Preserving the Harvest


Photos by Tamara Flanagan

For even the most committed locavore, the start of winter can bring a sense of trepidation. Root crops, those stalwarts of winter seasonal eating, are undeniably delicious, but by the time spring comes many people are sick of squash, bored with beets, and just plain tired of turnips. Not to worry! With some advance planning, summer’s bounty, and the variety it brings to your table, can be preserved in your freezer.

The time to start preparing a well-stocked freezer is now, when gardens and farmers’ markets are brimming with produce. Prices are reasonable and quality is at its peak. Great candidates for freezing include greens—such as spinach, chard, and kale—peas, beans, peppers, and corn. However, not every veggie is freezer friendly; because of their high water content cucumbers, eggplant, and zucchini do not freeze well.

Freezing vegetables involves a few simple steps:

PREPARE. Prepare. Prepare. Thoroughly wash and prep the food. Remove the tough stems from kale, chard, and spinach, break the ends off beans, and remove corn kernels from the cob. I like to freeze foods prepped to the size in which I will use them. For example, chop green beans and peppers to the size used in soups or fajitas.



BLANCH. Blanch. Blanch. Vegetables contain enzymes that will cause them to discolor and turn soggy when they are frozen and thawed. Blanching the veggies before freezing will deactivate the enzymes and preserve quality. To blanch, simply add the veggies to a large pot of boiling, salted water. Blanching times vary from one minute for tender greens to four minutes for corn kernels. See The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s excellent website (, which details blanching times for a wide variety of vegetables. After blanching the vegetables, immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water and keep them submerged for the same number of minutes that they were blanched.

DRY & FREEZE. Dry & Freeze. Dry and Freeze. After thoroughly drying the veggies, arrange them in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the pan in the freezer until the vegetables are completely frozen, which usually takes a few hours. I find it easiest to use the frozen veggies when I store them in two-cup portions in Ziploc freezer bags, which I label and date. Before sealing, remove as much air as possible by sealing the bag until it is almost shut, inserting a straw, and sucking out the air. If you intend to freeze a lot of food, a food vacuum sealer is a wise investment. To ensure none of the veggies get lost in the recesses of my freezer, I keep a whiteboard nearby with a list of its contents. When I take out a bag of green beans, I simply erase it from the list.

THAW. Thaw. Thaw. According to Cooks Illustrated magazine, one of my most trusted kitchen resources, when using a moist-heat cooking method, such as steaming or boiling, the vegetables can be used without thawing. This also holds true when adding frozen veggies to soups or stews. When using these cooking methods, frozen veggies will cook in half the time of fresh vegetables. When using dry heat cooking methods, such as stir-frying or sautéing, the folks at Cooks Illustrated found that partially thawing the frozen veggies resulted in optimal taste and texture. They recommend thawing a bag of frozen vegetables in the refrigerator for four hours or submersing the bag in cold water for 15-20 minutes.

Freezing vegetables at home is an easy way to preserve locally grown food. But, in our already busy lives, is this extra step worth it? Why bother when grocery store freezers offer the same items, often organic?

For me, all the reasons I eat local—superior taste, nutrition, supporting local farmers, and preserving the environment—come into play. But the most important reason is that I feel more comfortable knowing where my food comes from. While the organic label offers me some assurance, unfortunately, it is not the panacea I once believed it to be. I have learned to look beyond the organic label to understand where food is grown. Some vegetables, including organics, are grown halfway around the world. On more than one occasion, and much to my dismay, I have flipped over a bag of frozen produce only to see the words Product of Turkey or Product of China stamped on the package. All the quality control checks in the world won’t help me be as comfortable with food grown half a world away as I am with food grown in my own garden or by a local farmer I have come to know and trust.

And, so, with just a bit of effort over the course of the summer, come October, my freezer will be bursting with bags of frozen veggies.

What a delicious reminder of summer’s bounty!

When the farmers’ markets are brimming with produce,

Julia Powers

freezes plenty of fruits and vegetables. The effort is minimal and the reward is sweet—a taste of summer during the coldest days of winter.


Photos by Michael Hart

Old Time Swine

Big Momma’s young ones pig out at Brown Boar Farm in Wells,VT.

Photos courtesy of Brown Boar Farm

“Mmmm. I haven’t had pork like this since I was a little girl,” my mother-in-law sighed as we finished dinner. The chops, perfectly marbled with a deep, rich color, were a far cry from the dry, tasteless pork that Americans have grown accustomed to over the past few decades. The difference? This pork was from Brown Boar Farm in Wells, Vermont, where heritage breeds of pigs are raised humanely, fed well, and given plenty of room to root. The result: pork that tastes simply sublime. Brown Boar Farm is owned by Marshfield resident Peter Burrows. His daughter Meaghan, who lives in Scituate, runs the farm’s marketing efforts. Because of these close ties to the area, Brown Boar pork is available on the South Shore. No trip to Vermont necessary!

How does a South Shore resident come to own a pig farm in Vermont? Peter and his late wife Regina raised their children in Scituate, where the family spent countless hours working in their vegetable garden. Nearing retirement and with his children grown, Peter thought a farm would be a wonderful way to keep his family connected doing something they all loved. So, in 2001, he purchased a 106-acre farm near his daughter Sarah’s Vermont home. It has truly become a family affair. Sarah and her son, Aidan, often help out at the farm and Meaghan sells Brown Boar’s pork at several farmers’ markets on the South Shore. And, although he has since moved on to a new venture, Peter’s son, Chris, worked closely with his father for several years getting the farm up and running. Peter spends as much time as possible at the farm, but the daily operations are run by farmer Julie Barber, who, according to Meaghan, “is now like part of the family.”

When they bought the farm, the Burrows intended to stick with what they knew best: growing vegetables. But, after a Vermont neighbor suggested they get some pigs to help clear the fields, they purchased 20 Tamworth pigs, a heritage breed renowned for its foraging ability. “We drilled holes in tree stumps, stuffed them with corn, and set the pigs to work,” explained Peter. The Burrows quickly saw that the pigs thrived when allowed to do what pigs do best: forage outside. So, they shifted the focus of the farm and started raising pigs. Soon, another heritage breed, Berkshire pigs, joined the Tamworths. The decision to raise heritage pigs was driven by many factors, but the superior taste of the meat was chief among them.

Bred to be lean and mature quickly, commercially raised hogs stand in stark contrast to heritage pigs, which are traditional livestock breeds that have been raised by farmers for generations. Tamworths originated in Ireland and were first brought to America in the 1880s. Well-adapted to living outside during the harsh Vermont winters, Tamworths have long heads and snouts well-suited to digging and foraging. Currently, there are only 1500 to 2000 registered Tamworths left in the United States. Berkshire pigs, which are renowned in culinary circles for their superior taste, are known as Korobuta in Japan and enjoy a status similar to Kobe beef. These pigs yield a dark red, flavorful meat.

Brown Boar Farm in Wells, VT.

