Don’t be afraid of kale

As the Bay Area’s regional director of Farmigo, Nate Jordan coordinates sites where people can pick up organic produce that they’ve ordered online. But one part of the job he did not anticipate is kale expert; when he was manning the company’s table at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto recently, two customers in a row asked him what to do with the bunch of leafy greens in their box.

Jordan explained that stripping the leaves from the stems, chopping them and sautéing them in a bit of olive oil with garlic is one of the easiest and tastiest methods of preparing the vitamin-rich vegetable.

Farmigo isn’t exactly a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture scheme like the ones organized at several JCCs and synagogues by the Jewish environmental group Hazon. With a CSA, members pre-buy boxes of produce from a local farm, and the farm chooses what to put in each box.

“A CSA membership doesn’t work for everyone,” said Jordan. “Maybe you like some of what you get, some you don’t. Or maybe you’re going out of town.” With Farmigo, customers receive online inventories from several different farms. Some customers choose specific items, some choose a regular box like in a CSA (hence those that ended up with kale). Unlike a farmers market, Farmigo benefits the farmers because whatever they drop off is pre-sold (Farmigo charges farmers a small fee to participate).

Even though the service has just started at the Palo Alto JCC, it’s already proving to be popular. Jordan is now looking for more host sites.

At the JCC site, so far, Farmigo is offering produce from Live Earth and Nunez Farms, both in Watsonville, as well as breads from Beckmann’s Bakery in Santa Cruz. Soon, sustainable fish will be available as well, from a network of fishermen in Monterey.

Farmigo was founded by two Israeli-Americans who had worked for years in the high tech industry, and decided to put their technological know-how into something they felt passionate about: the local food movement. The software, developed in Tel Aviv by the company’s R&D team, was initially developed to help farmers keep track of their CSA subscribers; some 300 farms use it today. The community-based pickup sites, like the one at the Palo Alto JCC, are a new aspect of the business.

JCC staffer Brandi Hann said she likes the idea of shopping at farmers markets, but rarely finds the time to go. Her co-worker Anna Gukasian also signed up because of the convenience. “I don’t have to shop,” she said, adding that the quality has been outstanding. “My husband asked if I put sugar on the strawberries, they were so sweet.”

Neta Shacham seconded that sentiment, saying the fruit she got from Farmigo was so good she ate it in her car on the way home.

Brandi Haan (left) picks up her produce box from Farmigo’s Bay Area director, Nate Jordan photo/colin frolich

Mimi Sells, chief marketing officer of the JCC, said Farmigo’s program was a great fit for the center. “We’re a green campus and we encourage our members to be healthy, so eating well is one way to do that,” she said. “We’re helping our members be in direct connection with their food, but also, after working out, we’re making it easy for working parents to cook some fresh greens for their kids.”

SMALL BITES: As a personal chef, food columnist and passionate eater, I am often asked about my favorite sources for new recipes. In the blogosphere, Smitten is one of my go-to sites when I’m looking for something in particular, especially if that something happens to be sweet. Deb Perelman’s photographs are vivid, her prose makes you feel like you’re in her kitchen hanging out with her while she cooks, and her recipes just work. She is among the many bloggers who have blogged their way to a book deal; her first effort, “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook” (Knopf) is coming out in a matter of days.

Perelman sometimes offers new twists on Jewish classics on her website, and her cookbook follows suit. Her new takes on challah (with dried figs and sea salt, for example), hamentaschen, rugelach and brisket all make an appearance. The book is mostly vegetarian, with about a third of it devoted to desserts. Perelman will be at Copperfield’s Cooks in Napa at 1 p.m. Nov. 3. On Nov. 4 she has two appearances: Omnivore Books in S.F. at 2 p.m. and Bookshop Santa Cruz at 7 p.m.


Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."