Stephanie Hedlund scoured the Portland Farmers Market in Monument Square on Wednesday, looking for just the right vegetables to put in a tamale casserole she was thinking about making for her clients.
No doubt some of the local vegetables she found will also go into her bestselling vegetable lasagna. On another day, Hedlund might pick up some steaks from grass-fed cows raised at Harvest Hill Farm in Mechanic Falls, or stop by Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth.
“I’ve been obsessed with this vegetable they grow called tat soi,” Hedlund said. “It’s a green sort of similar to spinach, but it has a little bit more of a bitter taste. I’m using it in everything I can think of. I made a quiche out of it. You can put it into any kind of Asian dish.”
Hedlund’s new business is called Clara Burke Kitchen, and it is literally farm-to-table. Hedlund prepares meals made with local, seasonal products from Maine farms and delivers them right to her clients’ doorsteps.
The concept of eating local foods is already wildly popular here in Maine, but for some people it can still be a challenge. It’s hard to make it to a farmers market on Saturday morning if your kids have a soccer game on the same day. Other people like the idea of eating locally, but they aren’t sure what to do with the food that comes in a CSA share.
Now a couple of local businesses are trying to remove any remaining barriers by making local, seasonal foods even more accessible to the public.
Hedlund cooks and delivers entire meals of farm-fresh food to her clients. And two Cape Elizabeth farms are expanding their new online ordering system, where customers can choose the local foods they want with a click of the mouse.
The Cape Farms’ Market online business, begun by Jordan’s Farm and Alewives Brook Farm as an experiment over the winter, drew an average of 150 orders a week. Now home delivery within a 7-mile radius of Cape Elizabeth is being added to the mix, and the farms are signing up businesses who want to give their employees access to local foods.
“We know there are people out there who really want to participate in the local movement, and who really want to become closer to the farms, and who really want to know their farmer, but they really don’t have the time,” said Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth. “I know that sounds like a minimal thing, but if I was a parent who had four kids and I worked full-time, there’s a lot of stuff going on in your life.”
REACHING FARMS STATEWIDE
The Cape Farms’ Market sources products from farms all over the state. The service provides a new outlet for farms that ordinarily don’t market their products in southern Maine, and it gives the Cape Elizabeth farms access to products they don’t ordinarily sell at their own farm stands – products such as lamb from Meadowsweet Farm in the Lakes Region, goat cheeses from Creeping Thyme Farm in Buxton and maple syrup from Cooper Maple Products in Windham.
“We also source products that we might grow ourselves, but we might not have enough to also put on the market,” Jordan said.
“For example, we do grow kale. Our kale isn’t ready, so we will purchase kale from another producer if we know they have kale. We grow strawberries, but I may purchase from another producer because I don’t have enough strawberries for my farm stand as well as the online market.”
Here’s how it works. At 7 p.m. Thursdays, the online market at capemarket.internet-farmer. com opens. Customers go online and put what they’d like to buy into their online shopping cart.
After the market closes at 8 a.m. Monday, the farms get busy gathering their orders. The food is ready to be picked up between 3 and 6 p.m. Thursday at the two farms or at the American Legion in South Portland.
Payment is made at pick-up, not when ordering.
When home delivery starts, it will be within a 7-mile radius of the farms, which Jordan estimates will take them as far as Scarborough and the Portland peninsula.
There is a 7 percent packing and processing fee added to the bill, and there may be a nominal charge for home delivery, depending on where the food is going. Jordan said deliveries to Cape Elizabeth homes will probably be free.
This week the farms are adding another twist to the market by starting delivery to local businesses.
The first one will be New England Rehabilitation Hospital, Jordan said. Its employees will be able to order food online beginning Thursday and have it delivered to them the next week at work.
At-work deliveries allow busy professionals to participate in the system without worrying about taking time off from work to pick up their food, or missing a pick-up time because of a meeting that went too long.
For people who find themselves too busy to cook, but still want to eat healthy, Clara Burke Kitchens will do all the work for you.
The business is named after Hedlund’s two grandmothers, who grew up on farms in Iowa and Texas and were always cooking for large numbers of people.
Hedlund sources all her ingredients from Maine farms and prepares the meals in a shared kitchen arrangement with Taco Trio in South Portland.
“In the last several years, I moved out to Poland and got to know the farmers around there, and was just amazed at how much better their meat was and their produce was,” Hedlund said. “At the same time, this whole trend or movement of eating local was coming about. I was doing CSAs and kind of found all my friends asking me, ‘What do you do with the 20 pounds of beets they just gave us?’ And I loved figuring out what to do with 20 pounds of beets.
“I saw that as kind of a hole,” she said. “You know, you go to the farmers market and there’s amazing things there, and it’s just hard to know what to do with it every day.”
Hedlund, 36, comes from a business background and also empathized with other busy professionals who have no time to cook. Her biggest customers, as it turns out, are empty nesters and baby boomers. She also does catering, mostly for the same crowd.
“They’re in their early 60s and they really care about what they’re eating,” Hedlund said. “They just don’t necessarily feel like cooking every night any more. That’s about half my business.”
Other clients are just “really busy people,” Hedlund said, who don’t want to rely too much on restaurants – especially if they have kids and need some family time.
“If you’re out of your house all day working, it’s nice to come home and enjoy your house,” she said. “There’s a million great restaurants in Portland, (but) enjoy dinner. Bring back dinner. Bring back sitting down with the family and enjoying it. I think that’s what a lot of my clients like about it.”
Hedlund makes everything, including stocks and sauces, from scratch. She cooks two or three nights a week at Taco Trio, and then freezes the food, although she is starting to do more fresh meals as weekly specials for her clients who want to order vegetarian.
Hedlund’s menu includes chicken and biscuits made with Harvest Hills Farm free-range chicken, maple chipotle beef brisket, and oxtail posole. Every order comes with cookies because – well, just because Hedlund loves to bake cookies.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]