The manner is which the pigs are raised also influences the taste of the pork. To understand how different Brown Boar pork is from what you buy in the grocery store, you have to know a bit about what life is like for pigs on large commercial farms. Simply put, it is miserable. Crammed into pens, they are unable to engage in their natural behaviors of rooting and grazing and often wallow in their own excrement. These conditions stress the animals, raising the incidence of illness. At some industrial farms, pregnant pigs are confined to gestational crates that are so small they are unable to even turn around, and when it is time to give birth, they are prevented from engaging in their instinctive behavior to burrow and build a nest for their litter.

The life of a pig at Brown Boar Farm is about as different as possible from that of its commercially raised brethren. Although they always have access to shelter, Brown Boar pigs spend most of their time outdoors, where they live in small groups. They are held in large pens and are free to forage on grasses, clover, and nuts that fall from the trees that surround their enclosures. Because of their enormous appetites, a small group of pigs will decimate the grasses in their paddock every few weeks, so the animals are frequently rotated and the paddocks reseeded with a carefully chosen mixture of grasses, legumes, and annuals. Unlike other types of livestock, pigs have only one stomach and cannot subsist on grasses alone. The four stomachs of ruminant animals, such as cows, convert grass to protein, which does not happen with pigs. So, to ensure they are receiving adequate vitamins, minerals, and protein, the pigs’ diet has to be supplemented. In addition to what they forage in the pastures, the Brown Boar pigs eat grain, leftover organic or pesticide-free produce from nearby farms, apple mash, and whey from a dairy farm located down the road. The pigs drink fresh mountain water, which, as Peter says, “might be a ‘secret ingredient’ that contributes to the distinctive taste of our products.” In a small barn dubbed “the nursery,” the pigs give birth in a roomy pen and the piglets stay indoors with their mother until they can survive outside. Brown Boar pigs are never given any growth hormones or non-therapeutic medicines. At any given time, Brown Boar is home to about fifty pigs. Eventually, the Burrows would like to maintain a breeding stock of thirty sows, which will produce several hundred pigs a year.

Brown Boar Farm’s commitment to animal welfare extends to even the last phase of the pigs’ lives: slaughter. As farmer Julie Barber says, “you can raise a great animal and it can be ruined at the slaughterhouse.” Their pigs are slaughtered at Eagle Bridge Custom Meat & Smokehouse, an Animal Welfare Approved facility located in Eagle Bridge, New York. Both Brown Boar and the slaughterhouse use many of the techniques championed by animal welfare advocate Temple Grandin to make the final phase of the pigs’ life is as humane as possible. Eagle Bridge, a small, family owned facility, also has an on-site USDA inspector who oversees the slaughtering process.

The South Shore is now Brown Boar’s largest market, but when the family first bought the farm, finding their niche took some time. Luckily, a serendipitous conversation at the preschool playground helped them establish a relationship with Cohasset’s Holly Hill Farm. As Meaghan explains, “it all started at the swing set.” As she pushed her children on the swings, she struck up a conversation with the father standing next to her. Jon Belber, the Director of Education at Holly Hill Farm, was intrigued when he heard Meaghan’s family owned a pig farm in Vermont. Jon was eager to try pastured pork, so Meaghan offered to bring him a sample. After his first taste, he was hooked and proposed that Brown Boar sell its pork at Holly Hill Farm. So, once a month, Julie loads up the refrigerated van and heads to the South Shore, where the pork is sold at Holly Hill Farm and more recently at both the Marshfield and Plymouth farmers’ markets. As word has gotten around about the superior taste of Brown Boar pork, it has gained several restaurant customers, including Chef Barbara Lynch’s popular Boston restaurant The Butcher Shop.

Customers choose Brown Boar Farm for many reasons: to support a family farm, to buy locally, or to reward the farm’s commitment to humanely raising their animals. While, as Meaghan says, “it takes a bit of a leap of faith to purchase meat out of the back of a van,” once customers get a taste of pork as it is meant to be, there is no going back.

For delivery information, please email Meaghan Burrows Swetish at or “like” Brown Boar Farm on Facebook. Brown Boar will also custom butcher whole and half pigs and can offer roaster pigs of various weights for a special summer barbeque.

Julia Powers lives in Hingham with her husband and three children, who are devoted fans of Brown Boar pork. The family favorite: risotto with Brown Boar sausage, caramelized onions, and herbs!


Photos by Michael Hart

The Story Of Simpson Spring

Ten years ago, eating local seemed like, if you will excuse the pun, a foreign concept. But, as the benefits of locally sourced foods have become more widely known, many South Shore residents have embraced eating locally. We might also consider drinking locally . . .

In America, bottled water and soda are ubiquitous, but a quick glance at supermarket shelves makes it clear that a few large companies dominate the market. Coke and Pepsi, which are also in the bottled water business, own Dansani and Aquafina, respectively. And Poland Springs, a name that is synonymous with Maine, is owned by Nestlé.

But there is a local alternative! The Simpson Spring Company, a small, family-owned business located in South Easton, sells bottled water and twelve classic varieties of soda.

The business is, quite literally, built around a natural spring that has been in use since at least the 16th century, when the Assowompset, a Native American tribe, drew drinking water from the bubbling spring. Early colonial settlers followed their lead and began to use the spring for drinking water. In the 1830s, the spring acquired its current name when a local blacksmith, Samuel Simpson, bought the land on which the spring was located. In 1878, his grandson-in-law, Fredrick Howard, purchased the land and began delivering stone jugs filled with Simpson Spring water to the Brockton shoe factories. Concurrently, as carbonated beverages became the rage, Howard used the spring water to make carbonated sodas; demand for both the water and soda soared. The 1920s brought big changes to the company. Prohibition further heightened demand for soda, leading to significant sales growth. And Fred Howard sold the company to the White family. They owned it until 1988, when it was sold to the current owners, the Bertarelli family.

The bottled water and soda industry has changed significantly since the late 1800s, and as one of the oldest independent bottlers in the country, the Simpson Spring Company has adapted to these changes. To compete against national brands, the Bertarellis developed their own niche: marketing delicious spring water and hand-mixed soda to the local market in the traditions established by their predecessors. As a result, much about the company harkens back to a different era. Sodas and single serve waters are sold in glass bottles, the syrups used to mix the soda are still based on Fred Howard’s original recipes, and the company is housed in a historic building dating from 1878. This commitment to tradition has not always been easy. When the soda giants switched to plastic bottles, it became so difficult to find a bottling machine that would accommodate glass bottles that Jim Bertarelli eventually had to import one from Italy.

Despite the fact that most Americans have access to tap water that meets strict water quality guidelines, many people drink bottled water. Their reasons vary but taste, convenience, and concerns about water purity are chief among them. However, when it comes to bottled water, it pays to be an educated consumer. While some brands, such as Simpson Spring, are indeed spring water, others are filtered tap water, and labels sporting pictures of pristine mountains and lakes can mislead consumers about the source of the water they are buying. Although some companies list the sources of their bottled water, including municipal water supplies, others do not disclose this information on the label. Given that consumers are paying a premium for a product that they could readily get from the faucet at home, it pays to really know the product when making a purchase. According to Christine Bertarelli, “Once people check the source [of their bottled water], they are like, ‘Oh my goodness’.”

