As the weather warms and more local foods become available, I'll be trekking out to meet those who grow their own, raise their own, serve their own... you get the idea.
This week, instead of cooking with local, organic food, I took a field trip to one of Branford's little local gems to visit the food in it's natural habitat and talk with the people who are providing Branford with this amazing resource: local and organically grown produce. Next week I'll offer you a recipe made from something I found in my travels.
I stopped by La Bella's Farm (736 East Main St.) on Sunday to check out what one of Branford's local farms has to offer. I got a chance to speak with Nancy La Bella, co-owner with her husband Tony La Bella of the farm, who gave me a great overview of what they do and how they do it. At the moment, they have a greenhouse full of growing veggies and seedlings, which they will eventually harden off and plant outside. What they have on hand right now are varieties of lettuce and kale, which is very high in vitamin K and one of the only such foods I like. I haven't liked spinach since I was four, and I think my mom is still hoping I'll grow out of it. Next week, I'll be providing a recipe with the kale from La Bella's. There are rows of in-progress zucchini, cucumbers, onions and tomatoes to name a few and they are all grown organically. The farm itself is not “certified” organic, though the La Bella's farm in New York was. The process to become certified organic, Nancy tells me, is extremely cost prohibitive, but that does not mean that the La Bella products there are not carefully tended to with organic sprays and soil, and of course, the human touch.
We spoke about the importance of growing organically and about local support. I asked if she got a lot of customers, and she said in the four years they've been here, she's definitely seen an upsurge in the last two years and that clientele is good and steady. She also told me that they sell their products to , and that the sous chef there is very enthusiastic about the greens they grow and the fact that he can call on them and have product there in a half hour!
La Bella's is a part of CT Grown, an organization that presents local farms and their offerings, as well as restaurants that utilize local growers' products in their menu to the public in an effort to support local agriculture.
Nancy also tells me that the vegetable products that might not be shelf pretty get fed to their gorgeous chickens, making those chickens vegetarian fed and their eggs fresh, natural and delicious. La Bella's sells their chickens' eggs and I asked if they take old cartons. Nancy informs me that anyone can bring in their own carton and pluck the eggs from the inside fridge and carry them home that way. She also told me that they do not wash their eggs; she will use a sandpaper cleaning process, but they do not use any chemical wash. She told me about a person who thought they had become allergic to eggs and had come by to try farm fresh eggs and it turns out, that person was actually allergic to industrial washing chemicals and not eggs.
They also have two donkeys, siblings named Jenny and Dominic which, if I had a male donkey, is the name I would choose. What Italian doesn't want a donkey named Dominic? The La Bellas are also hoping to grow organic apples this year, weather and sowing permitting. They also sell Christmas trees and wreaths, seasonally.
They are open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., and when we actually start to see sun for a decent amount of time during the days in the Northeast, they will be open Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Stop by La Bella's and the next time you're looking to go out for dinner, check out what La Cuisine does with their local greens.