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Around The Grange
Connecticut-grown a year-round reality

By New London Day (2/2/11)

  FEBRUARY 10, 2011 --

So what if we're measuring the snow by feet, not inches this winter? Local food producers, distributors and chefs left no question that "Connecticut-grown" produce is a year-round reality at the state Department of Agriculture Farm-to-Chef annual meeting on Monday, January 31.

The Farm to Chef program aims to connect local culinary professionals with producers and distributors of "CT Grown" products. Monday's meeting, hosted by the CT Department of Agriculture, drew an at-capacity crowd of local agricultural producers, fishermen, food distruibutors and chefs to the Saybrook Point Inn and Spa in Old Saybrook.

Carlos Cassar, executive chef at the inn, estimates that 65 to 70 percent of what the inn serves in its restaurant, wedding parties and other events is grown locally, including herbs and veggies grown in the inn's mini-greenhouse and gardens. On Monday, Cassar's staff served a lunch featuring Connecticut seasonal products: microgreens tossed in vinaigrette, roasted carrots and beet salad, butternut squash soup, veal meat loaf, seafood bouillabaisse, mini focaccia breads and apple crisp topped with honey ice cream.

"We get salad greens and micro-greens through the winter - look outside at this snow, and I'm getting such beautiful greens now, as if it was summer," Cassar says.

It's all part of a larger "green" commitment by the inn to reduce its carbon footprint and environmental impact. A few years back, only 10 percent of the food was locally grown, Cassar notes.

"Finding Connecticut-grown produce isn't just a summer thing," said Deb Marsden, founder of CT Farm Fresh, LLC, of East Haddam, a farm-to-your-door delivery service of all Connecticut-grown, mostly organic, agricultural products to restaurants and consumers. "There are plenty of foods in the winter, from stored apples and root crops to pickles and preserves to canned tomatoes and juices. Meat and dairy products are certainly year-round."

Helping farmers to sell directly to restaurants isn't a new concept, but it is picking up momentum, according to Linda Piotrowicz, of the state Department of Agriculture. More than 200 people attended this year's meeting - twice as many as last year.

"The chefs tell us they want more Connecticut-grown products, and they want them year-round," she says. According to Piotrowicz, a variety of culinary professionals participate in the program, from high end restaurant and personal chefs to caterers and public school system cooks.

"A lot of farmers can go to a farmers market and sell out everything in a direct cash sale," Piotrowicz notes. "Selling to a restaurant means getting less than full retail price, and it can be more complicated, they may want only certain items and set volumes. But from a marketing standpoint, it's a wise move."

Don Hess of Valchris Farm, a certified organic farm in Oakdale since 2006, has sold blueberries and vegetables to local restaurants through the New London farmers market. He says he's ready to expand that relationship, selling directly to them.

"We grew organic for our own children, who are now adults," he said. "This is something I have wanted to do for a long time."

To find CT farms or restaurants that serve CT grown products, go to www.ct.gov/doag/cwp/view.asp?a=2778&;q=330830.


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