The First Salsa of the Season: Radish & Green Tomato

This recipe and post are contributed to Nourished Kitchen by Megan and Rose of Fig and Fauna.  If you are interested in contributing to Nourished Kitchen, please read these guidelines.

While every carrot, beet and potato still rest deep beneath the soil, perfectly ombre painted radishes emerge from the surface of the ground. They are a welcoming kickoff to a hopeful season of produce to come. Radishes are not alone in this early rising, as they are among many clusters of bright green tomatoes. My impatience to wait for them to ripen pays off, while immature tomatoes offer a tart acidity that mingles so well with the heat of a crisp radish. It’s not a coincidence that our cilantro is blooming lacy bouquets of flowers, tempting me with the idea of a springtime salsa.

My family enjoys this colorful salsa particularly on white fish dishes, like Fish Tacos or grilled Mahi. If green tomatoes cannot be found, tomatillos or yellow heirloom tomatoes are a good alternative.

Radish & Green Tomato Salsa

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  • YIELD: about 1 pint (16 Servings)
  • PREP: 5 mins

Wildly fresh with the verdant nuances of spring, this salsa can be plucked from the garden early, tossed together in an instant and served or refrigerated for up to twelve hours to allow the flavors to marry.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped green tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced radishes
  • 1 - 2 jalapenos (seeded and minced)
  • 1/2 medium white onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely chopped cilantro
  • lime (juiced)
  • splash unrefined extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a bowl. Toss to combine. Season with unrefined sea salt and ground black pepper, and refrigerate for up to 12 hours to allow the flavors to marry before serving.

Last Saturday, Sarasota Downtown Farmer's Market...Jim and I were ready to fold up, load up and head to State Street Eatery where we always go at the end of the market day to lunch and enjoy a Bloody Mary with a few friends.  Our pal and advisor extraordinaire, Devin Rutkowski, showed up with the most delectable, delightful container of "stuff" just perfect to wrap in our left over romaine.  Thought you might enjoy this recipe shared with us by Devin...a light, refreshing Thai spring roll like veggie wrap!

LETTUCE WRAPS

4 boston lettuces

4 T honey

2 T soy sauce

1 clove garlic chopped

1 inch piece ginger peeled, grated

1 T sesame seeds

1 T sesame oil

1 cup walnuts

1/2 c celery, 

1/2 c diced carrots

1/2 c diced red pepper

1/4 c scallions

1/2 c cilantro

1/2 chopped red chile

salt and pepper 

Pull letttuce leaves apart and set aside.

Place honey, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, and sesame oil into food processor and process to combine.  Add nuts, vegetables, cilantro and chile to the processor and process until evenly chopped.

Arrange with the bean sprouts, grated carrot, and cilantro leaves and serve with sweet chile sauce.

 

SWEET CHILI SAUCE:

1 - 2 red chiles chopped

3/4 c sugar

1 c rice vinegar

2 garlic cloves chopped

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped

1 t salt  

Put the chiles, sugar and rice vinegar into a small saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer.

Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 15 minutes until the chiles are soft.  season with salt to taste.

Process with a stick blender, and serve with the lettuce wraps.

 




Sweetgrass Farms has certainly enjoyed the masses of people coming to pick strawberries lately. We appreciate the intelligence of those who look for clean berries and are teaching their children about clean foods. We thought it would be worthy of our time to do a bit of research on the strawberry and what it offers since it is one of the most popular, refreshing and healthy snacks that we have.

Some highlights to our discoveries include the following:





EAT NEAR: SWEETGRASS FARMS

Eat Near: Sweetgrass Farms

/  Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sweetgrass Farms co-owner Jim Demler / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Walking the long aisles of Sweetgrass Farms' white hydroponic boxes, it's tough to imagine that not so long ago this place was basically a junk pit.

Jim Demler, who co-owns Sweetgrass with his wife, Kathy, shakes his head when I ask what the property was like before the farm planted its first seeds last May. Before Sweetgrass could get going, Demler and his crew hauled away abandoned boats and huge chunks of concrete, dismantled a makeshift motocross track some locals had built and pulled out 18 truckloads of invasive Brazilian pepper trees.

