Blog Category: Food Photography

IGI’s Food Rescue Program turns table scraps into compost and beyond

How often are you at a restaurant and notice plates being cleared from tables that are still loaded with perfectly good food? Or you see overstocked products at the market set to expire with no buyer in sight? All of this unwanted or forgotten food amounts to tons and tons of waste. While it can be called waste it is certainly not garbage, and should be handled accordingly.

Food scraps that are thrown into the trash are hauled to landfills, and on Martha’s Vineyard that means they first have to be processed through a local refuse district and taken off-Island. The carbon footprint to move our trash is a big one, and it’s not the right path for food scraps. According to Island Grown Initiative (IGI) garbage is the Island’s number one export. Annually 6,500 tons of food that has been grown, processed, and transported to or around the Island is only shipped off again as waste. It costs $622,180 per year to transport and dispose of organic waste in landfills off-Island and food waste represents 261 trucks on the Steamship Authority boats each way every year!

In the same place where food scraps are being thrown in the trash, farmers and gardeners are buying compost and animal feed produced from other communities. We think there’s something wrong with that, and thanks to IGI’s food rescue efforts less and less of that is happening here. IGI’s Island Food Rescue (IFR) is a pilot project that aims to provide solutions to utilize wasted food in ways that enrich the Island community and support the local food system.

Now local food waste is being processed and reused in the form of compost to help support future agricultural efforts that will enrich our soils, increase our bounty and feed our people. It’s a win for the local businesses that can effectively see their food repurposed, their trash bill decrease and their carbon footprint reduced, a win for the farmers, gardeners and backyard growers that can benefit from richer soil, and a win for the community that can feast upon the fruits of the land that is being nourished by the compost in the future.

We recently had the opportunity to catch some of the IFR project in action. We visited local restaurants including Linda Jeans and Waterside Market to see how they’ve assimilated the system into their restaurant operations, and the best part of it all is how simple and convenient it is. Basically a restaurant signs up with IGI and receives a large compost bin called a “toter” that they keep beside their dumpsters. They educate their staff on what is compostable and what isn’t, and IGI’s collection truck (complete with a hydraulic lift and power washer) comes as needed to pick up the waste and clean the toter. The food waste is then trucked to the Island Grown Initiative Farm ( formerly Thimble Farm) mixed with carbon and loaded into their in-vessel composter and hooray, food waste is saved from the trash and turned into a valuable resource for gardeners and farmers! Businesses then receive a monthly report that outlines how many pounds of food scraps they diverted from the waste system.

Recycling food waste at the IGI Farm

Once picked up by IGI, the food waste takes about a month of active composting, and then another six to eight months of curing. With IGI’s huge tumbler, food waste is fed into the machine and comes out as semi-finished compost in three to five days.

It’s all part of IGI’s commitment to build a regenerative food system on Martha’s Vineyard. You’ve likely heard that word a lot recently, and it’s an important one to understand. By adopting regenerative farming practices we can give back to the land in the same way it gives to us, by respecting it, recycling as much waste as possible, and adding composted material from other sources that can help contribute to its biodiversity and sustainability. Additionally, regenerative agriculture can remove carbon from the atmosphere (as plants and soil naturally pull carbon from the air) and ultimately work towards reversing climate change. It’s been estimated that by farming just a tenth of an acre through regenerative practices one can offset the carbon emissions of one American adult per year! By simply and strategically working the land around us not only can we give back to it, but we can can make some significant contributions towards a healthier environment.
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With the compost from local businesses going back into nearby land the health and vitality of the Island’s ecosystem is strengthened. It’s a simple concept but innovative in it’s approach– why wouldn’t we want to repurpose our local waste to help provide for a more plentiful future?

Already this year over 200 tons of food has been collected from Island businesses and local schools, including 6 tons alone just from the Ag Fair. All that waste yielded 145 yards of compost, of which 126 yards have been used for IGI programs like Island Grown Schools’ Community Garden, Orchard, and the regenerative fields at Island Grown Initiative in Oak Bluffs. Think about it. That’s over 200 tons of food that was not processed as garbage and was not lost to a landfill but put back into the land we love for the betterment of our soil, our produce, our animals and ourselves. It’s not rocket science but it is a smart way of doing business.

Food rescue efforts in action at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

So what can you do to be part of the solution?

