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Table Talk: From fish to produce, local CSAs continue to flourish

  • Ed Struzziero of Cape Cod Fish Share displays a sample of fresh scallops outside of Wheatberry Bakery & Cafe in Amherst.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ed Struzziero of Cape Cod Fish Share displays a sample of fresh scallops outside of Wheatberry Bakery & Cafe in Amherst.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ed Struzziero of Cape Cod Fish Share, left, talks with Kevin Landau of Pelham, Saturday, after Landau purchases fresh Hake and Cod in the Wheat Berry parking lot in Amherst.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ed Struzziero of Cape Cod Fish Share, left, talks with Kevin Landau of Pelham, Saturday, after Landau purchases fresh Hake and Cod in the Wheat Berry parking lot in Amherst.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Zoe Uller of Cape Cod Fish Share, front left, hands fresh fish to Phyllis Herda of Leverett, Saturday, outside of Wheat Berry in Amherst. Kaden Holladay of Cape Cod Fish Share, back left, helps a customer. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Zoe Uller of Cape Cod Fish Share, front left, hands fresh fish to Phyllis Herda of Leverett, Saturday, outside of Wheat Berry in Amherst. Kaden Holladay of Cape Cod Fish Share, back left, helps a customer.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Zoe Uller, left, and Kaden Holladay, both of Cape Cod Fish Share helps Laone Thekiso of South Hadley pick up a fresh fish delivery for the Allison family of Amherst, Saturday.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Zoe Uller, left, and Kaden Holladay, both of Cape Cod Fish Share helps Laone Thekiso of South Hadley pick up a fresh fish delivery for the Allison family of Amherst, Saturday.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Wheatberry owners Ben and Adrie Lester grow wheat, other grains and beans that are sold in a grain share at the bakery.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Wheatberry owners Ben and Adrie Lester grow wheat, other grains and beans that are sold in a grain share at the bakery.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Among the grains included in the share at Wheatbery are, from left, Turkey Red Wheat, Plymouth Flint Corn, Spelt and Black Beans.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Among the grains included in the share at Wheatbery are, from left, Turkey Red Wheat, Plymouth Flint Corn, Spelt and Black Beans.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ben and Adrie Lester of Wheat Berry pose for a portrait with Gabriel Lester, 1, Saturday, next to the grinding station at Wheat Berry in Amherst. The station allows for customers to grind their own grain after purchasing it from the local grain share. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ben and Adrie Lester of Wheat Berry pose for a portrait with Gabriel Lester, 1, Saturday, next to the grinding station at Wheat Berry in Amherst. The station allows for customers to grind their own grain after purchasing it from the local grain share.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ed Struzziero of Cape Cod Fish Share displays a sample of fresh scallops outside of Wheatberry Bakery & Cafe in Amherst.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Ed Struzziero of Cape Cod Fish Share, left, talks with Kevin Landau of Pelham, Saturday, after Landau purchases fresh Hake and Cod in the Wheat Berry parking lot in Amherst.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Zoe Uller of Cape Cod Fish Share, front left, hands fresh fish to Phyllis Herda of Leverett, Saturday, outside of Wheat Berry in Amherst. Kaden Holladay of Cape Cod Fish Share, back left, helps a customer. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Zoe Uller, left, and Kaden Holladay, both of Cape Cod Fish Share helps Laone Thekiso of South Hadley pick up a fresh fish delivery for the Allison family of Amherst, Saturday.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Wheatberry owners Ben and Adrie Lester grow wheat, other grains and beans that are sold in a grain share at the bakery.<br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Among the grains included in the share at Wheatbery are, from left, Turkey Red Wheat, Plymouth Flint Corn, Spelt and Black Beans.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Ben and Adrie Lester of Wheat Berry pose for a portrait with Gabriel Lester, 1, Saturday, next to the grinding station at Wheat Berry in Amherst. The station allows for customers to grind their own grain after purchasing it from the local grain share. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

In 1986, Brookfield Farm on Hulst Road in Amherst became only the third CSA farm in the country. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. The way it works is that members of the CSA pay for a share of a farm’s produce up front in the spring, then receive crops as they come in from June to November.

Winter shares of storage crops such as potatoes are also available. The farmer gets working capital; the share owners get super-fresh local produce, and the local community benefits because agricultural land is kept in useful — and scenic — production.