Today, the farm is pristine. Black matting covers the ground and the complicated piping and wiring needed to make the hydroponic system go. Hoop houses protect some of the more vulnerable veggies from the sun. Narrow pipes pop out of the ground near a small bank of blue plastic containers filled with a nutrient solution that is carried to the plants by water cycling through the system.

The plants themselves are situated in a soil-like mixture made from ground-up coconut husks. Demler estimates that the system uses only about 10 percent of the water a ground-based operation would need, since none is lost to the soil or evaporation. Overall, according to Demler, you can grow between six and eight times as much food on the same amount of property by going hydroponic.

What's missing? Weeds and bugs. The sterile setup repels both, eliminating the need for the pesticides and herbicides common at conventional farming operations.

"It's clean," says the 67-year-old Demler, referring to both the farm and the final product. "As clean as you can grow things."

Demler, a full-time urologist, had owned the property that would become Sweetgrass for awhile, without any specific plans for it. When a friend introduced him to hydroponics, he started plotting. Lacking any experience farming, he hired Jose Torres as what he calls his "master grower." Torres worked for Tim Carpenter, the president of the hydroponic infrastructure supplier Verti-Gro, and became the "genius" behind Sweetgrass.

The farm officially opened to the public in early January and remains open for business every week Tuesday through Saturday. Sweetgrass has 16,000 strawberry plants—the stacked hydroponic boxes make for a breezy U-pick setup—and a row of tables up front is stacked with some of the farm's freshest goods for sale. You can also snag their produce every Saturday at the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market.

Demler and I stroll the property. He points out the incredible range of food Sweetgrass is cranking out. Tomatoes, red and yellow beets, cauliflower, every type of leafy green, herbs, onions, fennel, moringa, on and on.

Sweetgrass has already hosted a number of farm-to-table events. Demler would like to book weddings, as well. He's also working on establishing Sweetgrass-centric menu selections with a number of local restaurants.

All he needs to do to gain my respect is grow a decent tomato. Pick up a 'mater, organic or conventional, in any grocery in the area, and it's likely to be terrible—pale pink inside and hard as a rock. Why do Americans keep eating these horrible, awful, bland fruits?

A slice into a Sweetgrass tomato gets me excited. Inside, it's a deep, lush red. The texture is soft, the flavor richer than most I've had in recent years. If nothing else, Sweetgrass grows an impressive tomato, and that's more than enough reason to keep me coming back.

Sweetgrass Farms is located at 8350 Carolina St., Sarasota, and is open to the public 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tues.-Fri. and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat. To contact the farm, call 350-3596 or visit sweetgrassfarms.com.

This is the 66th entry in Eat Near, a regular column dedicated to all the lovely food that folks on the Suncoast grow, raise, kill or craft. If you have an idea for someone/thing to feature, email me at eatnearsrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.


 

 

DITCHIN’ THE DIRT

Sweetgrass Farms

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Seasonal strawberries ready for the pickin’

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Owners Jim and Kathy Demler

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Seedlings ready to be planted

WORDS BY RANDI DONAHUE 
PHOTOS BY JENNY ACHESON

At the end of a dirt road, just north of University Parkway and east of Washington Boulevard, nestled between urban sprawl and dilapidated housing, lies an oasis where beautiful, vegetables, herbs, and seasonal fruits grow year-round.

Owners Jim and Kathy Demler call their hydroponic oasis “the farm of the future.” Sweetgrass Farms could be better described as a mouthwatering boutique.

Anyone stepping foot on the six-acre hydroponic farm has the opportunity to gain something from their experience, starting with the encouragement to customers to go beyond the farm stand.

“A customer can come in, look around and see what we have on display [at the stand], but we’ll also walk them around and educate them,” says Farm Manager Jose Torres.

