Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Kingdom of Water And Lettuce, Meet Your Farmer: Coastal Plains Produce

Coastal Plains Produce is located in Grifton, NC, a small town outside of dirt roadGreenville, NC—serious farm country. I drove down to see Jedd Koehn’s operation and found his greenhouse buried deep in the country down a dirt road, off a dirt road. The greenhouse appeared amongst the pine trees and sandy soil with Jedd and his son Tanner waiting outside to wave me down. Stepping through the door of the greenhouse, I did not expect what I  was about to walk into. I had seen hydroponic lettuce in its final stage, beautiful and crisp in the clamshells that Koehn uses to transport them, but I was not able to fully understand what hydroponic meant until I saw the whole whole greenhouseoperation. A hydroponic growing system means that it is grown entirely in water. The seeds are started in seed trays and then transplanted into a floating tray and placed in a pool of water—otherwise known as a deep hydroponic lettucewater system. Nutrients are added every few weeks and the water is constantly aerated to ensure plant health and stimulate growth. Koehn’s greenhouse is incredible: it is the size of three greenhouses, it is completely full of greens in all different stages and equipped with grow lights, fans, heaters, a water aerator, etc. He grows over 20 different varieties of lettuce and greens including watercress, arugula, braising greens, and many different kinds of lettuce. He just started growing microgreens at the request of a local chef and is slowly starting to expand to other kinds of greens. This is Koehn’s third year as Coastal Plains Produce but he has been around farming his whole life.









Koehn grew up on a 1200-acre organic farm in Kansas that was started by his grandfather. He worked in the fields as a kid and became accustomed to the lifestyle. His grandfather also started a grain mill called Heartland Mills. Before delving into hydroponics, Koehn and a friend started an aquaponics operation, which includes fish in the process. The idea of aquaponics is that the fish provide the nutrients needed for the lettuce to grow, creating a system with very few additives. They built their aquaponics system completely by themselves using an old greenhouse but ran into a lot of problems with scale—their system was too small to make enough money to keep it going. With an aquaponics system they found it difficult to regulate bacteria; Koehn now uses hydrogen peroxide in the water sometimes to kill any bacteria but could not have done so with an aquaponics system. Taking everything he learned from this operation and applying it to his own space, he started Coastal Plains Produce in November of 2013.

lettuce mix

He now works with local restaurants and distributors, and sells at farmers markets from Grifton to Durham and is continuing to learn and perfect his system. He has grow lights throughout the greenhouse that he uses for the seedlings he starts in trays and has to use on all the lettuce during the winter when there is not enough sunlight. Throughout the summer he uses a shade cloth to keep the temperature down and to keep the sun from burning the lettuce. Lettuce only needs about 10 hours of sunlight and cannot grow in very hot or very cold conditions, and he has found a way to accommodate to these restrictions and can now grow lettuce year-round.  Koehn does all of this work with just three part time workers and sells about 1,000 pounds of produce a week. I asked him what his favorite part of farming is and he responded by saying: “Walking into a restaurant and seeing my lettuce on a table. Knowing that we beat the bugs and the weather.” For him, farming is extremely satisfying work and the lifestyle is wonderful; he can go home for lunch and he brings his son to work with him most days. It is easy to see how much he enjoys his work by the way he talks about and handles his lettuce and his greenhouse. In a few years Tanner will be working alongside his father and learning the trade.


jedd and tanner








Their favorite way to eat their lettuce (and they eat a lot of lettuce, as you can imagine) is to just have a simple garden salad with ranch dressing. The lettuce is so flavorful that it doesn’t need much–it cannot be compared to iceberg lettuce or any lettuce you might find in a regular grocery store. This lettuce is crisp, fresh, and full of flavor, and its shelf life is twice as long with the root ball still attached! Not only can you find Coastal Plain’s Produce through Papa Spud’s and many local farmers markets, you can visit some gourmet restaurants in Eastern North Carolina such as The Chef and the Farmer and The Boiler Room Oyster Bar both in Kinston, NC. So treat yourself with some of the best lettuce you’ll have the pleasure of tasting and keep in mind the farmer whose days are spent with your salad.


Seeking An Earth Day Lifestyle

Earth Day summons ideas of planting trees, tie-dye and hula hooping, music outside, and sunshine. It begs for bare feet and green grass for one day but does not often extend much past the celebrations. But Earth Day has an amazing history, so why not use Earth Day to remind us of the incredible world we live in and take steps to protect it? The fact that you’re reading this means that you already buy or are interested in buying local food, an incredibly huge step in protecting the environment. So when that defensive guilt kicks in about how hard it is to live sustainably, let go, you’ve already started! I’m not asking you to go completely waste-free or to start washing your clothes in your bathtub, just take a minute on Earth Day to step outside and enjoy the lush greenery that has finally returned.