Given that the Simpson Spring is the lifeblood of the company, it seems fitting that it is housed in a room that is faintly reminiscent of a chapel, complete with beautiful stained glass windows. Geologists believe that Simpson Spring gets its start in Northern Canada and then travels, deep underground, hundreds of miles to South Easton, where a fissure allows it to bubble up to the surface. Customers prize the purity of Simpson Spring water and independent lab tests are done twice weekly, once at the source and once after bottling, to ensure the high quality standards that the Bertarelli family and their customers demand.

Sales of the spring water accounts for about 80% of the company’s business. The water is sold in individual glass bottles and in one, three, and five gallon jugs. Home delivery is available or customers can fill up their own containers at any one of fourteen self-service sites located throughout the South Shore, including the company’s South Easton headquarters. Seltzer water, both plain and flavored, is also available in half liter glass bottles. Unlike many other brands of seltzer water, the taste of Simpson Spring carbonated water is subtle. Their flavors include lemon-lime, pink grapefruit, and native cranberry. The flavored seltzer water is made with essence of fruit juices and contains no artificial sweeteners.

Simpson Spring sodas are not your everyday soda; the tastes are intriguing and notably less sweet than the national brands. As you might expect, it all comes down to the ingredients. Most soda is about 90% water, so it follows that great tasting soda starts with great tasting water, such as Simpson Spring. The flavors include: raspberry lime rickey, ginger ale, cream soda, coffee, cola, fruit punch, grape, white birch, root beer, sarsaparilla, orange, and lemon lime. Tastes change over time and this is reflected in the Simpson Spring product line; chocolate and pineapple coconut sodas are no longer offered. Raspberry lime rickey and white birch are the current best sellers.

Like others in the industry, Simpson Spring uses high fructose corn syrup to sweeten its soda. This change to Howard’s original recipe predated the Bertarellis’ purchase of the company and was most likely done because high fructose corn syrup is approximately 30% cheaper than sugar. According to Chris Bertarelli, making the switch back to sugar as a sweetener is “part of our long term plan.” But, as any small business owner can appreciate, the company will first have to determine how to do so without alienating their customers with a dramatic price increase. In the meantime, Chris continued, “Everything in moderation. We were never meant to have five sodas a day.”

Simpson Spring sodas are available at the Fruit Center in both Milton and Hingham and at numerous specialty retailers throughout the South Shore. Simpson Spring products are also available at several area farmers’ markets.

As another way of honoring Simpson Spring’s legacy, Christine and Jim Bertarelli have lovingly preserved the company’s historic building, maintaining some spaces as they were in the early 1900s. Tours of the facility are offered each Saturday and by appointment. In addition, the Bertarellis are strong supporters of local foods, even holding a weekly market at their South Easton facility featuring other area vendors.

The reasons for eating local are the same reasons it makes sense to drink local. Chief among them are boosting the local economy by supporting a South Shore-based family business and the reduced environmental impact that comes from forgoing water and soda that is shipped hundreds of miles. But, once you taste Simpson Spring water and soda, it will come down to one very important reason—the excellent taste.

Simpson Spring Company, Inc.
719 Washington Street (Rte. 138)
South Easton MA 023375
(508) 238-4472

Julia Powers is a strong believer in the many benefits of eating locally. She was thrilled to learn that she can now drink locally as well. Simpson Spring cranberry seltzer is her current favorite.


Photos by Michael Hart 

A Perfect Pairing Bloomy Rind

At Bloomy Rind, every cheese has a story.

Like many SouthShoreresidents, Mary (Sullivan) Gonsalves was raised in a family strongly rooted in Irish culture and traditions. She was the eldest of the six Sullivan children and their Dorchesterhome was a frequent gathering place for family and friends. Mary’s parents welcomed everyone to the big farmhouse table in the kitchen with a pot of tea and repast of ham, sweets, soda bread, and cheese—always cheese. The food was a big draw, but what kept people coming back to the Sullivan’s table was the lively atmosphere. The Irish have a word for it—craic—which, although it does not translate directly, means fun times, banter, and enjoyable conversation. When Mary and her husband Robert Gonsalves opened Bloomy Rind, a specialty cheese store and gourmet café in Hingham, they set out to recapture the warm and welcoming feeling, the craic, that Mary learned to love around her parents’ table. And, judging by the number of people who have made Bloomy Rind their destination of choice for wonderful cheese, a delicious lunch, or food to take home for dinner, they certainly have succeeded.

For food lovers, Bloomy Rind is a hybrid of the most wonderful sort: a specialty cheese store and a gourmet café. Carrying over fifty varieties of both domestic and imported cheese, the store has quickly become a mecca for cheese lovers. It is also a gourmet café where Robert Gonsalves, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, cooks healthy and delicious food in harmony with the seasons. Think pea guacamole. Watermelon gazpacho. A toasted brie and bacon sandwich with peach butter. But the heart of the Bloomy Rind is the big farmhouse table where folks sit together and enjoy some craic.

Mary has had a life long love affair with cheese and, during the course of her twenty-year marriage to a chef, learned much about it. Before opening the store, the couple traveled extensively, visiting farms and artisanal cheese makers to learn more about their craft. While Bloomy Rind carries many of the classic European cheeses, Mary likes to showcase the best American artisanal cheeses because, as she says, “we have farmers in this country who need a chance.” In fact, as more and more European cheeses are mass-produced, American cheese makers have jumped in to fill the void with their artisanal cheeses. “Artisanal” is the term given to any cheese that is handcrafted, while a “farmstead” cheese is also made from the milk of animals raised on the same farm that produces the cheese. According to Mary, handcrafted cheese has a flavor that differs greatly from mass produced cheese, and “it is a living, breathing thing that ages like the rest of us.”

Mary has cultivated a wonderful relationship with many cheese makers and talks to several of them a week. According to Mary, “we have farms calling us that don’t want to go through a distributor and have their stories get lost.” On a rotating basis, Bloomy Rind carries forty domestic cheeses just waiting to be sampled. Customers can happily spend ten to fifteen minutes sampling cheese and, along with their Cheddar andGouda, get an education about what they are purchasing. Mary says, “we will never be a cheese drive-through,” because she prefers to spend time with each customer to ensure that they find the perfect cheese. With her outgoing personality, Mary is a natural at sharing her passion for cheese with her customers.

After graduating from culinary school, Robert spent two decades cooking at the well-knownBostonrestaurants L’Espalier, Olives, and Figs, as well as at Beso inLos Angeles. Most recently, he was the executive chef for Todd English Enterprises. After years of work-related travel, the couple, ready for a change, opened Bloomy Rind in May 2010. On a daily basis, the store features half a dozen inventive sandwiches, two soups, a frittata, flatbreads, and numerous vegetable- and grain-based sides, such as a farro salad and gremolata. According to Robert, “I just can’t make enough of the farro. People just love it. I like to cook with things people don’t have a lot of exposure to and help them find new foods they love.” Depending on what is in season or what piques his interest, Robert also makes dishes that range from roast pork to succotash. Dishes such as the pea guacamole have become cult favorites, with upwards of twenty people placing orders for it one weekend. And, this is a dish that teaches people a lesson about the seasonality of food. Robert will not compromise his cooking by using out-of-season produce; once the season has passed, there will be no more pea guacamole until next spring. Jude Sonder, a regular customer, notes, “Robert has elevated lunch to an art. Everything they offer is simply exquisite—this is not food you want to rush through when you’re eating. And the cheeses are just as much a part of the menu. Mary takes the time to help you find cheeses that are right for your palate and believe me, she never disappoints.”