Sweetgrass debunks common preconceived notions about hydroponic edibles. On the open-air farm, bees and dragonflies abound, chickens (and a lone turkey) are right at home, and the produce is as flavorful as can be.

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Ripe eggplant

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Veggies grown in Verti-Gro hydroponic nursery

“We are doing this because we are
passionate about it and we believe in it, and
we felt like this was given to us to do”

While some struggle with the idea of produce grown without being rooted in earth, hydroponics are gaining traction as a solution to soil depletion caused by conventional farming. As a nod to that notion, the Demlers chose an abstract bird for their logo, representing that methods of farming should be seen from a different points of view.

“The hydroponic movement was focused on saving ground, saving water, and growing things even healthier than organic,” says Jim, a practicing physician.

Sweetgrass broke ground last January, planted its first crops in May, and plan to host its’ official grand opening this January. The yield has already been plentiful, consistently offering a large variety of nutritious goodies, including various herbs, lettuces, beets, radishes, tomatoes, kale, beans, eggplant, herbs, onion, squash, and strawberries. Thousands of other non–genetically modified and organic seedlings are at various stages on deck to be planted, and they constantly experiment with new varieties (currently heirloom cherry tomatoes).

The Demlers say Sweetgrass’ quick success is thanks to the dedication of the team, which includes Jose Torres, Project Manager Sarah Morgan, and a team of five farmhands.

“Our passion is your produce,” says Sarah, who is invested in every aspect of the farm’s success.

Sweetgrass uses the Verti-Gro hydroponic system created in the ’70s by friend and Sweetgrass design consultant Tim Carpenter. Thanks to a timer-controlled drip system, the hydroponic nursery uses 90 percent less water than a conventional farm, and its vertical design offers six-to-eight times more yield in 80 percent less space. The plants are fed and watered three to four times a day, using filtered water from an on-site well. Before it reaches the plants, the water is injected with a scientifically formulated food solution containing all the nutrients the plant needs to thrive.

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Top: Jose Torres tasting some of the herbs; Bottom: A zucchini ready to blossom

“We feed [each] plant what it needs so the plant does what it is designed to do,” says Jim.

Because the plants don’t have to seek nutrients from the ground, their root systems stay compact, allowing each to thrive in a small insulated space and keep its energy focused on production.

Sweetgrass is not certified organic (such certification does not yet exist for hydroponics), but the use of ground coconut coir instead of soil eliminates the need for harsh chemicals for pest management and keeps the produce very clean.

“If you don’t have soil, you don’t have soil pathogens,” says Jim. “If you don’t have the pathogens, you don’t need dangerous pesticides.

If you don’t have dirt, you don’t have weeds. If you don’t have weeds you don’t need herbicides.”

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Project manager Sarah Morgan and Kathy Demler in the chicken coop

When the plants do face airborne predators and pathogens, Sweetgrass applies a limited amount of safe, organic pesticides, such as orange oil and copper spray.

Sweetgrass plans to grow year-round, even when most local farms have shut down in the summer. They’ve proven they can survive the heat, with a successful corn harvest despite last summer’s record highs.

Sweetgrass has already formed some strong partnerships with local restaurants, including Maison Blanche, Cafe L’Europe, and Mattison’s, hosting events, but intend to maintain focus and close connection with the end-user through sale of harvest boxes filled with a variety of the fresh selections from the week.

The farm stand, open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, also offers a la carte items priced by the pound. But even though there are set hours, Jose says as long as the gates are open and staff is available, they’ll cater to customers.

In December, Sweetgrass started offering U-pick strawberries each Saturday, set to continue through May. They’ll also keep hosting handcrafted events, most notably a first-come-first-served nomadic plate—or pop-up restaurant—in partnership with the USF Culinary Lab. These meals, which are popular in Europe, offer limited seating and are announced and promoted through the website and social media.

“Each [nomadic plate event] will be hosted in an interesting location, with our produce and their chefs,” says Kathy, who seeks every opportunity to use her background as a teacher to educate both children and adults.