Firstly be mindful of the food you purchase and try to use as much of it as possible. Our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs, so be realistic about what you can eat when you’re buying and preparing food.

Secondly compost! Build a compost bin in your yard or buy an enclosed composter. Use your compost for your garden, share with friends and family or donate it through the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse District. For $2 a bin, anyone can bring their 5 gallon counter compost to a local participating transfer station, and IGI will handle the rest. Click here for a list of those foods that are compostable and those that are not.

Thirdly, if you’re a business owner that is interested in implementing IGI’s composting collection service sign up here! Enrolled businesses include 7a, Artcliff Diner, Atria, Beach Road, Cronig’s, Kitchen Porch, Little House Cafe, Stop n Shop, Harbor View Hotel and dozens more. Happy composting!

Whole in One, the book we photographed for Ellie Krieger, available NOW!

I’m beyond excited to announce the release of the latest cookbook we’ve provided photography for–WHOLE IN ONE: Complete, Healthy Meals in a Single Pot, Sheet Pan, or Skillet. The book by acclaimed nutritionist Ellie Krieger, is one of my most exciting projects to date and working with Ellie was a dream come true! 

If you’re a health-conscious foodie you’ve likely heard of Ellie Krieger. Ellie is a world renowned nutritionist and New York Times bestselling cookbook author, plus she’s host and executive producer of the Public Television cooking series Ellie’s Real Good Food, and Food Network’s hit show Healthy Appetite. On top of that she’s also a James Beard Foundation media award winner, and a regular contributor to the Washington Post–needless to say she’s a dominant presence in the food world! I have followed Ellie for years and have watched her develop an honest, approachable brand, while remaining devoted to educating her fans on great food and good health–two things I hold in high regard. 

I have been a huge fan of Ellie’s astute approach to nutrition since viewing her show Healthy Appetite, and I’ve always hoped we’d have the opportunity to work together. When she selected me to collaborate on Whole in One I was beyond thrilled. The book marks Ellie’s seventh cookbook and my third, and for me the process has been unparalleled. Working with Ellie has truly been an honor. If you follow her work you know she is a consummate professional, who brings a deep passion and palpable energy to every project (and plate!) she takes on. 

We shot the the book in her New York City test kitchen last fall and I couldn’t be more excited with what we produced. Along with a very strong, professional team we worked tirelessly, sometimes capturing up to 15 shots a day. We visited a local prop house where we scoured through a seemingly endless supply of textiles, ceramics, surfaces and backdrops until we found the perfect design aesthetic for the book. 

With the help of our skillful food stylist Suzanne Lenzer and talented prop stylist Maeve Sheridan, and we poured over each dish, careful to capture the most mouthwatering shots, while maintaining a careful balance between our own creativity and the attainable nature of Ellie’s dishes that she’s come to be known for.  

With Whole in One, Ellie focuses on delicious, healthy meals that can be made in a single pot, sheet pan or skillet, ensuring a good meal with limited clean up, that can be easily integrated into your dinner routine. Our creative challenge was to showcase both the convenience of these singular meals along with the simple, yet dynamic and thoughtful ingredients at play. Whole in One is Ellie’s modern take on healthy cooking that’s intended to be approachable and inviting, and we worked hard to represent that visually in every shot. As chef, dietitian and trusted voice in the world of healthy cooking, people turn to Ellie for her expertise and I’m deeply fortunate she turned to me for mine. 

You can find the book on Amazon here and at your local booksellers. Enter for a chance to win a copy by following us on Instagram at @randibairdphoto.

WHOLE IN ONE

Complete, Healthy Meals in a Single Pot, Sheet Pan, or Skillet

By Ellie Krieger, with photography by Randi Baird

Hachette Books | Da Capo Lifelong Books

October 15, 2019 | $28 | 256 pages | 9780738285047

It’s strawberry season, a berry special time of year

Oh, the sweet taste of summer strawberries, is there anything better? Sinking our teeth into the first perfectly ripened farm fresh strawberry at peak season is something we look forward to year after year–and it never disappoints. Strawberries are Island Grown School’s Harvest of the Month for June and for good reason, they’re simply delicious and now is the ultimate time to indulge.

