Ugly veggies. We've all been there before... at a market, the grocery store, and even in our own refrigerators... staring down the wilted, bruised, haggard tomato or lettuce or cucumber in front of us and promptly turning from it to pick up it's shinier, more handsome, perfect looking neighbor. Our food supply chain is full of moments like this, from farmer to distributor to grocer to buyer. Or even from farmer to market to buyer. Or, yes, even from farmer direct to buyer. We make these decisions every harvest day at Sown & Grown... to distribute or not? One too many blemishes, or a few too many nibbles from a little critter and that particular veg is out of the running for farm share and chef deliveries. On the one hand, this is a manifestation of the pride we take as farmers in the work we do daily. I want the public to see the best of my best. I want to feed my farm family the best of my best. The frustrating conundrum is that this habit establishes impossible expectations about produce beauty and contributes to a terrible culture of unnecessary waste filling our landfills daily while people in our own cities starve. This "ugly" food is still good, still incredibly nutritious, and still worthy of all our dinner plates. According to the USDA, our current food supply chain wastes between 30% and 40% of food in the United States. More specifically:
"This estimate, based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31% food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. This amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change:
- Wholesome food that could have helped feed families in need is sent to landfills.
- The land, water, labor, energy and other inputs used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of discarded food are pulled away from uses that may have been more beneficial to society – and generate impacts on the environment that may endanger the long-run health of the planet.
- Food waste, which is the single largest component going into municipal landfills, quickly generates methane, helping to make landfills the third largest source of methane in the United States."
I am by no means perfect, though, and this post is not a condemnation of any particular individuals. Rather, I hope that you, reader, will take it as a general acknowledgement that we in this country ought to make ourselves more aware of such issues and adjust our own habits so as to mitigate against this problem of excessive waste. Farmer Michael and I usually split up the "reject" pile to take home and feed our own families, but sometimes they do end up in our compost (though at least better than a landfill I suppose). So then what are some simple actions we can all take to reduce food waste?
- Be mindful on an individual level of how much food we purchase week to week and buy as much as you think you'll have time to prepare
- If you end up with an overstock of food, start a compost pile instead of sending produce to the landfill (or find a neighborhood farmer/gardener to send your food scraps too!)
- Take a chance on some "ugly" produce at your local farmer's market. A few blemishes here and there, a few munched up leaves doesn't diminish the nutrient and flavor of the food. If you're buying direct from the farmer, you still know it's fresh and quality. (Besides those perfectly plump and red tomatoes at the grocery store are often about as delightful as taking a bite out of some cardboard. See here.)
- Visit this website to learn more and then feel empowered to take big action!
For this week's edition of The Quick & Dirty in Your Kitchen, we gathered the "uglies" of our harvest... the wilted and withered greens, old yellowing onions, spotted okra, and weirdo cucumbers... paired them with some lovely peppers and long beans from our brothers at Finca Tres Robles and got to cooking a delicious feast! Pictured below are all the farm ingredients followed by our two favorite recipes of the night. Buen provecho!
OKRA with SUMMER GREENS
- 2 tbsp Butter
- Handful of green Onions
- Several Garlic cloves + 1 Habanero + 1 Serano
- As much Okra as you want (sliced cylindrically)
- Hefty chunk of fresh, raw Turmeric root
- (Add butter as needed and cook this all down)
- Amaranth greens + splash of water (for humidity)
- Roselle + Molokhia greens (with little pats of butter, salt, & pepper on top)
- Cook all until wilted and mix deliciously!
There wasn't too much to this dish in terms of absolutes and specifics. Most all the veggies were diced and sliced. The garlic, chiles, and turmeric were minced. Butter content was maintained just to keep the pan from drying up. All the greens were simply torn off their stems and tossed in at the very end until they were lightly wilted. Voila!
STIR-FRY with LONG BEANS + CUCUMBERS + SUMMER GREENS
- Sesame Oil + Big 'ol handful of green Onions
- Several cloves of Garlic
- Long Beans + Ginger root + Liquid Aminos + Rice Wine Vinegar
- (Oil as needed so mixture doesn't dry out)
- Cukes!!! (see photo below)
- (Vinegar as needed)
- ALL THE GREENS! (Roselle and Burdock in this case)
With this bath of Crystal Apple cucumbers, I found some of the seeds (in the more yellow tinged cukes) to be sweet and delicious, but most of them to be much too bitter for my tastes. To fix this, I simply cored the center of the cucumber like you would with a cantaloupe or honey dew melon. The remaining flesh and skin was sweet and tender and ready to be sliced up for our stir-fry!
To begin, I heated up my wok with the sesame oil, diced green onions, and minced garlic. Once the garlic began to brown, I threw in my long beans and ginger with a splash of Liquid Aminos and Rice Vinegar to keep the ingredients from drying out. About another two minutes later, the slices of cucumber went in with some more oil and vinegar. Everything was left to cook until the cucumbers felt tender. The last touch was to throw in all my greens, mix up the stir-fry, and serve dinner!
Everything paired deliciously with a bowl of wild rice. As it turns out, my friends at Bravado Spice Co. also make this incredible Crimson hot sauce that really ended up taking the meal above and beyond. Two out of two hungry, but picky, friends gave these recipes an "all thumbs up" review! Let me know what you think or send in your own favorite farm veg recipes to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may be featured on our next edition of The Quick & Dirty in Your Kitchen!