Although the Demlers never planned to own a farm, the produce that is thriving and the vibe they’ve created at Sweetgrass Farms is a clear representation of how they are “following their bliss.”

“We are doing this because we are passionate about it and we believe in it, and we felt like this was given to us to do,” says Kathy.

sweetgrassfarms.com

 

 

 

SARASOTA FOODIES

Sweetgrass Farms

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2015, by jberg, 5 CommentsSubscribe via Email


I’m sitting at my desk, having a bite of lunch before leaving to host an Open House on Siesta Key.  In front of me is simply the best salad I’ve ever made at home.  And every bite of it came from Sarasota’s first hydroponic farm, Sweetgrass Farms, an oasis of goodness located a block north of University Parkway at the end of Carolina Street.   If you’ve ever wondered what the “next” big thing in farming will be, you absolutely need to check out Sweetgrass Farms’ hydroponic growing system.

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Hydroponic farming is a vertical farming platform that grows small to mid-sized fruits, vegetables and herbs in pots suspended in rows of 4 or 5 on a pole, with an eco-friendly watering system that drips the exact right amount of water and nutrients from the top level, through the suspended pots, to an anchor pot at the bottom.  Also known as “controlled farming,” hydroponic farming hails back to the ancient Gardens of Babylon.  I could go into more technical detail, but hey. . . I’d rather talk about the incredible backstory and quality of the food at this amazing operation!

Founded in 2014 by Doctor Jim Demler and his wife Kathy, Sweetgrass Farms quickly made a name for themselves whenever foodies discuss the most nutritious and delicious places to buy local produce.

Being a doctor, Jim Demler spent years concerned for his patients, most of whom he felt were poisoning themselves with toxic food.

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Dr. Jim Demler explains the hydroponic system at Sweetgrass Farms

“The food we’re eating today is not good for us — and not just processed foods.  There is an herbicide called 2,4D that was recently approved by the FDA, even though it was a principal ingredient in Agent Orange!  Think about that for a second!   In the quest to produce more food with less effort, our farmers are encouraged to use herbicides and pesticides like these.  As a doctor, I wanted to do something, but the only farming experience Kathy and I have is a cherry orchid and raspberries on a property we own in Montana.  I didn’t have the answer until I was introduced to hydroponic farming.  Since then, Sweetgrass Farms has become my passion!”

Jim and Kathy looked at all the options and chose to install the Verti-Gro Hydroponic Growing System, pioneered by Tim Carpenter over thirty years ago.  The Verti-Gro system is used at Epcot and 25 other countries across the globe.  “Hydroponic farming is even being tested on the Space Station and in Antarctica,” Jim Demler explains, barely containing his excitement.

“Sounds like hydroponic is the “better agricultural mouse trap” of the farming industry,” Mart said.  I tend to agree.

The ground coconut husks used instead of soil

The ground coconut husks used instead of soil

The produce at Sweetgrass Farms is grown in pots filled with a clean fiber made from coconut husks.  The fiber holds the water long enough for the roots to get the nutrients they need to funnel up into the plants, instead of draining out into the soil. And since the produce never touches the ground, Sweetgrass Farms doesn’t need to use pesticides, herbicides or animal fertilizer.  If the plants are ever faced with airborne predators or pathogens, Sweetgrass uses a controlled amount of safe, organic pesticides, such as orange oil or copper spray.

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What results is produce that is even cleaner that organic! Let that sink in for a minute . . . Sweetgrass Farms waters their plants from a 600 foot well on the property, tapping into the aquifer and pumping it through a filtration system that adds natural nutrients before being fed to the plants.  Each plant receives the precise amount of water and nutrients it needs to thrive, and thrive they do — even during Florida’s hot summer months!

New plants being grown from seed at Sweetgrass Farms.

New plants being grown from seed at Sweetgrass Farms.

The economy of scale is amazing.  How else could a farmer grow over 40,000 plants on only three acres!  And consider this . . . Sweetgrass Farms uses 90% less water on 80% less land than conventional land farming.  Hydroponic farming is, indeed, the farming of the future, especially in areas where conventional farming is impossible.