If you happen to be growing your own you’re probably as giddy with excitement as we are at the sight of seeing fresh strawberries pop up around town. On Martha’s Vineyard Morning Glory Farm (MGF) is the go to spot to satisfy our strawberry cravings, but we’re not the only ones fiending for them and they go quick. Arrive first thing in the morning to score some of their coveted bounty, they often sell out almost as fast as they can bring them in from the fields!

We asked MGF head farmer and CEO Simon Athearn to break down this year’s strawberry production for us and the numbers are staggering. “This year I estimate we have 24,000 linear feet of strawberries bearing fruit of seven different varieties, planted for sequencing ripening and all chosen for flavor! And an additional 10,000 linear feet growing on for next June harvest,” said Simon. He estimates they grow about 10,000 pints of strawberries during strawberry season, which runs from June 5th to July 10 or so, with heat speeding them up.

Not sure which ones to pick? While visiting MGF recently we scored some great advice from India, a MGF farmer who’s been busy picking this season’s strawberries. “There are three distinct flavors of strawberries… the pink ones are a bit tart, the red ones are sweet and the crimson very ripe ones are like wine.” So no matter your taste there’s a strawberry for you, and a million ways to enjoy them.

Summer strawberries are so beloved on Martha’s Vineyard that there’s two annual festivals devoted to the sweet berries each year. Both MGF and the West Tisbury Church will host their own Strawberry Festivals on Saturday June 22, meaning you can spend an entire afternoon indulging in the beloved fruit. We know we love them, but all of the excitement around these beautiful berries got us thinking, what didn’t we know about them?

Firstly, strawberries aren’t true berries, like blueberries or even grapes. Technically, a berry has its seeds on the inside. And, to be really technical, each seed on a strawberry is actually considered to be its own separate fruit. Imagine that? The average berry is embellished with approximately 200 seeds, making for a whole lot of fruit.

Secondly, strawberries are actually members of the rose family, and the fragrant aroma of a strawberry bush is an obvious indicator of such.  If you’ve ever tried to grow your own you might have found that they’re easy to grow but hard to grow well. They grow best on raised beds where they have room to spread. Strawberries are a perennial plant that will come back year after year. It may not bear fruit immediately, but once it does, it will remain productive for about five years.

Strawberries have international appeal. Belgium has a museum dedicated to strawberries where you can buy everything from strawberry jam to strawberry beer! Native Americans ate strawberries long before European settlers arrived and the ancient Romans thought strawberries had medicinal powers (they used them to treat everything from depression to fainting to fever, kidney stones, bad breath and sore throats). In France, strawberries are believed to be an aphrodisiac, strawberries are served to newlyweds at traditional wedding breakfasts in the form of a creamy sweet soup. Oh là là !

Here in America we eat an average of three-and-a-half pounds of fresh strawberries each per year. It’s closer to five pounds if you count frozen ones, and we’re a big fan of freezing them this time of year. Strawberries typically have a short growing season, so buy locally grown and freeze to help avoid fruit out of season that has been subject to heavy pesticide use and contributed to a large carbon footprint. Strawberries consistently rank at the top of the list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, making organic and locally grown ones that much sweeter!

If you buy them fresh and plan to keep them in the fridge for a few days, wait until before you eat them to clean them–rinsing them speeds up spoiling! If you’re freezing them choose berries that are dark red, firm and fully ripe. Wash and drain the fruit carefully, then remove the stems and caps. Dry berries on towels in a single layer and then freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Doing so will keep them from getting stuck together later on. Once they’re solid, place in freezer containers or bags. Try to remove as much air as possible by completely filling containers or pressing extra air out of bags before sealing to avoid freezer burn.

Freezing strawberries as soon as they are picked locks in the vitamins and minerals strawberries are known for, including vitamin C and K, folate, potassium, manganese, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols. Strawberries can be frozen for up to six months and make for tasty smoothies, milkshakes, muffins, jams, and sauces.

How will you indulge? Get inspired with these scrumptious strawberry recipes from some of our friends and favorite chefs and bask in the glory of strawberry season!