Today the CSA concept flourishes in both its original and new forms.

Brookfield farms has over 500 shareholders for whom it grows 50 crops on 30 acres of land. Its success has helped inspire several other local CSA farms. But while these and other farms produce an enormous variety of vegetables, pretty much the rest of our other food still comes from far afield: meat, fish and baking supplies are a few examples.

Increasingly, though, enterprising food producers have been turning to the CSA model to distribute their products. Now it’s possible to get fish, meat and grains on the share system, thus providing the protein element essential to the human diet. Locavores — people committed to eating local and regional foods — can find lots of food grown right here in the Valley or within the hundred-mile radius that most locavores define as the range of regional fare.

Since we live many miles from the ocean, fish seems one of the more unlikely candidates for the share system. Since 2011 Cape Cod Fish Share has been ferrying fresh fish from Chatham to its 400 members located in towns throughout the state, including Amherst and Northampton.

Here’s how it works: Members sign up for 5-week shares so the amount of fish is predetermined, and the fishermen have a guaranteed market. The fish bypasses the usual auction process, and can be sped westwards faster and fresher.

Share members get two kinds of fish each week. Since many fish are seasonal, says Ed Struzziero, one of the founders and a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate, “We choose a species mix that takes advantage of what’s available. We had northern shrimp for a few weeks in spring, Nantucket Bay scallops in late fall, striped bass and bluefish in the summer, and so on. We balance mild fish with more exotic species, all caught using sustainable fishing practices.”

While old favorites such as cod, haddock and swordfish often appear in members’ shares, Struzziero notes that, “For many members, the share has introduced new treats: monkfish, skate, hake and redfish among others.”

The quality is startling, too.

“People are blown away at how tender swordfish and tuna steaks are when fresh,” Struzziero said.

He describes the share system as a “win-win situation.” The large orders the CSA places for less common species remove the economic risk for the boats to fish and land anything other than the “greatest hits” that are found elsewhere, he said.

“When we place our order, the purchase has happened. Our customers have trusted us to provide their fish, and the boats in turn have trusted us to take possession.”

As for ways to cook the fish, the weekly newsletter announcing what’s in the next share includes several recipes.

In Amherst, the Cape Cod Fish Share van delivers to share-holders at Wheatberry Bakery & Cafe at 321 Main St. Saturdays from to 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The van often arrives with extra scallops and sometimes fish for sale to non-members.

“Best to come early,” Struzziero advises nonmembers hoping to buy. They also have brochures or can be contacted via email at ed@capecodfishshare.com.

Surprising grains

While picking up fish, members often stroll into Wheatberry, where they will see a display of gallon jars filled with grains and beans and dried corn.

Wheatberry owners Ben and Adrie Lester graduated from culinary school, and are enthusiastic members of a CSA farm and committed to eating local foods. As bakers they wondered if they could buy locally grown grains. Most local farmers told them they could not; grains don’t grow in our soil and climate, they told the Lesters.

Undeterred, the couple rented land and sowed wheat and other grains — and they thrived. They also discovered that some local growers were experimenting with the grains that aren’t supposed to grow round here, including rice.

“Now there’s 18,000 pounds of locally produced grains,” Ben Lester said. “It’s not a lot in one sense, but considering that there were no grains here at all 5 years ago, it’s terrific.”

Working with local growers, Wheatberry now offers a grain CSA, which provides its members with about 115 pounds of 10 to 12 organically grown grains, including wheat, barley, emmer, spelt, a couple of sorts of corn, black beans and more. (A half share is also available.)

“To most people nowadays grain means flour, and so we have a self-service mill where members can grind their share into flour if they like,” Lester said. “But we also emphasize cooking grains whole and serving them as you would rice, or topping them with a pasta sauce.”

Since grains are harvested once a year, there is only one share delivery, so share owners don’t have to pick up every week: “An easier commitment than the weekly pickups at many other CSAs,” Lester said.

Fifty of Wheatberry’s 167 grain CSA members live in the Boston area, while others come from Maine and New York.

“We didn’t advertise,” he said. “They found our website on the Internet when they were looking for a source of organic whole grains.”

For information, visit www.wheatberry.org.