Bloomy Rind has introduced the younger generation to the joys of good food. In downtownHingham, when hunger calls, most kids opt for a burger and fries or a slice of pizza. But, once Bloomy Rind opened, a remarkable thing happened. Kids learned that good, wholesome food could be delicious. Much of this is due to Mary’s warmth and hospitality to even her youngest customers. Curiosity first drew kids to the store, and then they were won over by the slices of fresh bread and other samples Mary offered them. Once the rapport was established, the kids grew brave and tried things they never would have if offered by their moms. OneHinghammom was astonished when she received a call that the carrot hummus her twelve-year-old had put on hold was ready to be picked up. Another little girl often rides her bike down to the store and comes in with a fist full of change. Mary fixes her a plate of bread and cheese and perhaps a cupcake to enjoy.

The success of Bloomy Rind is proof that the movement back to real food is taking hold. For years, choices for a quick lunch were limited to a mediocre sandwich or a slice of pizza, and it is wonderful to now have the option of healthy, seasonal food. Bloomy Rind has become a destination. Some people come for lunch once a week; others can’t resist coming in every few days to see what new food is featured. Since Robert is not tied to a set menu, his creativity has free rein. Consequently, the menu changes daily and the customers love the variety and adventure of seasonal eating. People also seem hungry for the sense of community that they find sitting around the farmhouse table at Bloomy Rind. Robert and Mary love to talk about their food. They also love to tell stories and hear about their customers’ lives. As customers sit around the communal table, oohing and aahing over their food, they often strike up a conversation with their neighbor and the craic begins to happen. Jude Sonder sums it up this way: “Going to Bloomy Rind is like going to a friend’s or family’s house, where you always get that feeling of comfort and familiarity when you walk in. You really feel part of a whole by sharing exchanges with Robert, Mary, or the staff, and by being welcomed to the one table they offer in the shop—a communal table where you can get a ‘side’ of conversation along with your meal. Mary and Robert are as good at building community as they are at building gourmet sandwiches.”


The combination of wonderful food, delectable cheese, and the craic that customers enjoy sitting around the table has proved to be a successful recipe for Bloomy Rind. For people who love delicious food, but also want food made with integrity, Bloomy Rind is a welcome addition to theSouthShore.


Parmigiano Reggiano and Cacio di Bosca pair for Winter Farro.




Bloomy Rind

21 Main Street

Hingham, MA 02043

(781) 740-1001


Photos by Michael Hart

A Legacy of Good Taste

To Dine For

“. . .the menu at To Dine For is filled with our recipes from home. They are from our aunts, uncles, and grandmas.”

Paula Cofman & Rafca Cardoos of To Dine For in Hull.

You start with the best of intentions. Remembering the happy times spent in the kitchen with your mom, you plan a day of cooking with your kids so they, too, can learn the treasured family recipes that have been favorites for generations. But, after a few hours, with the kids sniping at each other and the kitchen a mess, you wonder if it is all worth it. Paula Cofman and Rafca Cardoos, friends and co-owners of To Dine For, a take-out and catering restaurant in Hull specializing in Middle Eastern and Greek foods that is also a popular vendor at many South Shore farmers’ markets, are proof that time spent in the kitchen with your children is time well spent. Their passion for food and the successful business they have built are rooted in the culinary traditions passed on to them by their families.

A tasty selection of To Dine For’s spreads and salads.

And, oh what they learned! According to Rafca, the menu at To Dine For “is filled with our recipes from home. They are from our aunts, uncles, and grandmas.” Along with well-known Middle Eastern foods such as hummus, kabobs, and falafel, To Dine For serves spanikopota, baba ghanouj, fatayer, mousaka, and kibbeh.

For those not familiar with these foods, here is a quick primer. Spanikopota, a Greek specialty, is a spinach and feta pie in a phyllo crust. Baba ghanouj is an eggplant spread. Fatayer is a savory pastry stuffed with meat or spinach. Mousaka, a kind of Greek casserole, is usually made with eggplant, cheese, and ground beef or lamb. And finally, kibbeh, the pride of the Lebanese kitchen, is made with finely minced lean lamb, bulgur wheat, onions, mint, and spices.

However, simple descriptions do not do justice to the food at To Dine For or the way it is lovingly prepared by Paula and Rafca. As they were taught by their families, they make each dish from scratch: the fatayer dough is homemade, the olives are marinated in a special blend of herbs and spices, the Lebanese salad dressing is made from an old family recipe, and even the yogurt and some of the cheeses are homemade. The yogurt, cold and tart, is the base for a delicious tzatziki, a divine dip for crudités or Syrian bread. To Dine For also sells four types of cheese: a marinated feta, a unique apricot cheese, and two cheeses that Rafca makes from scratch—Syrian and mozzarella. The addition of any of these cheeses to a dish, even something as simple as a salad, elevates it to a new level.

Lebanese roast stuffed chicken with a stack of fresh pita.

From their families, Paula and Rafca learned lessons central to many ethnic culinary traditions: use the best ingredients and let them shine in simple recipes that have stood the test of time. And, both women were fortunate to have many family members who passed along these important lessons. Rafca was born in Lebanon and moved to the States twenty-four years ago. Because her mother died when she was young, her aunt taught her to cook the dishes central to her Lebanese heritage. Once married, Rafca continued to learn from her husband, who, she says, “is a wonderful cook.” Stints working in a Middle Eastern bakery and owning a seafood shop that also sold some classic Middle Eastern dishes helped refine her skills.

Paula, whose family is of Lebanese and Greek descent, was schooled in Middle Eastern cuisine from an early age. Her aunt owned El Morocco, a landmark Worcester restaurant, where Paula spent countless hours in the kitchen. Reminiscing about her time in the restaurant kitchen, Paula said, “ I learned from the best.” Before opening To Dine For with Rafca four years ago, Paula worked as a personal chef.

The women, who have known each other for fifteen years, started To Dine For because the business gave them flexibility to be with their families while still allowing them to engage in work they loved. Watching them in the kitchen of their Hull store, it is apparent that they have the same sensibilities about food. “Both Paula and I are very fussy,” noted Rafca, to which Paula concurred, “We are like two grandmothers cooking in the kitchen.”

Although they have four employees who assist them with prep work and help in the store and at the farmers markets, the two women do all the cooking. “We want our recipes and our flavor to stay the same,” Rafca said. Although they generally serve classic versions of Middle Eastern and Greek fare, there is one dish where they give their creativity full reign—hummus. Over the years they have developed many inventive flavors of this classic, and at last count they make thirty flavors ranging from cayenne to avocado to black bean.

In addition to the Hull store, To Dine For is a regular vendor at several South Shore farmers’ markets, including Braintree, Scituate, Hingham, and Marshfield. Each week, they bring a wide variety of their top selling hummus flavors, salads, several cheeses, olives, dressing, desserts, and bread to the markets. For To Dine For, as for many other specialty purveyors, farmers markets’ have been an excellent source of new customers and an opportunity to gain valuable exposure.

