Truck and Local, HeirloomTomatoes, and Fishbowls!

Trucking Shortage? New Focus on Local Foods!
(This article is excerpted from Leslie Patton’s August 28 article in Bloomberg News)
Mainers know the value of our local foods; whether meat, fish, dairy or veggies, we appreciate the taste, appearance, and plate appeal of local! Also, we know the importance of strengthening our local communities and supporting our small and mid size farmers and their open land. In other areas, the value of buying and eating local isn’t as apparent; many food service outlets have been slower to get on the local foods bandwagon. Now, with surging shipping costs, fine dining establishments as well as sandwich and salad shops are looking at local purchases as well.

You’ve probably heard that America needs more long haul truck drivers. A labor crunch in the trucking industry is making it more expensive to deliver everything from apples to zucchini in the U.S. Shipping rates jumped 14 percent in the fiscal year ended June 30, just one truck was available for every 12 loads needing to be shipped at the start of 2018, which is the lowest ratio since 2005.

Why this shortage? An aging fleet of drivers is one of the main reasons. The industry also heavily relies on male drivers (one might say too heavily!)— only 7 percent of commercial truck drivers are women. Also, historically low pay keeps new people from becoming truck drivers. Though the industry is changing through efforts to raise pay and attract more women, today’s tight labor market makes it difficult to find new drivers.

The labor shortage means that it costs more to ship food; and all foodservice establishments are facing food higher prices due to the increased shipping rates. To avoid passing higher prices along to customers, some foodservice outlets are choosing to take a closer look at buying local.

“We’ve been trying to figure out how to get more stuff locally,” said Nick Marsh, chief executive officer of Chopt Creative Salad Co., an east coast restaurant chain with more than 50 outlets,. “It for sure becomes even more economically beneficial.” Marsh said Chopt’s shipping costs jumped 20 percent versus last year. He blamed the spike on the driver shortage, along with new electronic monitoring that tracks truckers’ hours put in place by the Department of Transportation in December. Chopt already gets more than 50 percent of its food from local vendors during the summer. Recently, it started buying more baby kale, spinach and arugula from Florida instead of California and is looking into greens grown indoors in New York, Marsh said.

As we know, restaurants have been touting the merits of local goods for years. Chefs that use food from nearby say it tastes and looks better due to shorter shipping times, and they like their diners to know they support local farmers. And fewer hours on the road means less gas – a boon for the environment, too. .

Primo Hoagies, a sandwich chain with more than 80 shops in mid-Atlantic states, is looking for more lettuce, tomatoes, chicken cutlets and meatballs from nearby vendors, according to CEO Rocco Fiorentino. Higher shipping prices are "more noticeable now, and we'll probably start to outsource regionally and locally before it gets too bad," Fiorentino said. "Everything coming from across country is certainly going to go up."

tomatoBlack Cherry, Chocolate Stripes,Blondkopfchen,
Black Krim,
Brandywine, Amana Orange,Azoychka,
Cherokee Chocolate, Sunset's Red Horizon, Oh My!!!!
Look out, it’s Heirloom tomato season!!

 

 

Let us cut right to the chase: what makes heirloom tomatoes so great?
Their DNA has not been manipulated in the same way that the genetics of a lot of mass market tomatoes are.
They are not bred to ship. 
They are not bred for mechanical harvest
They are not bred to have a long shelf life
They are not bred to look exactly alike: plump, red, round, and easy to store

Ok, ok that’s what heirloom tomatoes are not! What are they?
They used to be the only tomatoes grown!
They are bred for taste and flavor and appearance
They have idiosyncratic qualities: they come in all shapes, shades and colors
Their seeds are passed down from generation to generation.
They are open-pollinated. This means you can save seeds from heirloom tomatoes, plant them, and expect them to grow into new tomato plants. If two or more varieties are planted close to one another, you might just end up with a new variety!
They're pricier because of their fragility and their rarity.
They have a short shelf-life
In Maine, they have a short, but glorious, growing season

A salad paired with a salty or creamy cheese is a quick and easy way to highlight the fruit.
What to you think? Ya, everyone does Mozz, but it’s good. How about a sheep’s milk feta? What you want camembert?! On a baguette? Sounds, pretty good... No,maybe grilled halloumi! Yes, that’s it!Maybe a drizzle of good olive oil, a sprinkle of flake salt. You want balsamic? Go for it; I’m going with lemon….

