Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. ~Henry David Thoreau
Do you ever wonder why some baby spinach is tastier and more expensive than others? The answer, Mindful Readers, is care and freshness, as I learned at Satur Farms. I'd first noticed Satur Farms produce proudly listed on many restaurant menus in NYC. When I mentioned them to private chef Stephane Lemagenen of Zen Can Cook, he enthused "Satur Farms grows the best produce I've seen anywhere on the East Coast. From various types of lettuce to baby vegetables and zuchinni blossoms in the summer, the quality and variety of their produce is just outstanding."
So when Emma, one of my favorite foodies at FreshDirect, suggested that I meet the owners of Satur Farms, I jumped at the chance because 1) I wanted to see what went behind the vegetables that are so well established among NYC chefs and 2) Emma has good ideas.
After a couple conversations, I hopped in a Mint Car and drove out to the North Fork of Long Island to meet Paulette Satur. Having never been to a produce farm before, I didn't know what to expect. (Well, I knew one thing - they have a strict food safety program since I wasn't allowed to bring my dog.) After rolling through miles of flat land, I turned down a charming street and ended up at a large, gorgeous farm. Low slung wooden buildings blend into the surroundings, there are trucks and portapotties, and the entire farm and facility hums with an organized energy.
I found Paulette responding to customers via email in the office. After a few minutes, her husband, Eberhard Muller, burst through the door. While Paulette seems cool and collected, Eberhard is voluble and warm. They give off the intellectually curious vibe of explorers - a couple that stumbled onto something they were good at, then worked really hard to become great at it with a lot of learning and interesting discoveries on the way.
Have they always been farmers? Fascinatingly, no. Paulette was a wine distributor. Eberhard was a celebrated chef whose last post was as Executive Chef at Lutece before he became a full time farmer. Having grown up on a farm, Paulette always wanted to own one. So naturally, when they bought a weekend house on Long Island, they started a garden. Enamoured of the freshness and quality of the produce Eberhard brought it back to use at Lutece. Soon, chef friends were clamoring for their produce, and the couple started farming four acres to satisfy that need. At some point, they had to hire someone to manage their "farm", and as demand grew, they farmed 11 acres, then 35. Now they farm 180 acres with 4 crop rotations per year, or 510 acres.
Chefs (and now retail customers) appreciate Satur Farms for the high quality of their produce. It is obvious that their crops are meticulously and painstakingly cared for. When Paulette and Eberhard decided that growing specialty vegetables on the North Fork was going to be their full-time vocation, they were told by 2-3 people it was impossible. They dug their heels in and persisted, tending their land and buying the equipment that would allow them to become efficient.
As we toured the farm, it was clear that everything was planned with great care. In my unexperienced eyes, everything looked cleaner, more orderly and better cared for than I would hope for. The crops are rotated to make sure the land stays fertile, and the minimum amount of chemicals are used. Paulette explained that extreme weather conditions like humidity made it necessary to use chemicals to keep out fungus and other pests. In addition to the production acres they farm, they keep experimental beds for new crops that chefs request or they are interested in growing.
Equally important as the care that goes into growing their produce is the freshness of it. It is of utmost importance to Paulette and Eberhard that they get produce picked and to customers within 24 hours since fresh food has the best taste. Satur Farms harvests, washes and packages its produce in the morning, then trucks it to customers in the afternoon. This freshness is just not comparable to produce that is grown far away (for example, in California, as it can take 10 days to get to us on the East Coast). Due to the time differential, produce that is shipped long distances is not picked ripe. You can imagine the taste difference. To satisfy their customers' needs for produce in the winter, Eberhard moves to Florida from October through the spring, where they lease 170 acres. He ships to Paulette and it arrives within 24 hours for her to package out to customers.
Paulette explained that plants continue to produce energy after being picked, so if you harvest some greens and put them in a box overnight, then plunge your hands in the box the next morning, it will be a warm 90+ degrees. She explained this right before she showed me the quick chiller, where all harvested produce was brought down to a chilly temp within a couple minutes. Immediately after being chilled, it is washed and packed and sent on its way. Paulette commented several times about the aroma of fresh lettuce in the morning. You don't think of lettuce as fragrant, do you? However it's easy to imagine the heady fresh scent - probably not unlike freshly mown grass. I think I'd like a lettuce candle.
In addition to producing great food, Paulette and Eberhard believe in doing things as environmentally as possible, from growing to packaging. They also dream of reviving the agricultural community in Long Island to create more jobs. In recognition of their community efforts, Paulette was recenty appointed to the Governor's Regional Economic Council. Is there anything else these two can do? Oh, they recently acquired a new larger packaging facility so they can continue to grow and be more accessible to all of us. In addition to supplying top restaurants in the region, Satur Farms can now be purchased by retail consumers at FreshDirect and Whole Foods. If you are in the New York region, try their vegetables for a quality and flavor boost. If you're not, get out and meet your local growers!
What I ate: OIympus Greek strawberry yogurt, 1 banana + Justin's chocolate hazel nut butter, 2 lattes, 4 Whole Foods Two Bite Chocolate Chip cookies, Rising Moon Organics mushroom ravioli + pesto, 4 cups of popcorn, brie cheese, grapes, 1 slize veggie pizza, pasta, mushroom stuffing, 3 mussels, salad, mashed potatoes, rhubarb pie + vanilla ice cream, 45 oz. water
Exercise: jogged 5 miles