David McMorris, a regular customer at the Hingham farmers’ market, raved about To Dine For’s food: “It is consistently outstanding. We have tried pretty much everything. I have to try not to buy the baklava—it is so good!”

Last year, To Dine For began a foray into wholesale distribution. Several of its products are carried at the Fruit Center (Hingham and Milton locations), Riddle’s Supermarket in Hull, and All the Best in Cohasset. Helped in part by the customer recognition garnered at the farmers’ markets, To Dine For’s products quickly became strong sellers at the grocery stores. Diane Nolan, supervisor of the gourmet department at the Hingham Fruit Center, noted, “they [the customers] look forward to it, they know it, they want it. It’s fabulous. We always get positive feedback.”

Thanks to the strong culinary foundation they received from their families, Paula and Rafca have built a business whose loyal customers have an almost cult-like devotion to their food. And now, a generation later, both women have daughters who, not surprisingly, spend time in the kitchen with their moms. As both women know, that is time well spent!

Classic and luscious roast chicken, stuffed with lamb and rice.

Bring it on home

Rafca and Paula can help you provide a splendid but homey Lebanese meal.

Open the meal with a leisurely meze table—a tasty selection of To Dine For’s spreads and salads served with a stack of fresh pita. Follow with this classic and luscious roast chicken, stuffed with lamb and rice. Serve baklava and strong sweet cardamom coffee for dessert.

Julia Powers is an avid home cook and a regular patron at the Hingham Farmers’ Market. She is mildly addicted to To Dine For’s black bean hummus and has no intention of kicking the habit.

To Dine For

520 Nantasket Avenue

Hull, MA 02045

(781) 773-1678

Photos by Michael Hart

When the Cows Come Home

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Picture this: You are standing in the dairy aisle at a Hingham grocery store, and you make a passing comment about the price of milk. The next thing you know, an affable stranger, overhearing your remark, strikes up a conversation and explains why milk prices are more than fair given all the hard work, early mornings, and uncertainty that come with being a dairy farmer. That’s a little odd, you think. Who in Hingham knows about stuff like that?

Well, as one local woman found out, John Hornstra does. John, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, is the owner of Hornstra Farms, one of the few remaining dairies on the South Shore. His family has operated a dairy in Hingham for almost one hundred years, and he knows both the joys and challenges that come with being a dairy farmer. When he overheard his fellow shopper’s complaint, he was glad for the chance to educate her, however briefl y, about the factors that affect the price of milk and why the life of a dairy farmer is not an easy one.

The past few years have not been kind to dairy farmers. They have had to contend with both erratic milk prices and a perplexing pricing system that, at times, has made it diffi cult for them to even cover their costs. Under this system, the minimum milk price is set not by the farmers, but by the Federal Milk Market Administrator, an arm of the USDA. The pricing model used does not take into account the farmers’ costs, but instead treats milk more like a commodity product, meaning that the price is based on overall supply and demand. As a result, for much of 2009, local dairy farmers lost money on every quart of milk they sold. In order to cover the shortfall, farmers were forced to eat into their farms’ equity; sadly, some dairy farms still did not survive. Despite this bleak environment, John Hornstra defi ed conventional wisdom and, in 2009, purchased an 80-acre dairy farm in Norwell. He was convinced that customers were willing to pay a fair price for a quality product, something Hornstra Farms has been delivering for close to 100 years.

In 1917, after emigrating from Holland, John’s great-grandfather purchased land in Hingham and started Hornstra Farms. Over the years, the dairy prospered, but as Hingham became an increasingly suburban town, John’s family sold their cows and, eventually, most of their land. John vividly recalls the day in 1969 that the cows left Hingham and says it was one of the saddest days of his life. With the cows gone, the company continued to deliver milk and other dairy products purchased from local farms. For the last 15 years, Hornstra’s milk has come from John’s cousin’s farm in New Hampshire, ensuring that the family’s focus on quality is maintained. John took over ownership from his father in 1985 and, currently, Hornstra Farms has 3500 customers in 14 towns. Customers all over the South Shore look forward to their weekly delivery of smooth, delicious Hornstra Farms milk in its distinctive glass bottles, as well as to the wide assortment of other products the company delivers.

Ever since he was a young boy watching the cows leave Hingham, John has dreamed of bringing them back to the South Shore. For twenty years, he had his eye on the Loring Farm in Norwell because it was one of the few remaining pieces of protected farmland in the area. The Loring family owned the farm for generations and the house on the property dates from 1750. It ceased to be a working farm in 1980 when Albert Loring sold the development rights to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, ensuring that the land would be preserved for agriculture. After Mr. Loring died, his nieces had no interest in owning the farm, so they gave ownership of the property to Priscilla Prime, who had been Mr. Loring’s bookkeeper. In 2009, John Hornstra purchased the property from the Prime family and was able to realize his dream of bringing the cows back to the South Shore. After languishing for thirty years, the new farm is now abuzz with activity as Hornstra gets it back in working order. The stone walls have been rebuilt and, with the help of local and Amish craftsmen, the house and barn have been refurbished. There are a few red and white Holsteins grazing in the fields, and many others will eventually join them—John plans on having sixty cows on the farm. With the cows on the South Shore, Hornstra will be able to eliminate the daily 175-mile trip now made to pick up the milk from his cousin’s New Hampshire farm. This will save money, reduce gas emissions, and make the milk a truly local product. Plans for the new farm also include a vegetable garden where families will be able to come to get fresh produce and, to the delight of ice cream lovers everywhere, a retail store selling both Hornstra’s delicious milk and ice cream made on-site from their rich cream. John hopes the farm will be a place where families can come to see the cows grazing, purchase some fresh, local products, have a picnic, and really reconnect with the source of their food.

As anyone who has tasted it knows, Hornstra milk tastes much better than the ordinary milk you buy in the grocery store. As a small, family-run farm, Hornstra Farms takes great care with all phases of milk production. Hornstra cows are never given any synthetic growth hormones and are only give antibiotics if they are ill. On John’s new farm, cows will be pastured daily and graze in open fields, unlike cows in many factory farms. The grazing contributes to the wonderful taste of milk, and it also makes good business sense because grass-fed cows, on average, live three years longer than their factory farmed counterparts. During the winter, when there is no grass for the cows to eat, they will be given hay and corn silage. Reflecting on the care given to their cows, John says, “We always felt a cow that is well cared for and fed a proper diet will reach its maximum potential without any artifi cial means.”

Hornstra milk is of much higher quality than factory farmed milk. A measure of this quality is the bacteria count. All milk contains bacteria and the government requires that these bacteria levels be less than 750,000 per unit. Hornstra milk usually has bacteria counts less than 150,000 per unit. According to John, there are many reasons behind this. “The biggest factors are not milking cows with chronic mastitis infections, sanitizing the milking equipment, and cleaning the cows’ udders before milking.” While these practices take extra time, they help ensure the high quality milk for which Hornstra Farms is known. In the same vein, Hornstra Farms chooses to pasteurize its milk using old-fashioned vat pasteurization. This process involves heating the milk to a lower temperature than that used in the more common fl ash pasteurization process and heating it over a longer period of time. Although this process is less effi – cient than fl ash pasteurization, it results in sweet, smooth milk. Vat pasteurization also preserves many of the helpful proteins and enzymes that would be destroyed by fl ash pasteurization. Hornstra says, “Everybody wants to rush and hurry but we’re willing to put a little more time and effort into the process. It sure makes a difference in the quality and fl avor.” Because the processing method is key to the quality of his milk, John plans on building a milk processing plant on the new farm. He also hopes to process milk for the three other dairy farms that call the South Shore home. Hopefully, the milk processing plant will be completed by the spring of 2011.