Caveat Emptor! Watch out for “fake” heirlooms
But all that said, just because a tomato is being sold with the word "heirloom" attached to it doesn't mean it's going to be delicious. Plenty of farms, especially big ones, market their tomatoes this way to as a cover for what are actually genetically modified seeds and/or gnarly growing practices, cashing in on the heirloom hype while selling you an inferior product that might have travelled a thousands of miles to get to you. It's an unregulated designation, like "natural," so it's kind of a buyer beware sort of situation out there—calling a tomato an "heirloom" doesn't automatically mean that the tomatoes were grown locally, or organically, or in any way that you might associate with groovy, high-quality produce.

Local Farm Spotlight: Fishbowl Farm
Are you familiar with Merrymeeting Bay in Maine? Merrymeeting is a unique ecosystem; actually, it’s not a real “bay” because it’s not on the ocean and it’s not an estuary because it’s not salty enough (it’s actually an inland river delta). Six rivers flow into Merrymeeting: Kennebec, Androscoggin, Cathance River, Eastern River, Abagadasset River, and Muddy River. It’is the largest freshwater estuary system north of Chesapeake Bay; and, it drains an astounding 38% of Maine’s fresh water. The land bordering the bay is rich with alluvial soil deposited when the glaciers receded during the ice age. Nutrient rich soil and freshwater drainage create ideal farming conditions in Bowdoinham; one of the towns along Merrymeeting Bay.

fishbowl farms carrots labelIn Bowdoinham, Chris and Gallit Cavendish, along with their two daughters Calliope and Poppy, work this rich and bountiful soil at Fishbowl Farm. Native Maine is proud to partner with Chris and his family to supply our customers with FIshbowl’s top quality salad greens, carrots, and beets. Fishbowl is not only known for superior produce but, also, for innovative ideas, integrity, and a commitment to the land. Neither Chris nor Gallit began their careers in farming. Gallit came from a promising career as a professional chef, and Chris left architecture. In fact, they met on the loading dock when Chris delivered veggies to the Harraseeket Inn where Gallit was cooking (Romantic!)

For some years they worked 8 acres planting mixed vegetables, selling direct to area restaurants and attending farmers markets. However, 80-90 work weeks soon ground them both down and with the birth of their first child,Calliope, Chris and Gallit strove to find a way to find a better work-family life balance. In 2013, they made the decision to focus on producing the very best quality salad greens available. They downsized to three growing acres and began systematic, methodical process. .Well, Chris says it best:
“ Fresh baby salad greens grown to perfection right here in Maine. This is what we do at Fishbowl Farm. We have dedicated ourselves to becoming really good salad greens farmers. It’s our goal to provide Southern Maine with the freshest and best tasting salad greens possible. How are we able to do this? After a decade of farming every vegetable under the sun my wife and I had our first child, Calliope. In order to allow more time for our new family, we simply decided to refocus our energy and expertise on the crops we loved to grow the most, salad greens. With ten years of experience now focused upon a handful of salad crops we are best able to attend to the needs of each salad crop. And harvest it at just the right moment. We then carefully wash and pack them for delivery the next day. Our salad greens are never more than a day from harvest to delivery. We take great pride in our salad greens and encourage you to taste the difference.”

fishbowl farms spinach labelChris says the change in the business model allowed him to scale back from working 80 to 90 hours a week to a more manageable 45- to 50-hour work week during the summer. Chris is an innovative farmer and farm manager. When the arugula was too hot and spicy, he took temperature readings of the crop under a tarp in the hot sun to figure out how to calm the spice. He jury rigged an effective salad spinner out of a household clothes dryer. When beetles showed up in the spring mix, he determined that he needed to harvest the greens earlier in the morning before the bugs climbed to the tops of the plants.

In 2015, Fishbowl worked with Scott Whitehouse Graphic Design to create a unique label series for their line of salad greens and vegetables. The result were labels with a slightly retro feel and a playful illustrative quality. Each label features a fun character-based illustration and gives clear product information.

In 2017, Maine Farmland Trust awarded a grant to Fishbowl Farm to implement wholesale business expansion. Chris used the grant dollars to purchase a new refrigerated truck. The new truck opened up the opportunity to work with wholesale customers that require strict food safety protocol (like Native Maine), including keeping their fresh cut baby salad greens continuously cold from harvest to delivery; the new truck also increased their delivery capacity, which in turn, increased their sales to current customers and added new customers along their delivery route.