Yes, Sweetgrass Farms has kale!

Yes, Sweetgrass Farms has kale!

“Because there is no soil, there isn’t any soil-borne bacterium,” Kathy explains, “so our produce lasts longer.  I once tested this by putting a strawberry on a counter and it didn’t start to turn until 8 days later.  Our greens don’t spoil in the refrigerator.  You can actually eat them straight off the vine!”  Her passion as a school teacher is reflected in her desire to educate both children and adults on the merits of hydroponic farming, be it at a tour of the farm, or at a meeting of a local charity.

Green beans that start out purple, but turn green when they're cooked!

Green beans that start out purple, but turn green when they’re cooked!

But back to my salad.   I took advantage of Sweetgrass Farm’s Harvest Box program, where you can order a half bushel ($25) or a full bushel ($45) of their current vegetable choices.

Our half bushel Harvest Box from Sweetgrass Farns

Our half bushel Harvest Box from Sweetgrass Farns

Our bushel contained healthy amounts (pun intended) of the following:

2 heads of romaine lettuce
1 head of red leafy lettuce
1/2 bunch of green kale
1/2 bunch of red kale
1 lb. of tomatoes (head and shoulders better tasting than store bought – we did a blind taste test!)
2 grapefruits
2 tangerines
1 bunch of cilantro
1 bunch of green onions
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
1/2oz of micro greens
1 bunch of red beets
1 bunch of arugula
1 bunch of oregano
1 bunch of cherry radishes
1 bunch dandelion

Our Harvest Box was a virtual cornucopia of herbs and vegetables!

Our Harvest Box was a virtual cornucopia of herbs and vegetables!

Let me state unequivocally; these fruits and veggies absolutely tastebetter, because they are better! Intense colors, richly flavorful, and totally awesome! (Admit it – don’t you feel healthier just reading the list?)

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But wait . . . there’s more!  As in strawberries, rows upon rows of delicious, perfect, luscious, sweet strawberries.  All the plants at Sweetgrass Farm are grown from seed, except the strawberries, which  are grown from baby plants.  These delightful bites of healthy heaven are so popular that Sweetgrass Farms hosts strawberry picking every Saturday.  And everyone is invited!  You don’t have to bend down and pick your fruit, and even young children and people in wheelchairs can take part of the fun!

Don’t see a vegetable you like?  Tell Kathy, Jim or Sweetgrass Farm’s Director of Sales, Sarah Morgan, what you’d like and they’ll grow it for you.

Our advice? Go to the website, order your own Harvest Box, or visit the farm (Tuesday through Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturdays from 9-3) and taste for yourself this local “ground-breaking” venture!

And don’t forget that Kathy or Sarah are happy to conduct a tour for your school or charitable organization.  Sweet!

 

 

 

 

Soulful Sustenance

OBSERVER MEDIA GROUP

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by: Mary Ellen Mancini Contributing Writer

Dr. James Demler never imagined that he and his wife, Kathy, would own a farm — especially one that didn’t need soil. In fact, after 30 years of treating patients throughout Sarasota, this semi-retired urologist only dreamed of one thing: helping people get healthy.

“Some things in life are serendipitous,” says Demler when asked why he and his wife, a local artist, decided to open one of the largest, fully operational Verti-Gro hydroponic farms in Sarasota. 

The Demlers are good friends with Tim Carpenter, who happens to be the pioneer of vertical hydroponics. Carpenter is the developer and retailer of Verti-Gro and the one who piqued Demler’s curiosity about the many benefits of this method. Demler knew that helping people get healthier meant not only getting them to eat more fresh foods but also included offering them the most nutrient-dense produce available. He realized that hydroponics and his friendship with Carpenter could bring it all together. On Feb. 14, the exclusively hydroponic Sweetgrass Farms was born. 

The couple bought what was likely considered an unusable six acres of land at 8350 Carolina St., off University Parkway and east of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, to house their farm. 

