 cups of lettuce, a heaping 1/3 cup of halved cherry tomatoes, 1/3 cup of sliced cucumbers, a quarter of an avocado (cubed), and 1 tablespoon of dressing. The key, though, is to season each and every part one at a time, and to do so at just the right moment.

It’s also important to deal with the water. Vegetables contain a high percentage of water. If you remove some of that water, you concentrate and amplify the vegetable’s flavor.

Let’s start with the cherry tomatoes. You’ll be amazed at how much more tomato-y they’ll taste after they’ve been salted and drained, preferably for 30 minutes. Cucumbers, likewise, become more cucumber-y with salting, though the salt also tenderizes them. If you care more about a cuke’s crunch than its flavor, skip the salting of them.

By the way, here’s a little tip I learned from Rachael Ray about how to slice a raft of cherry tomatoes all at once rather than one-by-one. Put a whole bunch of them on a small plastic lid, then place another lid on top of them. Stabilize the tomatoes by gently pressing the lids together. Insert a serrated knife into the gap between the lids and slice all of the tomatoes in half at one time.

While the tomatoes and the cucumbers are draining, you should cut up the avocado, put it in the bottom of the salad bowl, season it, and toss it with the dressing. This last step prevents it from oxidizing and turning color. Pile on the additional ingredients as they become ready. Note: To remove the pit from an avocado safely, cut it into quarters. As tempting as it might be to imitate the TV chefs _ who cut the avocado in half, slam a huge knife into the pit, and twist out the pit _ it’s a technique that has landed many a home cook in the emergency room.

After rinsing the lettuce, spin it dry or gently pat it dry with paper towels. Dressing will slide right off of wet greens. Keep in mind that a variety of lettuces is more enticing than just one kind, and mixing in whole herb leaves with the greens makes a salad extra special.

Finally, after all of the components have been prepped and added to the bowl, sprinkle the greens with a little salt and pepper and toss the salad with your hands. Lettuce bruises easily. Your hands are exactly the right tool for this delicate job. Now that your basic salad is dressed and ready to go, top it off with grilled chicken, shrimp, beef, pork or tofu to turn it into a substantial summertime entree.

TOSSED SALAD 101

Start to finish: 50 minutes (15 active)

Servings: 4

1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes

Kosher salt

6 ounces English cucumber

1 firm ripe avocado

8 cups lightly packed torn lettuce

Ground black pepper

1/4 cup dressing

Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

Halve the cherry tomatoes and arrange cut side up on the wire rack. Sprinkle the cut sides liberally with salt, then turn the tomatoes so the cut sides are down. Let stand for 30 minutes. Peel the cucumber if it has a thick skin. Halve it lengthwise, then slice it thinly crosswise. Toss the sliced cucumber with some salt and let drain in a colander set in the sink for 30 minutes.

Quarter the avocado, remove the pit and lay the avocado, skin side down on the counter. Using a paring knife, make a crisscross pattern in the flesh in 1/2-inch cubes, cutting down to the skin. Use a spoon to lift out the cubes and transfer them to a salad bowl. Sprinkle the avocado lightly with salt and toss gently with a fork. Add the dressing and toss again.

When the tomatoes and cucumber have sat for 30 minutes, pat them dry with paper towels and add them to the bowl with the avocado. Add the lettuce, sprinkle with salt and pepper and use your hands to toss the salad very gently just until the leaves are coated. Serve right away. 

Nutrition information per serving: 140 calories; 90 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 440 mg sodium; 13 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 3 g protein.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including
Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”



Wisconsin ranks No. 8 in number of farmers markets

There are few better places to buy summer vegetables, fresh cheese curds and homemade baked goods than Wisconsin, which has the eighth-most farmers markets of any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this summer has put the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison in the spotlight. The market held on the square surrounding the state Capitol is the largest producer-only farmers market in the country, meaning all of the roughly 160 vendors must grow or make their own products. They can’t sell items purchased from others.

The market serves as an example “of how farmers markets can be a huge success for the local economy and the farmers and consumers,” said Anne Alonzo, who leads USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Nationwide, the number of farmers markets registered with the USDA has grown from about 3,700 a decade ago to 8,268 this year. In Wisconsin, the number of markets has grown from 170 to 295 in that time.

Here are a few other things to know about farmers markets and the USDA’s efforts to promote sales of locally produced food:

• “THE FACE OF AGRICULTURE”

Alonzo describes farmers markets as “the face of agriculture,” with 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide selling directly to consumers.

“I think the best part is that these farmers markets help local economies because the food is produced, it’s processed, it’s distributed and it’s sold there, and so it stays in the local economy and the money stays there, leading to what we believe is strong economic development and job creation,” she said.

• FIND A FARMERS MARKET OR CSA

Alonzo has been in Wisconsin in part to promote the USDA’s online National Farmers Market Directory, which consumers can use to find markets near them. The agency plans to launch a similar directory of community-supported agriculture, or CSA, programs next year.

CSAs typically provide weekly deliveries of produce and other products, such as eggs or honey, to people who buy season-long subscriptions.

