Northeast SARE Farmer Grant Final Report
Project Title: Summer Veggie Snack Mix – Product Development and Processing of excess summer vegetables into a Value-Added Dried Snack Mix and Soup Blend.
Grant Number: FNE08-651
Pam West, HC 34, Box 373, Lewisburg, WV 24901
(304) 497-3840, firstname.lastname@example.org
Goals: My goal is to utilize excess summer vegetables; zucchini, yellow summer squash, green beans and tomatoes, in a seasoned dried form. Through working with two local chefs in the development of a product, a Summer Veggie Snack Mix, and Soup Blend will be the end result.
Background on farm / updated: Our diversified flower and vegetable farm experienced a late drought in 2008. Because all of our water resources were exhausted, we contracted to have an irrigation pond developed including installation of a pond liner. We identified that lack of water was our most limiting factor in our farming operation. For the 2009 growing season, it should not be an issue.
How did this affect the accomplishment of our goal? It was just one of the factors. Because of the extremely dry growing condition in 2008, we did not have any excess late summer vegetables to use for this project. However; we had a surplus in June – July which we did some preliminary experimenting with. For 2008, our 3 acres of vegetables and specialty cut flowers produced a marginal crop for a seasonal average.
The growing season was much better in 2009, with an abundance of rain and crops grew to their optimum. However the season was not without challenges and extreme weather. A late August hail storm nearly devastated some of our produce crops including bell peppers and field tomatoes; pounding them full of bruises and holes. After consulting with our extension agent, one of the technical advisers to the project, it was decided to salvage some of our efforts. Damaged peppers were picked off the plants, sliced, dried and included in our veggie mix adding yet another dimension to a finished product.
2009 also brought an unexpected reward; in April, West Farm was nominated by the local soil conservation district and NRCS office for evaluation of overall farm plan, improvements over 15 years and management in a state wide competition. In October, West Farm was selected as the 2009 WV Conservation Farm of the Year.
Cooperators / Roles: Tim Rodgers, Chef and owner of Blackwell’s Restaurant in Lewisburg, WV agreed initially to be my main cooperator and one of two technical advisers for my project. Tim was to assist me in the preliminary product development of the summer veggie Snack Mix; determining the seasonings to be applied to the vegetables, evaluating different recipes. Having many years of experience in food preparation, Tim was to help me determine the appropriate drying times for each vegetable ingredient.
The other members of my product development team or tasting team; Jack Dunbar, Stacy Reeves, and Kay Davis, were to become involved with sampling and evaluating the product once Tim and I worked with it to get several different recipes to try.
For 2009, Steve Jackendoff, owner of Julian’s Restaurant in Lewisburg, WV, and Al Pettijohn, executive chef at Julian’s joined the team, replacing Tim Rodgers. Also Shae West, my teenage daughter, and Haleigh Wise her friend, were included as participants. The two were involved in a 4-H project; growing and using culinary herbs. Their sampling of the veggie products for “kid appeal” complimented both projects.
Activities: By Tim’s recommendations, in July 2008, I sliced and dehydrated the following vegetables; tomatoes, green beans, zucchini and yellow summer squash to evaluate their natural flavor, texture and general appearance. I also took the same fresh vegetable ingredients and coated them with two different commercially available salad dressings – Zesty Italian and Greek Vinaigrette before dehydration. I met with Tim to evaluate these initial ingredients in my snack mix. I also saved a portion to share with some “food-savvy” friends.
My friends served the seasoned veggies with crackers, and over pasta. We determined that the flavor was outstanding; very concentrated, served over pasta. We agreed that this could potentially be a shelf stable product, capturing the flavors of summer that could be enjoyed well after the growing season ended. The dried veggies served with crackers were less palatable, not because of their flavor, but because of their chewy texture.
The samples I left with Tim were never evaluated by him, nor did I get any further involvement from him. After several weeks and no return calls, I discovered that he had no longer existed in our community and that his business was no more. It has since been determined that he had relocated to somewhere else.
The time frame of this took me into mid-August 2008, dry weather and no water to irrigate vegetables to get excesses for this project. I did however continue to dehydrate extra and blemished tomatoes which I have stored to use early 2009 season. Because I never got to the excess level, and beyond experimentation, I did not purchase any supplies or materials to do so in 2008.
Because of the lack of cooperation, and existence of my initial cooperator and main technical adviser, Tim Rogers of Blackwell’s restaurant, I was not able to develop a quantity of product to be sampled and properly evaluated in 2008.
The sampling with my friends; serving the dried, seasoned veggies over pasta, gave me another idea / use, not initially thought about.