“The land had become an illegal dumping ground for people looking to get rid of old boats and large scrap items,” says Demler. “I didn’t want to clean it up and then build condos or another business plaza; I wanted to use the land in a way that would feed my soul.”



The simplest definition of hydroponics is growing without soil and with a completely balanced liquid feed system. The plants are grown in an inert growing medium instead of soil (Sweetgrass Farms uses ground coconut fiber) and then the nutrient solution is delivered to the roots in a highly soluble form. This allows the plant to take its food with little effort as opposed to soil, in which the roots must search out the nutrients and extract them. This is true even when using rich, organic soil and top-of-the-line nutrients. The energy the plant expends in the “searching” process is energy that could be spent on vegetative growth and production. 

To be successful, growers must supply all 16 macro and micro elements the plant requires, in the proper amounts, as well as sunlight, water and fresh air. The plants are growing using a hydroponic growing system that uses vertical towers and insulated stackable pots that rotate for maximum-efficiency hydroponic farming in a limited space. The system has little to no water waste because the nutrient solution drainage from each pot is released into the pot below and continues to be used by each plant stacked in the vertical tower. Because of the efficient system, Sweetgrass Farms is currently able to grow 35,000 plants, including three types of bell pepper, tomato, corn, two varieties of hot pepper, cucumber, green beans, radish, beet, eggplant, strawberries, five types of lettuce and several herbs, and it has plans for additional produce this fall. 

The farm, which Demler and his wife own, currently employees six people — four who maintain the farm, one who runs it and one who is responsible for the marketing, public relations, sales and distribution — and has earned the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Fresh From Florida accreditation. If you give a plant exactly what it needs, when it needs it, the plant will be as healthy as is genetically possible, Demler says. In fact, there are no genetically modified seeds, harmful chemicals or pesticides used in the growing of Sweetgrass Farm’s hydroponic plants. 

Sweetgrass Farms has begun making its entrance into the community by offering a weekly buying club where customers stop by to pick up a pre-ordered Harvest Box that provides an assortment of the farm’s freshest produce. Within the coming weeks it plans to have an educational booth located at the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market and a roadside produce stand open on weekends at the south end of its property. There are also plans to open a u-pick strawberry operation at the farm, beginning in late fall. 

The farm was also involved with University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee for the Maison Blanche Farm to Fork Event earlier this week. The event, put on by USFSM Culinary Innovation Lab, focused on educating the general public on local, sustainable food options and brought participants out to tour and dine at Sweetgrass Farms and Gamble Creek Farm. 

“Kathy and I have to two goals in mind,” says Demler. “We not only want to help provide people with the healthiest type of food possible, but we also want to be a learning and research center that educates about healthy eating and the risks associated with the dangerous chemicals used in traditional commercial farming. Opening a hydroponic farm whose mission includes engaging and involving our community was the perfect answer.”

RECIPE: Sweetgrass Farms fiesta corn
Serves 4 to 5
(All of the fresh ingredients can be acquired at Sweetgrass Farms.)

Ingredients
3 ears fresh corn (Cut the corn from the cob and set aside.)
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes (diced)
½ cup fresh cilantro (finely chopped and equally divided into two ¼-cup portions)
¼ cup fresh chives (chopped)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
In a large sauté pan heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat.

Add the fresh corn and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring continuously.

Add the diced tomato, ¼ cup cilantro, 2 teaspoons ground cumin and a dash of salt and pepper, and continue to cook for 5 additional minutes (or until most of the liquid from the tomato has evaporated), stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the additional ¼ cup of cilantro and the ¼ cup of freshly chopped chives. Serve hot as a side dish or transfer to a container and refrigerate to use as a cold salad topping.

 

IF YOU GO 
Sweetgrass Farms
Where: 8350 Carolina St.
Phone: 400 4998
Hours:  7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday
Info: SweetgrassFarms.com

 



CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO VIEW AN INTERVIEW WITH  SNN NEWS.