Other CSAs

Meat, too, is being produced by the CSA system. For several years Jeremy Barker-Plotkin has been growing a myriad of popular vegetables, including heirloom varieties of tomatoes and potatoes, at Simple Gifts Farm on North Pleasant Street in Amherst. Now the farm has started raising pigs, so as well as offering vegetable shares it also has pork shares. A typical share provides five pounds of pork every month for four months or a single delivery of 20 pounds. The pork comes in various forms: sausage, hot dogs, bacon, chops and ribs.

“A 20-pound box of pork stores more easily in the freezer part of a fridge than most people think,” Barker-Plotkin said.

Barker-Plotkin’s pigs are reared on organic grain and the natural foods they find as they snuffle the pasture.

“We are supposed to eat vegetables and exercise,” he points out, “So it makes sense to eat meat from animals that have also eaten vegetables and exercised.”

The supply of pork is continuous, so one can buy a pork share at any time.

For information, visit www.simplegiftsfarmcsa.com.

Like several other CSAs Simple Gifts raises chickens for purchase by members. In addition, our area now has at least 10 farms specializing in meat shares. Among the newest is Valley Fresh Meat, which offers chicken, beef, pork, turkey and goat meat raised by Hadley neighbors Sunnybrook Farm and Copperhead Farm.

Dee Scanlon of Copperhead Farm began raising chickens five years ago to provide her three children with better eggs and meat. Today she also raises goats and turkeys, while the Boisverts at Sunnybrook raise pigs, beef and chickens.

Both farms give their animals plenty of outdoor pasture so they can ramble and hunt for nature’s treats, and all the grain or hay used for supplemental feeding is free of hormones and antibiotics. Teaming together to form a CSA that could offer a variety of different kinds of meat seemed a good idea.

“Shares are available throughout the year; there’s no sign-up period. And we’ve designed the shares to take account of different needs and families,” Scanlon said. “You could get a share that gives you enough meat for the year, or you could do one that gives you enough for a month.”

The pickup point is the North Hadley Sugar Shack on River Drive in Hadley, which also stocks the meat for purchase by customers who do not belong to the CSA.

Shares typically include a variety of meats the farms produce — and that includes goat, which has not traditionally been part of the mainstream American diet. Scanlon says the goat meat is popular with customers who are immigrants, and others are beginning to try it.

“Really, you can cook it like you’d cook beef: use it ground in sauces or barbecue or slow-roast the bigger pieces. The ribs are delicious,” she said.

Committed to producing healthful food, she notes, “Farm fresh is not as outrageously expensive as a lot of people think and the food is local and really good for you.”

For more information about this meat CSA, visit www.valleyfreshmeat.com. For information on the many CSAs now operating in our area, visit the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) website buylocalfood.org. Go to the heading Buy Local and from there Find Local and then to CSA Farm Listing, which provides a complete listing.

Here are recipes for the foods these CSAs provide.

Celeriac Soup
with Scallops

You can serve this soup for lunch with just one scallop in the center; for supper you can serve it with a few more or with a mixture of scallops and shrimp, or even with a fillet of haddock or cod.

1 celeriac weighing 1½-2 pounds, peeled and cut in chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

1 6-inch stalk celery, chopped

1 small clove garlic, chopped

1 bay leaf

4 black peppercorns

½ teaspoon salt or more to taste

1 cup half-and-half or whole milk

1 teaspoon butter or oil

Scallops (4 for lunch serving or 16 for supper) or 1¼ pounds cod or haddock

1 tablespoon chopped celery leaves

2 teaspoons snipped chives

Put the celeriac chunks, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt into a saucepan and add 4 cups of water or enough to cover the vegetables.

Cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for 25 minutes or until the celeriac is tender.

Drain and reserve the liquid. Discard the bay leaf. Put the vegetables into a food processor and whiz them until smooth. Alternately simply mash them by hand. Return the vegetables to the pan. Also add the reserved cooking liquid and the half-and-half or milk. Bring to simmering point and taste. Add more salt if necessary and more milk or water if you want the soup to be thinner.