For 2009, I acquired two new chef-cooperators, and technical adviser, to help me with the development of my product; Stephen Jackendoff, owner and chef of Julian’s Restaurant in Lewisburg, WV, and Al Pettijohn, executive chef at Julian’s. I have supplied Stephen’s establishment for many years with our fresh veggies and flowers. Julian’s has been serving local foods since the mid 1980’s and Stephen is an avid supporter of the Lewisburg Farmers Market and active member in the community. Al, his executive chef brought additional experience to the group; working as a chef in AZ, FL and NYC. . Also Shae West, my teenage daughter, and Haleigh Wise her friend, were included as participants. The two were involved in a 4-H project; growing and using culinary herbs. Their sampling of the veggie products for “kid appeal” complimented both projects.
In 2009, Zucchini and yellow summer squash, green snap beans and heirloom tomatoes were planted and grown at West Farm using sustainable methods; 200 ft of row of each combined squash varieties, 400 ft row of green snap beans and 250 heirloom tomato plants. The squash and beans were be planted at 4 different times, staging the harvest intervals. We determine plant populations based on previous season’s sale volume of fresh picked product. In addition, 30 other vegetable crops and culinary herbs were grown for the 2009 season. John McCutcheon, our county Agriculture Extension agent was the technical adviser for this portion.
All of the above were harvested at desirable sizes, and as needed; squash, 4-7”, beans when tender, and tomatoes vine-ripe. Marketing was Wednesday deliveries to five restaurants, and at Friday and Saturday farmers markets.
Excess product from market days, squash needing picked to keep the plants producing, and blemished heirloom tomatoes were used for this project. Produce was sorted, and sliced. A single seasoning was added to each squash batch before being dehydrated using an Excalibur Model 110v dehydrator. The dried seasonings suggested by the chefs included: Zesty Blend, a salt-free natural table seasoning for vegetables, Salad Supreme by McCormick, a pasta salad seasoning, and four different bread dipping seasonings – Parmesan Blend, Tuscany Blend, Sicilian Blend, and Rosa Maria by Dean Jacob Div, Xcel International Corp. While commercial-size seasonings of the above were available, we opted to use what was on our grocery shelf store initially.
Heirloom tomatoes’ flavor intensifies when dried, so it was suggested to dehydrate them without the addition of seasonings. The dried vegetable-ingredients were stored in air-tight plastic containers for use in the product combination.
In 2009, we had a bumper crop of green beans and a great customer demand for them as well. Therefore, we had only enough beans to experiment with for this project. The beans were cut in half and dehydrated without seasonings.
Carrots, leeks and onions were purchased from a local producer for use in this project. They were washed, sliced and dried in the same manner as the beans.
A late August 2009 hail storm nearly devastated some of our produce crops including bell peppers and field tomatoes; pounding them full of bruises and holes. After consulting with our extension agent John McCutcheon, one of the technical advisers to the project, it was decided to salvage some of our crop. Damaged peppers were picked off the plants, washed, sliced, and dehydrated. These vegetables were considered waste otherwise. It was suggested that no seasoning be added to the red and orange bell peppers because like the tomatoes, pepper’s flavor is stronger when dried as well.
The final quantity and kind of seasonings were determined through experimentation in taste, stability, and appearance of the dried vegetables by our product development team including Pam West, grower, Jack Dunbar, President of the Lewisburg Farmers Market, Monroe Farm Market organization and local grower, Shae West and Haleigh Wise, 4-H youth, and chefs Steve Jackendoff and Al Pettijohn.
In September 2009, we began experimenting with different combinations and ratios of dried seasoned summer veggies to make a palatable snack mix, and soup mix. The combination of unseasoned squash and tomatoes was the most desirable followed by the squash seasoned with Parmesan Blend dipping spice. Dehydrated beans and peppers were too tough and chewy in the mix.
The soup blend needed more than the three main ingredients; squash, beans and tomatoes to make it appealing. The chefs found the squash, despite the seasoning preference, was too mushy in a finished soup. The addition of the carrots, leeks and onions made it more desirable to the chefs, but costly for us since these ingredients were purchased and not excess from our farm. Also they noted that there were many commercially available soup blends and that ours would not be that special to be different.
The winning combination of dried summer veggies was zucchini and yellow squash, heirloom tomatoes and colored bell peppers in equal proportions as an addition to pasta. A recipe adding the dried veggies, and dried Italian basil to sautéed onions, reconstituting them in the liquid and adding them to cooked linguine or bow-ties, made a desirable dish as selected by the group; Summer Veggie Pasta Surprise.
Kay Davis, WVU Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Services, suggested that if we didn’t season the squash that it would be a healthier choice, and that it would be adequate to just list the dried vegetables on the label for retail purposes at farmers markets rather than a complete nutritional analysis especially since the ratio of squash to tomatoes to peppers will vary between batches.
The best packaging and labeling options for the finished product was finalized by the team. A sample of different food grade plastic containers and cellophane bags were tried, and the best was found to be a closed clam shell with label on top and recipe on bottom.