Thanks to John Hornstra and his dream of bringing the cows back to the South Shore, there is now a working dairy farm less than two miles from the Hanover Mall. The new farm is a boon to those who value local foods, and it also provides lovely, open space for the residents of Norwell and beyond. For the many children who think their milk comes in a carton from the supermarket, John hopes the farm will help teach them about the source of their food and how hard farmers work to produce it. Although some might call it old-fashioned, Hornstra Farms believes that the loving care and attention they give to all phases of milk production pays dividends in superior quality and taste. As John says, “When your name is on the bottle, you put a lot of pride into your products.” It takes just one glass of Hornstra’s milk to taste the difference this pride makes..



Photos by Michael Hart

Hornstra Farms: An Update

John Hornstra has been a busy man. A very busy man. As we told you about in the summer 2010 edition of Edible South Shore, three years ago, John purchased property in Norwell with plans of re-establishing a dairy farm right in the heart of the South Shore. This would be an ambitious goal for any person but John was the perfect man for the job. As a third generation dairyman, he knew the monumental task he was undertaking.

 John’s great-grandfather founded Hornstra Farms in 1915 and John spent his childhood happily learning the family business. In 1969, the changing suburban landscape led the Hornstra family to sell much of their Hingham farmland and the cows that grazed there. The business then transitioned to delivering milk, most recently from John’s cousin’s New Hampshire dairy farm, as well as a wide variety of other foods. For decades, Hornstra’s iconic yellow trucks have been a welcome sight all over the South Shore making their weekly rounds delivering milk in old-fashioned glass bottles. But, childhood dreams die hard and John always dreamed of bringing the cows back to the South Shore. In 2009, when the 80- acre Loring farm became available for sale, John had the opportunity for which he had been waiting.

Establishing a new dairy farm does not happen overnight; John spent the next four years getting the farm up and running. John’s to do list included: restoring the house and barn, rebuilding stone walls, and building an on-site milk processing plant to ensure his high quality standards. And, he also had to work on procuring the most important asset of a dairy farm—the cows. And, here, John’s friends and fellow farmers lent a hand; they helped by raising the calves that would eventually make up the new herd.

The countless hours of hard work have paid off and, finally, after four years, Hornstra Farms is now delivering milk produced by cows that call the South Shore home. Hornstra’s new Norwell farm is home to one hundred red and white Holsteins, fifty of which are currently milking. When the weather cooperates, Hornstra’s cows spend four to five hours a day on pasture, eating grass the way nature intended. The cows diet is supplemented with corn and hay, both of which John grows. The Norwell farm boasts a large cornfield, and, in a cooperative arrangement with the Trustees of the Reservation, John hays 40 acres in World’s End, a Trustees property. This arrangement enables John to provide hay to his cows and fulfills the Trustees mission of supporting local food and farms.

With the first taste of Hornstra milk, it becomes clear that it is far different from most other brands of milk in the dairy case. As John says, “it tastes like milk was meant to taste,” and one of the keys to this delicious taste is the company’s use of vat pasteurization. With this form of pasteurization, the milk is gently heated to 145 degrees for half an hour. According to John, this technique “preserves the integrity of the milk, the natural enzymes and gives the milk a superior flavor and velvety texture.” Most major milk distributors deem the technique too time intensive and expensive but, as a small producer with his own distribution channel, John has flexibility to process the milk in the way that he believes will produce a superior product. John commitment to quality is so great that he even built a dairy facility to bottle his own milk on the farm. He now has total control of the product, from the care his cows receive to the way the milk is bottled. His dedication to quality comes through in every bottle.

Now that the farm is up and running, John has a bit more free time. And, what does a dairyman think of now that he has some time on his hands? Ice cream. John is working with an industry expert to develop an all-natural ice cream, containing only milk, cream, sugar, eggs and guar gum, a natural stabilizer. Given that its main ingredient will be Hornstra’s own delicious milk and cream, the ice cream is sure to be sublime. But, ever the perfectionist, John does not plan on debuting the ice cream until Labor Day.  As he said, “we have one chance with this and I am not willing to blow it.” In the fall, John plans on opening a small retail store on the farm that will sell all the Hornstra products, including the much anticipated ice cream.

Although at one time the South Shore was dotted with dairy farms, a local dairy is now a rare commodity. So, the next time you pour yourself a glass of Hornstra milk, relish the fact that the cows that produced it were able to graze contently in this beautiful area that we all call home.

Food, in all of its glorious forms, is one of Julia Powers’ passions. She believes in the transformative effect good food choices can have on health and revels in its ability to draw family and friends together around the table. In addition to writing, Julia is pursuing a Masters in Nutrition at the University of Bridgeport. She lives in Hingham with her husband and three children.

Hornstra Farms
3 Lazell Street
Hingham, MA 02043
(781) 749-1222


Photos by Michael Hart

Change on the Menu

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It was not a typical ladies’ night out. Although we discussed some readings, it was not a book group. There was no jewelry for sale and, although there was delicious food, we were not out to dinner celebrating a friend’s birthday. Instead, for eight weeks last spring, I was part of a group of twelve women who participated in a discussion course entitled Menu for the Future at beautiful Weir River Farm in Hingham. The course quickly became one of the highlights of my week.

Developed by the Northwest Earth Institute of Portland, Oregon, Menu for the Future is a self-directed discussion course about how the choices we make about food, both personally and as a nation, affect our health and the health of the planet. Since it was first offered two years ago, seven thousand people across the country have participated. Each member of our group took a turn facilitating the discussion. There were no right or wrong answers; instead, the readings and discussions were designed to help the participants clarify their attitudes and values about food choices and sustainability.

Each week, we prepared for class by reading several excerpts or short essays by leaders in the sustainable food movement, such as Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. The homework was lively and compelling. Jody Maxwell, one of the participants, said, “the book and articles were informative and unsettling and a great source for discussion.” At the beginning of the course, we explored the current state of food in America, including the true cost of the industrial system that now dictates our nation’s eating habits, and how oil—yes oil—has become a key “ingredient” in our diet. We also discussed the health consequences of the way we eat in America, including the detrimental effects of the pesticides on and hormones in our food, and how widespread industrial agricultural practices deplete the soil and diminish nutritional value. For example, one startling fact cited by Marco Visscher in his April 2003 Ode magazine article “Unhappy Meal” was that the protein content of wheat has declined from 90% in 1900 to only 9% today. This statistic was just one of many examples he gave of declining nutritional value.

