All Things Have a Season

Oliver de Serres (1539-1619) once said, “A thriving household depends on the use of seasonal produce and the application of common sense.”

Putting a home-cooked healthy dinner on the table with any regularity is a challenge, whether you are a food writer, chef, farmer, stay at home mom, a commuter, part-time or full-time worker-bee. The struggle is real for all of us. The most common complaints are:

  • I hate staring into the fridge at 6pm,trying to decide what to have
  • I’m so bored with my repertoire, we eat the same thing over and over
  • My children are always whining about what I’ve made for dinner
  • I just don’t have time
  • I’m not a good cook

I read somewhere that since the advent of cooking shows on TV, the number of people who cook regularly has declined, which is interesting. You would think people would be inspired! What has happened, I think, is that cooking shows have raised the bar of what we think is expected, and now, unless we are performing Jamie Oliver or Rachel Ray type feats in the kitchen, we feel like underachievers.

The truth is, there is no secret genie. No magic unicorn answer. Until the visions of star trek producers are realized and we can push a button on a replicator, wait two seconds, and open the door to a steaming roast beef and gravy dinner, we are on our own.

Here is the another truth: every option has it’s pros, and it unfortunately, also has its cons. Whether it is a microwaved dinner (processed, not fresh, stored in plastic, often full of preservatives)  a meal-kit you just need to assemble (packaging nightmare, environmental impact is awful, and it’s expensive by comparison), a farmer’s market trip (getting there in a window time frame can be challenging), or a drive to the grocery store (not the fresh food ideal, food often shipped from far) at the end of the day, no matter how tired you feel, good fresh food takes work.

This brings us to the final truth. It’s all in the planning. If you fail to plan, then plan to fail.

It is for this reason that I am so excited to introduce Cook the Seasons. Here’s why, after test-driving many, many products, including the meal kit offerings, we picked Cook the Seasons to share with you:

  • It supports all the food ethics we hold dear: meals based on local, seasonal, farm fresh fruits and veggies
  • It is completely flexible, you can tailor it to what you like to eat, all the while considering what is coming in your delivery
  • Cook The Seasons puts left overs to good use with ‘Reinvention Recipes’
  • It’s easy to use
  • The recipes are super simple, with a casual elegance that allows you to be Rachel Ray, and make it look just as easy! And delicious!
  • Lia doesn’t just give you assembly instructions, she supports each season with a ‘how to stock you pantry for spring’ and ‘kitchen equipment you will need this season’, plus other wonderful tips on which oil to use, or how to de-glaze a pan. You will actually learn to cook.
  • You can make cooking a family affair, and get everybody into the kitchen with you
  • You actually spend less and less time in the kitchen as the week wears on and you lean on ingredients you’ve already prepared
  • You save money

All this for only $55 for three months, AND Lia has generously offered all SSO customers $20 discount with the coupon code SOUTHSHORE. And, we are so confident it will help you use up every morsel in your green box, that we too will give all customers who join us a $10 credit to their account.

Seriously, what have you got to lose?

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The Dish on Meal Kit Companies: Farmers

With all the ‘farm goodness’ on marketing materials, we asked if meal kit companies deliver on their ‘small farm’ promise, the results were not that surprising:

Menu’s Are Not Regional, or That Local

Large meal kit companies are sourcing and shipping raw ingredients nationally and internationally, and distributing the end product all across the USA. “There’s less carbon emitted to aggregate meat on a shipping container on a boat from New Zealand than if we were driving it from Nebraska to Chicago,” says Matthew Wadiak about grass-fed beef, Matthew is Blue Apron’s 38-year-old chief operating officer and one of its three co-founders.

In an article written by Brian Barth for Modern Farmer, Plated, which boasts “farm-sourced seasonal ingredients,” did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. HelloFresh, which makes a similar claim [about fresh ingredients from nearby farms], replied to inquiries via an email statement—“we source a growing percentage of our produce direct from growers”—yet provided no details regarding that percentage or those growers.

A Culture of Mono-cropping

Mono-cropping is hundreds of acres under a single crop which is terrible for biodiversity and genetic diversity. Meal kit companies have become so successful, and are dealing in such large quantities (8,000,000 meals a month in the case of Blue Apron), that when they need chard for a recipe, they need 40,000 pounds of it. This runs counter to the small farm ideal, supported by locals through CSA’s, Farmers Markets, and businesses like ours. A diverse farm with many different crops minimizes the risk and exposure for farmers against catastrophe. If one crop fails, another is likely to be successful. Diverse farms are also key to the genetic viability of our food system, and are also home to a greater number of insects and wildlife, all vital in lowering the environmental impact of agriculture and creating a system that is healthier, more robust, and more sustainable.

Local Farm Economics

Spending money locally improves local economy. To have the same economic impact and job creation, you would have to spend three times as much with a chain store, and even more with a business that isn’t based in your neighborhood, but instead, is shipping to its end users.

Although meal kit companies report to pay ‘somewhere between wholesale and retail’ prices for food from small farms, in our experience this has not been the case. For example, Markristo Farm who works with our counterpart, Berkshire Organics out in Western Mass, was approached to grow the above mentioned 40,000 pounds of Swiss chard, the price he was offered for it was 80 cents per pound. At South Shore Organics we pay anywhere between $1.75 and $2.50 per bunch of Swiss chard, depending on the farm and the time of year. A vastly different price point. Eighty cents is well below the wholesale price, and not viable for smaller farms relying on labor and not machines to harvest and wash crops.

What if the crop was a couple weeks late due to a cool start to the summer season, the meal kit company could reject the entire crop. What would a farmer with 24 acres do with 40,000 pounds of Swiss chard?

Food Waste

These companies promise ‘no waste’, however, we have already addressed the abhorrent plastic waste in our blog ‘The Dish on Meal Kit Companies: Packaging’. And food waste? Menus and recipes prepared by these meal kit companies rely on perfect portioning as well as simplicity to be successful. The cabbage can’t be too big, or too small, neither can the apple, or the leaf size of the kale. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is not a drive-through order window, and she loves allowing things to grow at their own rate.

Similarly, meal kit companies do not accept wiggly carrots, because it makes them more challenging for their customers to peel. Or misshapen green peppers. Or green peppers that have already started to blush red. The waste is real, you just don’t get to see it.

Our customers know we include potatoes of all sizes, wiggly carrots, and funky green peppers. These perfectly edible vegetables are not rejected and destined for the compost heap because they don’t conform to size, weight, and aesthetic standards of a recipe card.

Food Ethics

And what of the ‘food miles’ solution suggested by the recent surge in hyperlocal meal-kit companies? Wadiak of Blue Apron would argue that they sacrifice mass reach for ideology. Apparently they are mutually exclusive. Mass Reach vs. Ideology. Which side are you on when it comes to food?

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Source (quoted): Modern Farmer, Meal Kit Mania – Unpacked, and conversations with farmers

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