Balsamic Strawberries with Ricotta Cream by Ellie Krieger

Strawberry Chia Seed Jam by Gabrielle Chronister of Island Grown Schools

Gingery Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp with Brown Sugar-Pecan Topping  by Susie Middleton

A homage to herbs, May’s Harvest of the Month

Flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping and Martha’s Vineyard is getting busy–it must be spring! One of the ways I love to usher in the new season is by reintroducing fresh springtime herbs into my diet. The light herbs of spring add unmistakable flavor and beautiful fragrance, not to mention freshness and green to our lives!

Herbs are underrated, so I’m happy to be singing their praise and shouting them out as Island Grown Schools’ Harvest of the Month for May. Not only do they provide beautiful scents and scenery, but they lend themselves to delicious food and helpful medicine, while attracting pollinators and beneficial insects, like bees and butterflies. When it comes to cooking, herbs are often an afterthought, when I think they should be the cherry on the cake.

Fresh spring herbs boost flavor and nutrition, while providing aromatic splendor and a good-looking addition to our plates. Trying to cut down on salt? Looking for new ways to intensify the flavor of a sauce or dress up a salad? Look no further than fresh herbs.

I love greens and eating salads this time of year. I’ve started sprucing them up with fresh dill, chives and parsley–which bring natural, nonfat flavor that add a lot of taste and complexity. Mint is another springtime herb that delivers an extra dimension to dishes too. It’s clean, refreshing taste and cooling effect make it a welcomed ingredient to a number of sweet and spicy dishes, drinks, and of course salad. When I was traveling through the Middle East, it was common to see mint incorporated into salads and ingested after a meal as a palate cleanser and digestive. The flavor packed such a bright punch I’ve been incorporating it into my salads at home ever since!

(Grilled Whole Branzino, a sustainable fish, stuffed with garlic chives, oregano, parsley, thyme, dill wand wheels of lemon)

Herbs sure are tasty, but they’re also loaded with a wide range of health benefits as well. Herbs have powerful antioxidant properties–with oregano, dill, thyme, rosemary, and sage among the most potent–and they’ve been used for centuries to ward off disease. Herbs in general are rich in vitamins and minerals, and each herb offers its own healing power too. Sage can improve brain function and memory, peppermint has been linked to reducing nausea, and rosemary can help prevent allergies and nasal congestion. Embrace herbs in all their glory and your body will thank you!

Here’s some helpful tips on enjoying them to their fullest:

  • To store fresh herbs snip off the bottom of the stems and wrap a wet paper towel around them and cover with a plastic bag while refrigerating.
  • Add fresh herbs at the end of cooking for maximum flavor.
  • Grown your own to cut down on food cost and waste. Herbs like mint, oregano, chives, thyme, rosemary and sage are perennial and come back year after year.
  • Purchase starter plants from local nurseries, plant and water. Snip just enough for each recipe while you are cooking.
  • If you have an abundance of fresh herbs, chop them, fill an ice cube tray with water, wine, or stock,  and place herbs in the liquid. Store frozen ice cubes in a plastic bag and use in the winter for salad dressing.
  • Enhance your cocktails or mocktails with fresh herbs, and go beyond standard mojitos and juleps. Pair a botanical gin with fresh basil and cucumber, or add thyme to your lemonade. Sage, raspberry and lime make a great flavor combination, as well as cilantro and lime too (vodka optional)! Lavender and rosemary make gorgeous, floral additions to your glass, but handle them delicately so not to overpower your beverage.
  • Prepare your own homemade salad dressing by adding chopped fresh herbs like basil, parsley, dill, marjoram or oregano to a simple mix of oil, vinegar and lemon juice.

Bringing the farm, and the sea, to school

If you ever have the opportunity to eat at the West Tisbury school for lunch you won’t be disappointed. The impressive food program, led by rockstar chef Jenny Devivo is quite the operation. And Jenny, well she’s the cherry on top.

Since 2011, the head chef and cafeteria director for the up-Island regional school district (West Tisbury School and Chilmark School), has made it her mission to source local food for the schools’ daily lunches. Part of Jenny’s dedication is fostering real relationships with local food purveyors, farmers, and fishermen; which enables her to enrich the developing palettes of Martha’s Vineyard with her farm-to-cafeteria-table menus.

Each Friday Jenny’s approach is more fish-to-table with her local “Catch of the Day” program, the first of its kind in the country. Since 2016, the program has been providing students with locally sourced and sustainably harvested fish through Menemsha Fish House and Boston-based regional seafood purveyor Red’s BestOur friends at Island Grown Schools are highlighting seafood as their Harvest of the Month for April, so it’s only fitting we spotlight Jenny’s incredible work that brings the bounty of our local waters directly to our Island’s most selective eaters.