 

https://youtu.be/5o-vbyUwIF8?list=UUt-rXqO86vhokaToTMDxAWw






CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO VIEW AN ARTICLE IN APRIL'S ISSUE OF   STYLE MAGAZINE.  

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How Sweet It Is – Hydroponic Farming At Sweetgrass Farms

We have become a big believer in the virtues of hydroponic farming – organic, healthy, and very efficient.  The Wikipedia definition: “Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture and is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral nutrient solution only or in an inert medium, such as perlite or gravel.”

We make frequent visits to one of local hydroponics farm – Sweetgrass Farms in Sarasota, FL – because we love the quality of their products, the variety of veggies, and their welcoming & friendly attitude.  Sweetgrass is the epitome of modern farming – compact, efficient, and in an urban environment.  We were impressed that their hydroponic growing system uses ground coconut shell fiber instead of traditional soil, which eliminates the need for dangerous herbicides (no weeds), unwanted micro-organisms, and pesticides (fewer soil pathogens). And we have Sweetgrass growing some of our specialty vegetables which will go into our gourmet sauces (www.serious-foodie.com).

This week, we came across some beautiful veggies at Sweetgrass Farms that just cried out for some special chef treatment – and we wanted to share with you some of the recipes.

Jose@Sweetgrass Farms with freshly cut romanesco
Rows of cruciferious veggies @Sweetgrass Farms
 

We came across some amazing white turnips and watermelon radishes.  They tasted so wonderful as fresh, raw ingredients – so we did the most logical treatment: make a fun Spring salad.  Here we make a simple, very flavorful vinaigrette from the Serious Foodie Pomegranate sauce (click HERE to order from our on-line store).

Spring salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
 
Author:
Mr. Serious Foodie
Serves:Serves 4
Prep time:15 mins
Total time:15 mins
 
 
There are many combinations you can try with this salad - but the key is to find the freshest ingredients, make sure you have some appealing colors, and keep the flavors bright & crisp.
 
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons of the Serious Foodie Blood Pomegranate sauce
  • 2 tbs rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • Optional: a few dashes of hot sauce
  • ½ Cup canola oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)
  • Salad ingredients: romaine lettuce, watermelon radish, sweet yellow peppers, carrot (julienne cut), and white turnip (julienne cut).
 
Instructions
  1. Whisk together the pomegranate sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, hot sauce, and pepper.
  2. While whisking, slowly pour in the oil. Continue to whisk until the dressing is thick.
  3. Lightly dress the vegetables, and serve.
 
 

The collard greens this week were huge & perfect.  Here we combine sauteed collards with some of the white turnips.

Swiss Chard with White Turnip
 
Author:
Mr. Serious Foodie
Serves:Serves 4
Prep time:15 mins
Cook time:20 mins
Total time:35 mins
 
 
There are many variations of this recipe we use. Also, try frying off some bacon beforehand. Use about 2 tablespoons of bacon fat instead of the olive oil and butter. Then, right before serving, add crumbled bacon.
 
Ingredients
  • 1 bunch collard greens
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 medium white turnip – well washed; julienned
  • ½ cup white wine (Orvietto, Soave, or Pinot Grigio work well)
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
 
Instructions
  1. Thoroughly wash the collard greens; drain, and pat dry. Remove the stems, then roughly chop the greens.
  2. Place the olive oil and butter in a saute pan, and heat over a medium flame until the butter is melted. Add the onion, and saute for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the Swiss chard, and stir so that the greens are coated. Add the turnip, and saute for 5 minutes.Add another dash of salt and pepper; saute for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the white wine, and let simmer uncovered for 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, lemon juice, and sugar. Cover, and reduce the flame. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes
 
 

Even though we’ve done a previous article on romanesco (click HERE to see the previous article), it was worth a re-visit – especially since the Sweetgrass version were so perfect.  Here we have a recipe for an outstanding vinaigrette made from the Serious Foodie Blood Orange/Aji Panca sauce (click HERE to order from our on-line store).