The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970 when Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson earth dayorganized an environmental teach-in after an extremely destructive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. As politically aware and active as the ‘60s were, there was very little conversation about the environment; pollution and gas-guzzling were considered the norm, a sign of progress. Rachel Carson’s release of Silent Spring in 1962 slowly started the conversation and Nelson’s teach-in jumped onto that momentum and propelled it forward. He worked across party-lines, class-lines, and managed to unite people of all walks of life in a drive to protect the environment. On the very first Earth Day 20 million people took to the streets in protests and demonstrations to fight for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly economy. It then lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts. Today there are events and festivals organized around Earth Day to bring people together and raise awareness about environmental issues, children go on field trips to plant trees, and more events have sprung up involving farmers and farming communities.

So, I have compiled a simple list of things you can do to live more sustainably. These are just a few ideas, take them and make them yours, no one formula is going to work for everyone.

  1. Shop Local—from local food to drink to clothing to your local hardware store, when you buy local products from a small local business you are positively impacting the environment. Your products did not have to travel as far to get to you and you are investing in a system that can greatly change the way we interact with each other and with consumer goods.
  2. Buy bulk items when you can—Buying in bulk cuts down on both packaging and cost. You can even bring your own container to put whatever you’re buying in bulk into so you don’t have to waste a plastic bag.
  3. Carry a reusable water bottle and travel mug, reusable shopping bags, and Tupperware in your car—buying water bottles is one of the most wasteful things you can do; bring a water bottle with you to refill and that will make a huge difference. Also if you know you are going out to eat you can bring your own Tupperware to put leftovers into so as to not use plastic or Styrofoam.
  4. Unplug electronics from the wall when you’re not using them—When you are done charging your laptop or your phone, unplug the charger from the wall. Even if the charger is not attached to an electronic, it is still using electricity when plugged in.
  5. Observe an eco-sabbath—This idea is from Colin Beavan, or No Impact Man, who took a year to learn how to live without creating any waste. He recommends to take a day once a week and use no electronics, instead go outside, read a book, or volunteer somewhere!
  6. Carpool, walk, bike, scooter, rollerblade—there are always innovative ways to get places; if you don’t have to drive, don’t!
  7. Mange your thermostat—keep your house at a reasonable temperature, open your windows when you can, put on a sweatshirt before you turn up the heat, etc.
  8. Educate yourself—A huge part of living more sustainably is being aware of the impact we are having on the earth and those around us. There are plenty of books, documentaries, clubs, and websites about all of the different aspects of the many environmental issues we are facing today.
  9. Plant a garden—Any kind of garden, vegetables, flowers, trees, herbs, bushes, it doesn’t matter! Supporting any kind of life is good for the environment and good for you.
  10. Get a rain barrel—You will inevitably have to water something at some time, so get a rain barrel to catch rainwater instead of using water from the sink!

earth day 2

The most important things to remember are to be creative and to be patient with yourself. Living more sustainably is not going to be an easy, overnight change – it’s going to be a process full of baby steps. It’s important to do one thing at a time and do it in a way that works for you and fits your personality. It’s not meant to cage you in, it’s about creating a lifestyle. Pick one of these things and figure out how to make it work for you, figure out how to do it well, and then move onto another. Pretty soon the momentum will build and you will find yourself gravitating toward a more holistic and sustainable mindset.

-Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
-Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things by Michael Braungart
-No Impact Man—Documentary

Celebrating Asparagus

The season of asparagus has descended upon the Piedmont, a time, for some, that is highly anticipated. Europeans have festivals celebrating the arrival of asparagus; in the weeks before its appearance you can practically hear all the menus being rewritten to incorporate the cherished vegetable. The first recipes for asparagus date back to 2,500 years ago “written in ancient Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics” and the passion continued with the Caesars who sent out ships to search for the best asparagus(Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle). When you eat asparagus lovingly and in season you will be joining in with royalty. But all of this asparagus-frenzy is not unfounded, it is a truly remarkable vegetable. Planting asparagus is hard work, but once planted an asparagus patch can produce for twenty to thirty years. After it is planted it takes three years before it can be harvested and then the first year of harvest can only last for two weeks. Asparagus needs an adequate amount of dormancy in the warmer months in order to store enough starch underground so that it can produce the next year. Once the patch is mature it can still only be harvested for about eight weeks before it must be allowed grow past it’s crown stage and into the stage that resembles a smaller, feathery Christmas tree—the female plants even produce bright red berries.


For most of my asparagus information I turned to Barbara Kingsolver, an asparagus aficionado. She is so infatuated with the plant that she has dug it into the yards of almost everywhere she has lived, including rental homes where she would never see it come to fruition. She has a whole chapter entitled ‘Waiting For Asparagus’ in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and joins in with other local food writers and chefs in using asparagus as the spearhead for eating seasonally and locally. “[Asparagus is] best eaten the day it is cut, period…Waiting for the quality experience seems to be the constitutional article that has slipped from American food custom. If we mean to reclaim it, asparagus seems like a place to start” (Kingsolver, 32). If we are to follow in the footsteps of Kingsolver—fantastic footsteps to follow in, I would argue—we would eat asparagus like mad for the eight weeks we can grow it and not touch it again until it peaks its grey-green head through the familiar soil the next year. What better way is there to stay in touch with the seasons than eating what they offer as they offer it?

asparagus1So with all of my research and writing about the amazing flavor of freshly harvested asparagus I couldn’t resist a trip to the farmers market for fresh asparagus. I arrived and found beautiful, alluring bunches of green and purple asparagus everywhere so I quickly chose one and ran from my urge to continue buying produce. I wanted to find a different way to cook asparagus that I had never heard of before and discovered this recipe for Lemon Dijon Crusted Asparagus Fries, which turned out quite deliciously.