“We think there’s a lot of benefits to both farmers and consumers vis-a-vis CSAs,” Alonzo said. “Farmers can distribute their products during the hours that work for them, and they receive payment for the products early in the season, which helps the farms’ economic planning. And this gives consumers access to … a wide variety of fresh, local food.”

More than 12,000 farms nationwide offered CSAs last year, she said.

• FOOD HUBS

The next big thing in the local food movement is likely to be the growth of food hubs, where farmers who can’t make deliveries or aren’t interested in marketing can bring food to be packaged and sold. The number of food hubs nationwide has doubled since 2009 to more than 300.

The USDA is working to put together a directory of them as well.

“We’re really excited about these new business models,” Alonzo said. She added, “I think it’s a win-win. It’s a win for the farmers, it’s a win for the food hub and it’s a win for consumers because … it makes a lot of sense.”

On the Web …

USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory: http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets

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Tomayto, tomahto: Either way it’s a nutritious summer treat

Let’s make one thing clear. A tomato, despite its uses, is botanically a fruit — specifically an ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant.

However, a tomato has far less sugar than any other fruit, making it less suitable for all those tasty usages to which fruit is put. Yes, there are green tomato pies, but would you ever dollop chopped tomato over vanilla ice cream? 

Still, tomato — or “tomahto,” if you prefer the British pronunciation — is one of the botanical and culinary joys of late summer. Our garden is ready to burst with this year’s heirloom varieties, and we can’t wait to get them on our plates.

We’re waiting patiently for our Big Rainbow heirloom beefsteak variety, its yellow flesh mottled with red, to be sliced and served drizzled with olive oil and fresh basil as a succulent appetizer. Our Lemon Boys will be quartered and chunked into salads, adding their delightful flavor and colorful contrast to succulent Bibb lettuce and peppery arugula.

As to the remaining heirloom cultivars — Chocolate Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Black Krim — their colors and flavor variations will also delight us. Our garden also is home to cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, and both black and pimento peppers; but it’s clear that our rubyfruit jungle of tomato varieties will always be the anchor tenant.

Tomatoes, like potatoes, originated in South America’s Andes Mountains. The plant takes its name from the Nahuatl word tomatotl, and records show that by 500 B.C. tomatoes were being cultivated in Mexico. 

Although European colonists first thought tomatoes, a member of the deadly nightshade family, to be poisonous, conquistador Hernán Cortés was recorded to have taken some small yellow tomatoes to Europe in 1521. There is also evidence that Christopher Columbus may have introduced tomatoes to Spain as early as 1499.

Tomatoes are considered among the world’s healthiest foods. They’re an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, vitamins C and K, and a host of minerals and other nutrients. 

Our dish of sliced Big Rainbow tomatoes is, in fact, one of the healthier serving options, because olive oil helps increase the body’s absorbance of lycopene, a naturally occurring compound that has been linked to a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease and age-related eye disorders. Add a little oregano, some buffalo mozzarella cheese and dashes of pepper and sea salt and you have an insalata Caprese, one of the most popular summer salads.

Tomatoes offer nutrition and flavor without a lot of calories: A cup of chopped raw tomatoes contains only 32.

Tomatoes are delightful both raw and cooked. Here are several tasty ways to use your summer harvest.

For more tomato recipes, visit
www.wisconsingazette.com

Watermelon-peach salsa and tomatoes

If you like your summer dishes sweet and hot and your tomatoes raw, this salsa may be just the thing to get your taste buds tingling. You’ll need:

Ingredients

½ cup hot pepper jelly

1 tbsp. lime zest

¼ cup fresh lime juice

2 cups seeded and diced fresh watermelon 

1 cup peeled and diced fresh peaches 

1 cup chopped fresh basil

¼ cup chopped fresh chives

3 cups baby heirloom tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish: fresh basil sprigs

Directions

Whisk together pepper jelly, lime zest and lime juice in a bowl, then stir in watermelon, peaches, basil and chives. Season halved baby tomatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and spoon into cocktail glasses. Top with salsa and garnish with basil sprigs.

Grilled tomatoes with basil vinaigrette

Many foods are grillable, but few fare as well as tomatoes. Here’s how to make the most of those lovely little orbs over red-hot coals. You’ll need:

Ingredients

3 yellow tomatoes

3 red tomatoes 

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

2 tsps. white balsamic vinegar

2 tbsps. chopped fresh basil

Garnish: fresh basil sprigs

Directions

Cut tomatoes in half and thread onto skewers, alternating colors. Brush with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat (300 degrees to 350 degrees) for 10 minutes, turning skewers often. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, vinegar and basil and drizzle over kabobs. Garnish, if desired.

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Dane County outdoor Farmers’ Market opens April 20

The Dane County Farmers’ Market, a Madison, Wis., tradition since 1972, opens its outdoor season on April 20, 6 a.m.-2 p.m.

The Capitol Square in downtown Madison is the setting for the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the nation. All of the products are produced in Wisconsin.

The Wednesday Market opens on April 24, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. It’s located in the 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between the Capitol and Monona Terrace.

The DCFM outdoor markets are open every Saturday and every Wednesday through early November – rain or shine.

On the Web …

http://dcfm.org