Romanesco with Blood Orange Vinaigrette
 
Author:
Mr. Serious Foodie
Serves:Serves 4
Prep time:10 mins
Cook time:15 mins
Total time:25 mins
 
 
The sweet/tangy/sour vinaigrette works perfectly with the flavors of the romanesco. You can also do this dish with cauliflower.
 
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons of the Serious Foodie Blood Orange/Aji Panca sauce
  • 2 tbs apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 head Romanesco broccoli, broken into large florets
 
Instructions
  1. Steam the romanesco for about 10 minutes, or until tender.
  2. In the meantime, make the vinaigrette: Whisk together the Blood Orange/Aji Panca sauce, vinegar, and salt and pepper. While whisking, slowly pour in the olive oil. Continue to whisk until the dressing is thick.
  3. Dress the romanesco to taste; salt and pepper to taste.
 
 

About  Jim Pachence

An entrepreneur, a scientist - and most definitely a Serious Foodie. Jim has extensive culinary experience and a knowledge of wines - especially rare Italian varieties. Connect with his network of serious tasters, wine experts, and professional chefs who will bring your food & wine experience to a whole new level.

 

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May 15, 2015   at Sarasota Rotary Club

GUEST SPEAKER Kathy Demler of Sweetgrass Farms, noting water shortages are a growing global problem, spoke passionately about the benefits of hydroponics and called it “Farming of the Future.”

Hydroponic farming uses 90% less water than traditional methods and the fruit, vegetables and herbs it produces leaves 80% less of a footprint because no soil is used, and is non-toxic.

Kathy, an artist, and her husband Jim, a semi-retired practicing urologist, came to our area in 1983 but it was only last year that they got into farming in a big way through what she described as “a serendipitous event” – their gardener introduced them to hydroponic farming. Experiencing first-hand the benefits of “clean” food, they founded Sweetgrass Farms.

The Demlers installed the Verti-Gro Hydroponic Growing System, which was pioneered by Tim Carpenter – a close friend – more than three decades ago. The same system is used at Epcot and in more than two dozen countries, and is being tested on the Space Station and in Antarctica.

Hydroponic farming, while seen by the Demlers and other proponents as “growing for the future,” dates back to the Hanging Tower of Babylon, and Marco Polo wrote about hydroponic farming he observed in his travels through Asia.

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Kathy laid out “a couple of big issues to introduce you to hydroponics – water and poison. Both profoundly affect health. We ingest both every day, whether we like it or not.”

She noted 80% of our bodies are water. The poison comes from pesticides and herbicides used in traditional farming here, even though about half the pesticides are banned in Europe. Organic farms are also allowed to use pesticides.

Some 50% of pesticides used on lawns, golf courses and in schools have been linked to cancer, she said, and “cancer rates are increasing exponentially, linked to over-exposure to toxins.”

Sweetgrass Farms employs four Mexican workers, and a manager from Puerto Rico who trained with Carpenter. There is also a public relations specialist.

It has in a short time made a name for having nutritious and delicious local produce, grown in pots filled with fibers made from coconut husks which hold the water so the roots get the nutrients they need to funnel up into the plants, instead of draining into the ground. No pesticides, herbicides or animal fertilizer are used. Orange oil or copper spray is used to combat any airborne predators or pathogens.

Local restaurants who use produce from Sweetwater include Caragiulos, and Sharkey’s, she said. “But we don’t want to sell wholesale, just to people who (hear about and) come to use.”

Kathy said hydroponics is a way to feed the world – “We are going to be forced to change because of a lack of water.”

Answering questions, she said hdroponic produce is a bit more expensive “but is really clean.” She cited Sweetgrass strawberries as being a big seller at the Farmers Market every weekend.

And, farmers groups are against change because switching to hydroponics will require a major initial financial outlay by farmers are already invested in tractors and other farming machinery.

Kathy said it was hard to get word out everywhere about Sweetgrass Farms and the benefits of hydroponics. She asked Sunrise members to send in their email addresses to sweetgrass.com to get on a mailing list for social events for “our really good food.”