Community supported agriculture, or CSAs, where consumers buy a farm share at the start of the growing season to help growers thrive, has spawned a new offshoot in Maine. Bakers, fishermen and home cooks, not content to let farmers have all the fun, are adopting the practice, offering direct access to shares of herbs, a pantry of pies, wholegrain bread and even local oysters.
For the consumer, this means a bounty of fresh, local food they crave. For the entrepreneur, shares provide a low-cost way to participate in the locavore marketplace — as well as a revenue source they can bank on.
Old-fashioned farm kitchen comfort
Dining out can be fun, but it’s also expensive — and not always satisfying. But home cooking can be time consuming. Fortunately, families looking for a more gourmet experience that is also healthy can sign up for a CSA, featuring the wholesome bounty laid out by Lauren Pignatello of Swallowtail Farm and Creamery in Whitefield. The herbalist/homemaker and yogurt and cheese maker in Whitefield has designed a series of homemade CSAs with the harried family in mind. Her old-fashioned farm kitchen CSA is like grandma’s best prepared.
“It’s very individualized attention. People like food and to be cared for. They tell me, ‘We just feel so loved and nurtured.’ They feel like it’s Christmas every week,” Pignatello, who has offered CSAs for four years, said.
Customers pick them up every week at Portland and Brunswick farmers markets and at the Urban Farm Fermentory. Many times her fruit pies, breads and brownies are still warm. Pignatello also makes thick Greek yogurt, cheese, butter and milk.
Depending on the season, her shares include mozzarella and homemade heirloom tomato sauce, for example, so people can make meals such as lasagna.
“People don’t have the time to do all that cooking for themselves. I hand-choose everything,” she said.
Having baked since she was a little girl, she’ll experiment with treats ranging from chaga brownies and holiday breads to quiche.
The herbalist, originally from New York City, offers an herbal CSA featuring medicinal elixirs, beauty care products and glass jars of shrubs, a botanical mix of honey and apple cider vinegar in flavors such as elderberry or ginger. She also makes her own fire cider and liver tonics — a dandelion and burdock mix.
“Fall is the traditional time to take care of your liver and do a gentle detox to get things ready for winter,” she said.
What do customers like best about it?
“I think it’s really about the love,” she said. “A lot of people don’t bake pies. Everything I offer is homemade, from butter to lard. I’m an old-fashioned cook with old-fashioned techniques with a gourmet twist.”
On the half-shell
In West Bath, the CSA model is diving into aquaculture. Jordan Kramer harvests oysters from his farm in the New Meadows River. Then, a day later, bivalve lovers can pick up the briney jewels in Portland. The startup, only a month old, called Winnegance Oyster Farm, is affordable and popular. This year is a short season for Kramer, who is doing a trial run taking weekly pre-orders.
“I have a planned harvest each week, and on Friday and Saturdays people pick them up outside my home in Portland,” Kramer said.
Next season people will buy a number of shares ahead of time. Doing the math, each oyster will be sold for approximately $1.25, which is “quite a bit less” than most purveyors and raw bars.
He offers weekly shares up to Thanksgiving and next year oyster lovers can buy 10 or 20 dozen in advance. He chose New Meadows River because “the water is clean, and it is a naturally productive ecosystem.”
Bread share on the rise
Imagine not having to schlep to the bakery every week for whole grain bread? Starting in November, a tap of the smartphone will be all that’s needed for carb lovers on the midcoast to access healthy and hearty bread when Brazen Bakery comes online.
The new bread share run by baker Jeff Dec is launching in Waldoboro. The concept? Bring nutritious bread to the masses. For four weeks, shareholders will receive a whole grain loaf and add-ons, such as baguettes or naturally leavened bread. “[Because] you can’t just start up a bakery without putting down thousands, this allows us to keep overhead low to focus on really high-quality products,” Dec said.
Armed with a technical assistance grant from the the Maine Grain Alliance, Dec is developing a software system so customers can order bread online at brazenbaking.com. When the startup is up and running, pick-up locations in Camden and Rockland will be announced.
“We are focused on quality. We want to improve the nutrition people have in their households — that’s our mission,” said Dec, who baked professionally at Pearl Bakery in Portland, Oregon, and teaches baking classes across the country. To Dec, breadmaking is “not about being the hip bakers with tattoos but using these great grains.”
He’s committed to baking with Maine-grown grains and improving people’s health.
“We’ve come pretty far from the grains that came over to this country from Europe to grains overly processed,” Dec said.
Brazen Bakery is an affordable way for the baker to change that recipe.