How did Fish Bowl get its name? When Chris entered the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s two-year farmer-in-residence program in 2003 at the Unity campus, he filled a vacancy left by a friend of his who didn’t finish her term. Before she left, she remarked to him, “It’s like living in a fish bowl.’’ Chris liked the close knit farming community at the school; and the comment stuck with him. In 2015, when he bought his farmland, he named it Fishbowl Farm. And the rest is Maine farming history!

That's all for this edition, folks!  Enjoy the cooler weather and our local food bounty!

 

All Blueberries, All the Time!

It’s blueberry season in Maine! Whether baked into a morning muffin or a luscious pie or muddled into a minty mojito or a crisp IPA, locally grown blueberries are here and in stock at Native Maine! Choose Maine’s own tiny, sweet, antioxidant rich wild blueberries or the larger, great-for-snacking local high bush variety. Both are delicious, versatile, ready to eat and grown locally!

wild blueWild Blueberries thrive only in the glacial soils and northern climate of Maine, Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Wild Blueberries are one of three berries native to North America; Concord grapes and cranberries are the others. Native North Americans believed the wild blueberry had magical powers and were sent by the Great Spirit to alleviate hunger during times of starvations. Early immigrants to this area learned how to use and harvest wild blueberries from native people. Wild Blueberries were first harvested commercially in Maine during the Civil War, when they were canned and used to feed the Union Army. Today, Maine is the leading producer of 'wild' or lowbush blueberries, harvesting 91.1 million pounds in 2012. 99% of this wild blueberry crop is frozen. In 1991 Maine designated the Wild Blueberry as the Official State Berry. Blueberry Pie was declared our official state dessert in 2011.

In the early 20th century, people didn’t think wild blueberries could be domesticated. However, Elizabeth White, daughter of a New Jersey farmer, thought differently. In 1911, she teamed up with USDA botanist, Frederick Coville, to create vibrant new blueberry varieties by cross breeding wild plants. In 1916, the team harvested and sold the first commerical crop of high bush blueberries. Today’s blueberries are nutritionally rich and have the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits and vegetables’ including anthocyanins, the plant pigments that give them their deep purplish-blue color.The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of blueberries. In 2012, the U.S. harvested a total of 564.4 million pounds of cultivated and wild blueberries.

highbush blueHere’s a fun fact: if all the blueberries grown in North America in one year were spread out in a single layer, they would cover a four-lane highway that stretched from New York to Chicago! Blueberries are the second most important commercial berry crop in the United States, behind only strawberries. (And, what do you call a sad strawberry? A blueberry! (Okay, enough jokes!)) New Jersey designated the Highbush Blueberry as its Official State Fruit in 2004; the blueberry muffin is the official muffin of Minnesota. Nationally, April 28 is Blueberry Pie Day, and July 10 is Blueberry muffin day! Blueberries are popular!

How are Wild Blueberries different from cultivated blueberries?

  • Unlike highbush blueberries wild blueberries are not planted. They are spread primarily by rhizomes or underground runners, which give rise to new shoots and stems.
  • Wild blueberry fields and barrens contain many different varieties of berries, which accounts for the variations in size and color that characterize the wild blueberry crop.
  • Wild blueberries contain a greater number and variety of phytochemicals than cultivated blueberries, including up to 26 different anthocyanin compounds that help them survive in the rugged environment. “They’re not pampered like the cultivated blueberries,” which are bred for sweetness, size and ability to withstand shipping, Dr. Mary Ann Lila, Director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University said. “They produce these berries under extreme stress, building up the phytochemicals that help them withstand the harsh wild conditions.”
  • Wild Blueberries have a more intense, sweet and tangy taste than cultivated blueberries
  • Wild Blueberries are naturally smaller and more compact (less water content) than cultivated, which means you get more blueberries per pound.
  • Wild Blueberries hold their shape, texture and color through a variety of baking and manufacturing process.
  • They also freeze very well: IQF Wild Blueberries maintain their quality for more than two years. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded that frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as fresh.

Choose wild or high bush blueberries, but choose local when you can!

Make This! Blueberry Mojito
2 drinks

Ingredients
10 fresh mint leaves, any type will do
2 teaspoons sugar 
1 cup fresh blueberries, wild or highbush
4 ounces light rum
3 limes, 2 juiced and 1 cut into wedges 
6 ounces club soda 

Directions
Muddle together the mint and sugar in a cocktail shaker. Add the blueberries and lightly muddle. Add the rum, lime juice and some ice and shake vigorously. Fill two tall glasses with ice, then pour 3 ounces club soda into each. Divide the rum mixture evenly between the glasses and stir gently. Garnish with a lime wedge, a few blueberries and a sprig of mint, and serve.