Getting kids to eat fish sounds like a challenge but Jenny’s got it down. “Fish Friday is as popular as pizza day,” she states proudly. Not only do the students take the bait, literally, but they’re educated on the sourcing too. Red’s Best uses traceability software with quick-response (QR) codes on the packaging that Jenny can scan and track. With that information she can tell the school community who caught their fish, off what boat it came, and how and where it was caught. That’s just about as local, sustainable and transparent as you can get.

The first time we visited the West Tisbury kitchen Jenny was serving Roasted Pollack with Lemon, Capers and Butter. Other Friday favorites include her popular fish chowder made with locally sourced sustainable white fish like hake, cod, and haddock. The day we visited she was serving Fish Cakes and a special tasting treat of Blue Moon Oysters, harvested by fisherman Scott Castro from Katama Bay. These fresh bivalve mollusks were baked in the oven and then served on the half shell with turmeric butter…yummm! She’s also been known to serve up Paella, Mediterranean Fish Stew, Fish Tacos, Teriyaki Salmon, Baked Fish with Butter Cracker Crumb, and a Fish Sandwich.

Any day of the week you can find Jenny and her assistant chefs Maura Martin and Nisa Webster buzzing around the West Tisbury School kitchen preparing fresh, local lunch for up to 550 children and staff each day. That reflects an almost 100% participation rate in the program, up from close to 40% when she first took over the kitchen several years ago.

It all started in 2011, when the up-Island regional school district voted to opt out of using the corporate school lunch provider they had contracted, and hired Jenny instead. She, along with many supporters including Noli Taylor of Island Grown Initiative (IGI), helped salvage materials from the old Edgartown school, including the prep table, the roll-down window, the steam tables, even the sinks. The greater Island community helped her renovate the kitchen in two months, and she got to work. The mission was to cook healthier food and sourcing from as many local resources as possible. It’s safe to say it was the right choice, and there’s no looking back. “It’s been hard but rewarding,” says Jenny.

Children are offered a hot lunch option daily (think herb roasted chicken or local pollock and haddock chowder) as well as a daily offering of salad bar and egg, chicken or tuna salad sandwich and fresh vegetables. The ever-changing salad bar is a lavish offering all its own, with fresh local produce, and scratched cooked, freshly prepared salads that as Jenny says “push the boundaries of flavor.” You might find an apple fennel salad or beet hummus, along with several local grain options, and teachers and students alike load up their plates.

So how does she do it? By 9am each morning she has the orders in for the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools, which allows her to eliminate food waste as much as possible, and know what she’s up against for the day. Any food not consumed is either reused the following day or composted by IGI along with the help of the students, and it’s something they take seriously. “I’ll see kids fish things out of the garbage that should have been composted or call each other out for not doing it properly.” Clearly her methods are working.

Jenny prides herself on making approachable food that inspires the students to try new things, while setting limits on selections to encourage them to venture outside of their comfort zone. “If we eliminate 17 choices for lunch, the cost goes down, and it allows us to introduce the kids to new flavors.” Of course living on an island with access to fresh local food helps, and she readily takes advantage of it. In addition to locally caught seafood, Jenny is able to source meat and produce from Beetlebung Farm, The Good Farm, The Grey Barn, Morning Glory Farm, Thimble Farm, Cleveland Farm and Whippoorwill, and she genuinely appreciates everyone’s contributions to her kitchen.

According to Jenny it’s a community program that encourages participation, and sharing. She’s come to see how it has helped kids to take pride in the presentation of their food, and to know where it comes from. “When we’re in here cooking all day and they can smell it in the halls, it’s a sensory experience. They already feel connected to it, and it boosts enrollment.” And the kids aren’t only eating it, they’re cooking it too. “We have kids that ask to help us prepare food and we bring them back there and put them to work.”

Jenny’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. It’s obvious that the students and faculty love her and the rest of the country is taking note too. These days when she’s not in the kitchen she travels throughout New England consulting other schools on how to implement similar programs. “It’s all about getting the kids to eat real food… The options are endless when it comes to feeding kids.”