Meanwhile, grease a frying pan with the butter or oil and heat it over high heat. Put the scallops in the pan in a single layer, reduce the heat and cook the scallops for 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the second side. (If using cod or haddock, cut into 4 pieces, season with salt, dust lightly with flour, and fry for 3-4 minutes per side. You could also poach or steam the fish.) Serve the soup into shallow soup plates. Position the scallops (or fish fillets) in the center of each serving. Mix the chopped celery leaves with the chives and sprinkle some over each serving. Serves 4.

Beet and Barley Risotto

2/3 cup whole-grain or pearl barley

6-7 medium beets (about 1 pound), cooked

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup chopped shallot or onion

1 bay leaf

¾ cup red wine

1 teaspoon powdered allspice

About 2-3 cups hot vegetable or chicken broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Put the barley in a bowl and cover it plentifully with water. Set aside overnight (if using whole-grain barley) or for 2 hours if using pearl barley (no problem if you leave it longer), stirring once or twice. Drain it. Grate or chop half the beets. Cut the remainder into bite-size wedges or cubes.

In a medium frying pan or sauté pan, melt the butter over moderate heat. Stir in the chopped onion and let it soften for 3-4 minutes, then stir in the drained barley. Add the wine and bay leaf, lower the heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes over moderate heat until most of the wine has evaporated. Add half a cup of the broth, season with salt and a little pepper, and continue cooking over moderate heat until the liquid has been mostly absorbed. Add another half cup of broth and cook, stirring from time to time, until it has also been absorbed. The barley should now be somewhat softened. (Whole-grain barley may take longer. If necessary add more broth and continue simmering.) Add another half cup of broth along with the chopped beets and the allspice. Stir to mix everything well together, and cook until the liquid has been almost absorbed again. Taste to check the seasoning and the tenderness of the barley. It should be tender and a little chewy but not hard in the middle of the grain. If it is not ready, add more broth and continue cooking until the right texture is reached. When this happens, fold in the diced beats and cook with the lid on the pan for 3-4 minutes or just until the beets are heated through. Discard the bay leaf before serving. Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

Swiss Chard
and Pork Meatballs

Swiss chard lightens and flavors these meatballs. Other tender greens such as spinach could also be used. This dish freezes well, so you can double the amount and save some for winter.

3 tablespoons oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 pound ground veal or pork

½ pound ground beef

2 teaspoon dried sage

2 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon allspice

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups cooked Swiss chard leaves, chopped

About 3 tablespoons flour

2 cups fresh or canned peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes

2 medium bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley or chives for garnish

Heat half the oil in a frying pan over moderate heat and cook the chopped onion and garlic in it, stirring often, for 4-5 minutes or until limp and softened. In a large bowl combine the onion mixture with the veal or pork and the beef. Mix briefly then add the sage, oregano, allspice, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly, then mix in the chard. At this point do not stir in the chard so well that is disappears: it should be a noticeably green presence. Take a small portion of the mixture and form it into a patty about the size of a dollar coin. Fry it on both sides and then taste it. Add more of any of the herbs or seasonings to the mixture if you think it needs it. Then form into balls the size of large walnuts. You should get about 24-28. Place them on a board or plate in a single layer and sift flour on them. Roll them so they are coated in flour all over. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan and fry the meatballs to brown them all over. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves and oregano, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and cook for about 15 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped parsley or chives. Good with potatoes, pasta or rice. Serves 4-6.

Maple-Mustard Dressing

First local greens taste wonderful, especially with this dressing made with the first crop of the agricultural year and widely available in farmers markets, and also at the North Hadley Sugar Shack, which sells Valley Fresh Farm meat and maple syrup. Use this dressing with spinach or arugula — two of the earliest garden crops. Dry mustard powder such as Colman’s or a Chinese brand is what you need to balance the sweetness of the syrup and give the dressing its edge; Dijon doesn’t do it.

2 tablespoons maple syrup

½ teaspoon dry mustard powder

2 teaspoons white vinegar or more to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt to taste

Optional extras: sliced radishes, chopped egg, chopped crispy bacon, snipped chives.

Put the maple syrup into a small bowl and stir in the mustard powder until you have a smooth mixture. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, oil and a little salt.

Whisk lightly then taste. Add more salt if necessary. To mix with a salad put a tablespoon of the dressing in the bowl, top with the greens, toss then add the rest of the dressing and toss again, including half of any optional extra you are using. Scatter the other half on top. Serves 4.

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