Results: The overall goal of the project was to utilize excess summer vegetables in a seasoned dried form, in the development of a value added product which can be sold at local farmers markets. With little equipment; dehydrator, slicer, storage bins and clean work area, our excess squash, heirloom tomatoes and damaged bell peppers were not wasted. Observations and accomplishments described above. The final product was a shelf-stable combination of summer veggies to be used as a healthy addition to cooked pasta; Summer Veggie Pasta Surprise.
Site Conditions: Because we had a hail storm in August 2009 which damaged many of our crops including tomatoes and colored bell peppers, because of this project, they were not wasted. This was an unexpected event which resulted in using dehydrated peppers in the summer veggie mix, making a product for pasta dishes instead of a snack mix as originally proposed.
Economic Findings: A Sustainable farming enterprise such as our market garden is one where healthy crops are raised for a profit, using best management practices which respect the environment and its resources. Raising crops for profit has a positive influence on our family. Waste of product, time and money has a negative effect on our lifestyle. The problem is that of waste; waste of product, waste of time and waste of money. Waste of squash, beans and tomatoes if left in the field. Time wasted if picked, cleaned, sorted and boxed and not sold. Waste of money for labor and, loss of profit potential
Only excess product from market days, squash needing picked to keep the plants producing, blemished heirloom tomatoes and damaged peppers were used for this project. In previous seasons, their value would be $0, or a loss, labor considered.
We estimated to use 100 lbs of squash, 5 bushels of peppers, and 400 lbs of tomatoes for this project. Retail market value of the excess veggies is estimated to be; squash, $200 @ $2.00 / lb, peppers $200 @ $40 / bushel, and tomatoes $1200 @ $3.00 per lb. These excess vegetables, $1600 value, otherwise would be discarded, or wasted in the field.
Labor to prepare and dehydrate a batch of squash, tomatoes or peppers (11 racks in the dryer) 30 min@ $12 / hr =$6.00 / batch. Volume of dried veggies approximately 1 gallon, packaged into pints, 16 total from 1 batch. Total labor per pint ~.40 cents.
Packaging and labeling materials approximately .50 ea pint.
Total new product cost/ pint ~ $1 or $16 / batch
Retailed Summer Veggie Pasta Surprise for $5.00/pint, or $80 per batch of dried veggies that would otherwise be discarded.
Assessment / New Ideas: Seasoned dried summer veggies made a great meal when served over pasta, a use initially not considered. Hopefully, this project could serve as a practical example of what is possible for other small scale market gardeners who don’t want to discard their excess from market days.
Adoption: Through this project, we better utilize more of our vegetable crops. By drying them, their nutritional value, and summer goodness was preserved in a healthy product. We can sell our vegetables through any season, not just in season. By achieving this goal, we made our farm more profitable and operation more sustainable. Others will find example in our efforts.
Outreach: The outreach plan for the results of this project, creating a value added dried summer veggie mix, is as follows:
Locally – because our product development team included two farmers, two chefs, two teens and an extension nutrition specialist, many different target audiences were represented. I discussed the project; including samples of the finished products, cost analysis of the project vs. discarding excess vegetables, at two annual farm market membership meetings in January 2010. The hope is that other market gardeners could learn by example. I also presented the project during a presentation to 30 Master Gardeners in November 2009 in the same manner.
The two chefs aided me in making the recipe card to use the dried veggies in the pasta dish. It was included in the packaging, as well as handed out at two local farmers markets September – November 2009. The recipe was also submitted to the State Fair of WV for their 2010 recipe challenge, which if selected will be included in local foods exhibit for the 2010 event.
The two teens used the dried summer veggies along with dried herbs in their 4-H visual demonstration in April 2009.
Eating Healthy Snacks is an education program presented twice a season at each of the farmers markets by the WVU Extension Service. The Summer Veggie Pasta Surprise project was included in the Harvest Market program in September 2009 at two local farmers markets. Case study (see attached) was made available to customers, as well as other WVU extension educators, and WVDA marketing dept. via email.
Regionally and beyond – I n March 2009, I discussed the project during my SARE Farmer Educator presentation at the WV Direct Marketing Conference in Morgantown, WV, and will do so again March 2, 2010. The case study will be available via email to those who request a copy. During my presentation at the National Small Farms Conference in Springfield, IL in September 2009, I talked about this project to a large audience, and many individuals after.
Report Summary: The overall goal of the project was to utilize excess summer vegetables in a seasoned dried form, in the development of a value added product which can be sold at local farmers markets.
With little equipment; dehydrator, slicer, storage bins and clean work area, our excess squash, heirloom tomatoes and damaged bell peppers were not wasted. The final product was a shelf-stable combination of summer veggies to be used as a healthy addition to cooked pasta; Summer Veggie Pasta Surprise.
Summer Veggie Pasta Surprise was a result of desire to make a change, innovative thinking, and working with a knowledgeable team of people.
In conclusion, hopefully the outcome of this project can allow other farmers in the Northeast to think about creating different value-added products from excesses in production to fit their own marketing niche.
Pam West, March 1, 2010