But just when the group was feeling quite hopeless, the readings went on to show us how things are looking up. Contrary to the popular belief that industrial farms are necessary to feed our burgeoning population, we learned how small farms actually yield more food per acre than large monocrop farms. We also read about two different cities, one in Cuba and one in Brazil, that provide affordable and organic food for their whole populations through a combination of effective government policies.

The readings were thought provoking and, best of all, a wonderful springboard for the discussions the group had each week. We felt both enlightened and inspired to make changes in the ways we feed our families and ourselves.

None of the participants knew each other well at the start of the course, but the group quickly bonded. We shared an interest in sustainable eating, but it meant different things to each of us. Some of us simply tried to buy organic food while others were deeply committed to eating only local meat and produce whenever possible. Luckily, we were all open to learning from one an other. Meg Connolly, Education and Interpretation Coordinator at Weir River Farm, commented, “The course is designed to lead you down a path that you don’t want to go alone.” At our first meeting, we decided to take turns bringing a light snack, and thereafter our evenings started with a delicious repast, often made with ingredients from our own gardens. This spirit of sharing grew as the class progressed. One woman brought a cardboard box full of raspberry plants culled from her garden and another participant, who raises goats with her daughter, brought each of us a bar of goat milk soap they’d made. By far, the most helpful thing we shared was information.  By the last class, we’d compiled a list of local farms that supply produce, meat, and eggs, as well as helpful books and websites.

Weir River Farm topped our list as an excellent resource for local, organic food. Located on Turkey Hill in Hingham, the farm grows a wide variety of vegetables and raises animals for meat, eggs, and wool. The property has a long history of agrarian use. Originally the country estate of Polly Thayer Starr and her family, it also served as a gentleman’s farm, producing vegetables, milk, and eggs for its owners. During World War II, the estate’s caretaker, Harold Newcomb, transformed Mrs. Starr’s prize-winning floral gardens into victory gardens. The family shared the bounty with their Hingham neighbors, providing a welcome addition to the meager rations many were living on at the time. With the death of Mrs.Starr in 1999, Weir River Farm was deeded to the Trustees of Reservations, a group dedicated to preserving land in Massachusetts for both conservation and public use. Today, Weir River operates as both a working farm and an education center with a full slate of workshops and children’s educational programs.

As we met at the farm each week, our group was struck by how different Weir River Farm (WRF) was from the industrial farms profiled in Menu for the Future. You might wonder…how are they different?

Size and Crop Diversity

At Weir River Farm three and a half acres are cultivated, with another twenty-four used for pasture. Industrial farms plant hundreds of acres, often with only one crop. Growing a single crop stresses the soil, so chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides are used to keep the plants “healthy.” At WRF, over fifty different vegetables are grown. This biodiversity helps keeps the soil and plants thriving without chemicals. Various heirloom breeds of livestock and poultry also call WRF home. Waste from the animals is used as fertilizer, producing rich soil that helps the farm thrive.

Food Integrity

As the contaminated egg scare reminded us this summer, the conditions in which food is produced affect its quality and safety.  WRF is an open book; you can walk around the farm at any time and see the care with which they tend their crops and animals.  Seeing this gives you the reassurance that they are selling the healthiest product possible.


The taste of a fresh picked tomato is simply sublime. There is no comparison between the taste of a tomato grown on an industrial farm and one that was picked fresh that morning. Produce from industrial farms is often harvested before it is ripe so that it will not spoil during shipment. When you buy produce from WRF, or any local farm, you are purchasing produce at the peak of its taste and nutrients.


Weir River Farm follows organic practices but is not currently a certified organic farm. Their vegetables are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and their meat is free from artificial hormones or antibiotics. One of the most eye opening facts our group learned from Menu for the Future was that it is wise to look beyond the organic label. At WRF, you can visit anytime and see how the produce is grown and that the animals are well treated.

Sense of Community

There is a wonderful sense of community at WRF. From the children visiting for story hour to shoppers stopping by the farm stand, people are happy to be there. At WRF, you buy your food from the farmer who produced it. If you are unsure about how an unfamiliar vegetable tastes or what to do with it, just ask. The experience is as far removed from shopping at a grocery store as can be.

Want to Give it a Try?

Currently, WRF sells produce at the Hingham Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and at their farm stand on Wednesdays. Next year, they will offer a community supported agriculture (CSA) option as well. Meat is available a few times a year and sells out quickly.  The best way to learn about these options is to sign up for the farm’s email alerts at

Patricia Hague, local food activist and another course participant, said, “At the heart of the Menu for the Future program is the idea of the connection between eating and the land. Small, local, family farms like Weir River help us feel that connection and help us regain control of the food system by buying directly from the producer. We get to know our farmer. This cannot happen with industrial agriculture.” If this sounds like an idea you would like to explore, consider starting your own Menu for the Future group (visit While you won’t have any baubles or baskets to show for your evenings out, your thoughts about our food system will never be the same.


Photos by Michael Hart

Seeds of Change

What if I told you that, on an idyllic hilltop in Rochester, there is a converted dairy barn where something magical happens? In that barn, a local company grows nutrient-packed vegetables that are delicious both raw and cooked, and even crunch and pop when you eat them. These veggies are a bit of a chameleon: adding a spicy bite to a dish, or providing a mellow base on which to nestle something succulent like scallops. This sounds like a fable, doesn’t it? But it gets even better. To the delight of anyone trying to eat more locally-produced food, these veggies grow year-round, even in the dead of winter, and their growing time averages a mere seven days.

The company working this magic is Jonathan’s Sprouts—and the super-food they grow? You guessed it …sprouts. Americans became familiar with sprouts in the 1970s, and today most everyone routinely encounters at least two types: mung bean, which first came to us through Asian cooking, and alfalfa, which are often served atop sandwiches and salads.

Sprouts can be grown from the seed of almost any vegetable, grain, bean, or nut. In addition to mung and alfalfa, Jonathan’s also grows radish, broccoli, clover, and sunflower sprouts, as well as pea shoots and wheatgrass. Barbara Sanderson, who owns the company along with her husband Bob, says, “When a seed sprouts, it is like a miracle happens.”

Sprouts have long held a reputation as health food. There are writings dating back 5,000 years indicating that Chinese physicians prescribed the consumption of sprouts for curing a multitude of ailments. Research shows that sprouts’ healthy reputation is well deserved. They are a wonderful source of protein. Although the protein content varies with the type of seed being sprouted, it can be as high as 28% for soybean sprouts and 26% for those from lentils and peas.

When a seed sprouts, its nutritional value is magnified. For example, one cup of raw mung bean sprouts contains 23% of the Daily Value (DV) of Vitamin C, and the same amount of raw radish sprouts has 18% of the DV of this important nutrient. Sprouts are also a great source of vitamins A and K and some of the B vitamins. Depending on the type of seed, they are also rich in a variety of antioxidants and phytochemicals. This strong nutritional profile also makes them an ideal choice for raw food enthusiasts, who use sprouted beans and seeds to add both protein and a wide spectrum of vitamins to many dishes, as well as sprouted grains to make bread.