Asparagus Fries

  • asparagusprep21 bunch of asparagus, washed, ends trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

Lemon Dijon Aioli

  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • salt & pepper

Asparagus Fries

  1. asparagus fries oven2Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with baking spray.
  2. Combine egg, dijon and lemon juice in a shallow bowl, whisk together.
  3. Combine breadcrumbs, lemon zest, red pepper and salt & pepper in a dish and mix together.
  4. Coat asparagus first in egg mixture and then in breadcrumb mixture. Line up on baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes until breadcrumbs have turned golden brown and asparagus still has some “bite” left to it.
  6. Serve warm out of the oven.

Lemon Dijon Aioli

  1. While asparagus bake, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together.

asparagus fries2

You have eight weeks to enjoy the crisp, sweet presence of asparagus. Relish it while its here and, if you’re feeling daring, take after Barbara Kingsolver and experience the long wait to celebrate its majestic return.

The Local Catch: Haag and Sons

Making a living off of fishing seems to be an occupation of the past, of quaint island towns disconnected from the bustle and fast-paced lifestyle of the modern economy. Fortunately there are still a few fisheries out there held fast by the allure of the ocean and its ecology. As fish farming continues to grow at an unsettling pace, it is becoming increasingly important to find and support a good source of local, wild-caught fish. While fish farming can absolutely be sustainable and an incredible part of a diverse system (like aquaculture), it is more often than not comparable to the large-scale monoculture approach to agriculture we find as the main source of our country’s food. The norm for farming fish is very harmful to the environment in several ways: “1. Removes unsustainable quantities of water from rivers or ground sources. 2. Returns contaminated water to local water bodies. 3. Employs hormones, antibiotics and aquatic biocides that damage local ecosystems and have negative effects on public health. 4. Raises fish on pelleted feed made with unsustainable ingredients, such as GMO soybeans and the waste products of factory-farmed livestock. 5. Fails tohaagandsons2 prevent the escape of farmed fish into nearby waterways, where they may behave as invasive species and spread disease.” While the fear of eating wild-caught fish from a contaminated body of water is a valid one, it only emphasizes the importance of knowledgeable and passionate fisheries. Fish Watch is the place to go for information on sustainable seafood in the US, they are “maintained by NOAA Fisheries, the leading science authority for managing the nation’s marine fisheries.” Here you can find seafood news, information about every type of species of seafood, facts about sustainable fisheries and farmed seafood, etc.

haagandsons8Haag and Sons, our local seafood supplier, is located in Oak Island, NC. John Haag has been in the business for 30 years and his sons have been working haagandsons4with him for over sixteen. They have about thirty 50-foot hook-and-line boats that go out for 2-6 days at a time as well as a team of longer boats that go out for the same amount of time. I called Haag and Sons in hopes of hearing a little bit about their practices and story and got to talk to John, who enthusiastically launched into a conversation about the harsh winter and what the warmth is bringing for them. They’ve recently been having a lot of trouble with regulations that are trying to protect against overfishing but are making work for fisheries more difficult and regulating over 100 different species of fish. This past winter also made fishing difficult because of how harsh it has been, but things are starting haagandsons1to look up! We are entering into the best time for fishing (April and May) because of the warm and cold water mixing together. When the cold water closer to the shore mixes with the warmer water from deeper out in the ocean algal blooms and multicellular organisms begin to grow, which jumpstarts the food chain and we have natural bait. From here we just insert ourselves into the food chain and tap into haagandsons3what Haag called the last truly wild food source. “Fish have a healthy, wholesome diet, which is why they’re so good for us,” Haag explained, fish eat other fish or vegetation and as long as they’re in uncontaminated water, they are extremely nutritious. As everything warms up we will begin to see more hook-and-line species such as Snapper and Grouper. On May 1 Grouper will be open to catch again, we will also begin to see more Vermillion Snapper, Sheepshead, Jack and Yellowfin Tuna.


I was able to stop by Haag and Sons this past weekend when I was at the beach. They were open both Saturday and Sunday and were incredibly busy, I was only able to speak to John Haag for a short amount of time, but I was able to look around and take some pictures! The shop was bustling with customers, some seemed like regulars they knew by name. It was not only full of seafood but spices, sauces, cornbread mix, local eggs, and the integral southern staple—key lime pie. Seafood from Haag and Sons is not only caught, handled, cut, and sold with care, but it is also some of the freshest seafood you can find.

haagandsons6 haagandsons7









For more information about them check out their website and this awesome article from Our State Magazine.