The Low Down on Whoopies and a Zucchini Fritter!

WhoopieProduct Spotlight
Woo-Wee, summer in Maine is made for whoopie pies! These sweet grab and go treats are the perfect ending to a family bbq or a lobster bake. Native Maine stocks Ananias’s traditionally made Whoopies. Traditionally made you say? Yes, these are made with the original vegetable shortening and marshmallow crème filling, no fancy French buttercream here! Available in classic chocolate (the best!) and also pumpkin, blueberry, peanut butter, mint, and raspberry flavors; call Native Maine’s customer service department for more info!

And just to continue the Whoopie pie theme, here’s some Whoopie fun facts!
Even though you and I know that Whoopie pies originated in Maine, there are people from away who believe differently. Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Virginia all claim to be the birthplace of the whoopie pie. Virginia, really?!?   So where did they come from?

  • Some food historians credit the Amish with making the first whoopie pies with leftover cake batter and tucking them into lunch pails (causing farmers and children to exclaim “Whoopie!” with delight upon their discovery). Okay, this is a nice story but I have trouble imagining a subdued and somber Amish farmer in his fields exclaiming “Whoopie!” about anything in his lunch pail……
  • It’s a documented fact that Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston began making and selling whoopie pies in 1925 (and still does today!). So, there you have that! Maine wins!
  • Whoopie pies have different names in other places: alternatively called a black moon, gob black-and-white, bob, or "BFO" for Big Fat Oreo.
  • The world's largest whoopie pie was created in South Portland, Maine, on March 26, 2011, weighing in at 1,062 pounds. Pieces of the giant whoopie pie were sold and the money was used to send Maine-made whoopie pies to soldiers serving overseas. The previous record holder, from Pennsylvania, weighed a mere 200 pounds.
  • The town of Dover-Foxcroft, hosts the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival. This widely attended annual June event has a road race, car show, dinner dance, and meet and greets with Sweetie Pie, the official mascot!
  • In 2011, the Maine State Legislature considered naming the whoopie pie the official state dessert. The proposal received bipartisan support; sadly, it failed. Wild Maine blueberry pie was voted the official state dessert.
  • Wait, don’t despair! The Maine Legislature eventually declared the whoopie pie our official state treat!

COOK THIS! No, I’m not giving you a recipe for whoopie pies; the Ananias’s are so good! What's in season locally, inexpensive, easy to work with, and plentiful?  Zucchini! What do with the scores of the little green monsters multiplying like crazed bunnies in your garden? Sure, zucchini is great sautéed, roasted, and baked in a gratin but have you considered a fritter? These fritters are a great side dish, a super vegetarian option, and a great breakfast option with an over easy egg on top of it!

Zucchini Fritters

Fritter

1 1/2 pounds zucchini (about 3 medium), grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
1 large egg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch4 tablespoons scallions, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup vegetable oil or as much as needed

 PREPARATION

  • Place zucchini in a colander set in the sink and toss with 1/2 teaspoons salt. Let stand 10 minutes or longer, then wring zucchini dry in a clean kitchen towel. This step is super important: keep wringing, wringing, wringing. Think of all the people in your life that frustrate you! And wring! Think of that guy you cut you off this morning and Wring! Think of that lady who went through the 10 items or less checkout with 37 different cans of cat food. Wring, wring, wring! Then ask your significant other to wring. Okay, now you can move on.
  • Place zucchini in a large bowl and gently mix in egg, flour, chives, and cornstarch; season with salt and pepper.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in 2 batches, drop 1/4-cupfuls zucchini mixture into skillet, flattening slightly; cook until golden and crisp, about 4 minutes per side. Watch your heat level here, too much and you’ll burn the outside before the inside is warm. Too little, and you’ll have soggy, oily pucks of wet zucchini.
  • Transfer fritters to a paper towel–lined plate; season with salt. Serve with some parmesan cheese, minced herbs, flake salt and plain yogurt. Yum!

DO AHEAD: Fritters can be made 30 minutes ahead. Keep warm in a 200° oven.

Local You Know

At Native Maine Produce & Specialty Foods we're working hard to connect our customers with the freshest, quality produce & specialty products available. We believe in supporting New England's vibrant and diverse food system by providing locally grown & processed food items alongside some of the world’s best specialty foods sourced from around the globe.

As one of New England’s leading produce wholesale distributors with 3000+ quality items in stock, our 2000+ New England customers have access to local, regional & hard to find specialty foods delivered frequently at very competitive prices. We are your neighbors; we are the Local You Know.

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