When you visit Jonathan’s Sprouts, it doesn’t look like any farm you have ever seen. But, this is the nature of sprouts. They are not grown in the ground. Instead, these tiny vegetables are grown in stainless steel trays or tubes, depending on how much light they need to grow. And you won’t see a farmer in jeans and a sun hat: the workers at Jonathan’s wear lab coats, waterproof boots, and hairnets. It is a bit “back to the future,” but given the company’s strict focus on safety and quality assurance, it is necessary. While most of its product is grown in the barn, Jonathan’s also grows wheatgrass and pea shoots in greenhouses located in both Rochester and Freetown. The amount of seeds sprouted by Jonathan’s boggles the mind. According to Bob Sanderson, “It would take a forty acre farm to grow the alfalfa seed we sprout in only one year.”

Like many small farms, Jonathan’s takes extra steps to ensure the quality of its produce, often at the expense of the profit margin. For example, Jonathan’s harvests its bean sprouts when they yield six pounds of sprouts per pound of seed—compared to the industry standard of ten to twelve pounds of sprouts per pound of seed. Although Jonathan’s could boost its margin by following its peers’ growing practices, the younger sprouts have a sweeter taste and a longer shelf life. And, as Barb Sanderson notes, Jonathan’s customers appreciate the extra effort and expense taken to grow a quality product. She says, “We keep getting love letters.”

The warm, moist surroundings necessary to grow sprouts can, unfortunately, provide an environment conducive to the growth of bacteria. In December 2010, at least 94 people in the Midwest became ill from eating contaminated sprouts, and in January of this year, a smaller outbreak occurred in the Pacific Northwest, affecting seven people. None of these outbreaks involved Jonathan’s Sprouts and, in its 35-year history, the company has never been associated with a case of food-borne illness.

Jonathan’s Sprouts’ stellar safety record is the result of a rigorous testing program. Because contaminated seeds are usually the source of the bacteria found in any sprout-related food-borne illness, Jonathan’s seeds are carefully sourced. Each lot of seed is tested for quality before purchase. The testing continues when the seeds are delivered; every bag of seed is sampled and checked for contamination. And, when available, organic seeds are used. The third step in the testing process is that each and every crop grown by Jonathan’s Sprouts is checked for Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 bacteria by an independent lab. Negative results must be received before any crop is shipped. In addition, the facility is scanned weekly for Listeria. Being this meticulous is not cheap. It costs Jonathan’s $150,000 annually to perform these tests, but the program ensures that customers are buying healthy, safe, organically grown, and kosher certified sprouts.

Jonathan’s is one of the country’s leading growers of sprouts. The company started in 1976, when three friends, Barbara Brewster, Bob Sanderson, and Jim Bunker, were fresh out of college and trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Another friend, Jonathan Lagreze, had a home-based business that bore his name, growing sprouts and selling them at the Marion General Store. When he decided to return to college, Barb, Bob, and Jim took over the business. Their timing could not have been better. It coincided with America’s growing demand for fresh produce, as well as the nation’s budding interest in health food.

Barb and Bob, who eventually married, continue to run the company; Jim left the business in the early 1980s. Jonathan’s now boasts over $3 million in sales and forty employees. Its products are available in many smaller specialty retailers such as How on Earth in Mattapoisett as well as local grocery chains including Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Shaw’s, Trader Joe’s, and Trucchi’s. Although the majority of the company’s products are sold under its own name, Jonathan’s private labels two products: Nature’s Promise mung bean sprouts for Stop & Shop and Trader Joe’s pea shoots.

“We have been growing food with integrity for a long time,” says Barb Sanderson. And from the continued growth of Jonathan’s Sprouts, it seems the word has gotten out. “There has been a growing awareness of food, where it is grown, and what it is doing to your body. And, all this is helping us,” posits Barb. Sprouts are nutritious, versatile, local, and always in season. Why not try a few of the delicious sprout recipes that accompany this article and let these enchanting little vegetables work their magic on you?

Jonathan’s Sprouts Inc.
384 Vaughan Hill Road
Rochester, MA 02770
(508) 763-5505

Grow Your Own
Sprouts can also be grown at home; the only items you need are a large glass jar and some seeds. After that, it is as easy as just adding water. I purchased a sprouting jar at Good Health in Hanover but you could also use a large glass jar covered with cheesecloth.

Since I love their spicy flavor, I used a pre-packaged mix of organic alfalfa, radish, and broccoli seeds. After a quick rinse, the seeds needed to soak overnight. Then I drained them. They spent the next three days in the sprouting jar in the dark recesses of my kitchen cabinet. The only work required was to continue to rinse and drain them twice a day.

While the sprout seeds were resting, I kept the jar tilted at an angle, so any remaining water could drain out. Each day when I opened the cabinet, I was amazed at how quickly the sprouts were growing. It was like getting a peek under the dirt in my garden. On the fourth day, I moved the jar to the counter so the sprouts could get some light and develop their green color. Finally, after a final rinse, the sprouts made a delicious addition to my salad. Photos by Michael Hart


Photos by Michael Hart

Mind Your Sprouts

Most people are aware of sprouts well-deserved reputation as a health food. Sprouts are high in protein, a good source of vitamins C, A and K and contain a wide range of phytochemicals. But, sprouts also have a more troublesome reputation. In recent years, they have been found to be the culprit in multiple cases of food borne illnesses. In June, an outbreak of a deadly new strain of E coli bacteria, O104, sickened over 3,517 people in Germany, killing 39 of them.

European investigators have spent much of the past month trying to track down the source of the outbreak, which appears to have originated on an organic farm in Germany. However, there is still uncertainty as to the root cause; did the seeds that were sprouted carry the pathogen or was the water in which they were grown somehow contaminated? Also, as this is a new strain of E coli bacteria, investigators are also looking into whether person-to-person contact was another route of transmission. Given this history, sprouts offer a wonderful example of how important it is to be mindful about how your food is grown.

Do sprouts have the potential for causing food borne illness? Yes. But, this is also the case with a long list of foods previously implicated in outbreaks of food borne illness: spinach, peppers, ground beef, and peanuts among them. Is the answer to stop eating sprouts? For some people, it might be. But, for other people, this is not the route they want to take. They enjoy eating sprouts and appreciate the nutritional benefits they add to their diet. For sprout lovers, purchasing these veggies from a grower that has a comprehensive safety program in place gives them the peace of mind to keep sprouts a part of their healthy diet.

Jonathan’s Sprouts, which was profiled in the spring edition of Edible South Shore, is one such grower. This Rochester based company has had a stellar safety record for its entire thirty-five year history. They use a three-pronged approach to ensure the safety of the sprouts they sell.

  1. Jonathan’s sources their seeds carefully. Before the seeds are even purchased, they are tested for contamination by an independent lab.
  2. Once the seeds are delivered to Jonathan’s Sprouts, each batch is again tested for contamination by an outside lab.
  3. Before each crop is shipped, it is tested for salmonella and E. coli bacteria. An independent lab also conducts this testing.

The facility in which the sprouts are grown is also tested weekly for listeria contamination.

The testing program is expensive, costing the company upwards of $100,000 annually, and it definitely impacts the profit margin. But, like many small farmers, Barb and Bob Sanderson, the owners of Jonathan’s Sprouts would not have it any other way. Sprouts offer a wonderful example of how important it is to be mindful of how your food is grown.


Photos by Michael Hart