Farming isn’t easy, and neither is running a restaurant, but doing both at once — serving the freshest farm-grown food all year long — is another challenge entirely.
“The challenge for us is that restaurant flow can be very variable,” says Spice Acres Farm Manager Andrea Heim. Careful planning is crucial and a good portion of that planning happened during the winter. Andrea based her planting schedule on what the Spice chefs want, and during growing season, she and chefs Josh Woo and Ben Bebenroth talk frequently about what’s ready to harvest and what is going in the ground at the farm.
“During growing season, we usually place a couple of orders a week to our farm,” says Woo, but Spice Acres isn’t the only farm he works with. “There’s probably 10 to 15 farms that we’re in constant weekly contact with. Like this week, I got a text about whether I want some first-of-the-season asparagus.”
Spice tries to source most of its food from within 150 miles of Cleveland, and many of their farmers deliver personally to the restaurant. Even when shopping for his home kitchen, Woo looks for local sources. Why? Farm fresh is best. “The stuff you get from a farmer’s market lasts longer because it didn’t travel on a truck for weeks.” Andrea is careful to harvest items the day before — or even on the morning of delivery to Spice, or for pickup by Spice Acres CSA members. A cooler room at the farm helps keep things fresh before delivery.
At Spice, “we try not to store anything too long.” And when there’s a large crop of ingredients, Woo prefers to turn to pickling. “I like pickling because the food lasts so much longer and I don’t need to worry about freezer burn or destroying the texture. If you process and pickle ingredients, they can sit for a year. It’s nice to have that stuff on hand in February, when you can’t get much locally but greens.”
Woo likes to move quickly when pickling, getting things washed, in the brine, and refrigerated within a day of delivery to Spice. More delicate greens like herbs, Woo blanches and freezes for later use.
When you buy your own fresh-from-the-farm produce, Woo and Andrea suggest first, buying less, and then using more. Keep your produce front and center in the fridge — hidden away in the crisper drawer, you might forget about it. And be sure to use all your scraps. Carrot tops can turn into pesto; peelings can go into stock, or the compost pile.
Also try to keep high ethylene producers away from other fresh produce. Produced naturally when fruits ripen, ethylene can speed up ripening and spoilage in other produce. These producers include apples, apricots, cantaloupe, figs, honeydew, avocados, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, bananas and tomatoes.
Beyond those basics, try the following tips for specific fruits and vegetables:
- Asparagus: Cut a bit off the bottoms and store bottom side down in a little water in the refrigerator. Use within a few days
- Berries: Store unwashed in a single layer in the refrigerator. Use within a few days.
- Beets: Cut stems. Refrigerate in airtight plastic bag. Use within three weeks.
- Carrots: Cut tops. Refrigerate in an open plastic bag with a slightly moist paper towel. Use within three–four weeks.
- Corn: Dunk in cold water. Store in the husk in your fridge for up to a week.
- Melons: Keep on a cool counter. Use within one–two weeks.
- Mushrooms: Refrigerate in a paper bag. Use within a week.
- Peppers: Refrigerate loose. Using within two weeks.
- Tomatoes: Keep stem side down on the counter. Use within a few days.
- Summer squash: Refrigerate loose. Use within two–three weeks.