Farm to Table: Dining at G-Zen and The Stand in Connecticut Redefines Eating Local

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Meg McIntire

“This used to be a peace sign at one point,” Mark Shadle says, gesturing to a large circle of tangled wildflowers in the middle of the backyard where there are just enough orange geraniums visible to make a faint outline of a peace symbol.

“But we’ve been letting nature take its course for a little while now,” he continues, pointing out the honey bees diligently canvassing some of the many varieties of plants now present in this former peace patch.

Even without a discernible, planted peace symbol, it is obvious that being at peace with nature is in abundance at the home of Mark and Ami Shadle, chef/owners of award-winning vegan G-Zen restaurant and bio diesel-fueled Gmonkey food truck. 

The couple has worked incredibly hard to turn a 270-year-old historic farm in Durham, Conn., into a fully sustainable and eco-friendly farm and home. Despite the fact that the land had not been tended to for 30 years prior to when Mark and Ami came into possession of it, they were able to transform it into viable farmland by planting a variety of different vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Now, they are more than willing to share the fruits (and veggies) of their labor by using everything they grow on the farm as ingredients for dishes served at G-Zen restaurant and Gmonkey.

During a late-summer visit, the farm’s greenhouse was sheltering rows upon rows of arugula, kale, bok choy, tomatoes and more.

Mark explained how the greenhouse uses an underground irrigation system that waters the plants twice a day and prevents dirt from reaching the leaves, which makes it easier to clean the vegetables when they are harvested.

Directly next to the greenhouse sits another important cog in the Shadle Farm ecosystem—beehives. The farm hosts a few natural bee colonies, which are used primarily to help pollinate plants on the property, including the greenhouse tomatoes, which Mark says have improved in health since the addition of bees to the land.

Typically, the Shadles are able to harvest at least two cuttings from the greenhouse during the fall season before the plants go to seed for the winter, but those two harvests provide a bounty of fresh produce for Mark and Ami to bring back to the restaurant, in a true “farm to table” system. What makes the system come full circle, however, is the fact that the leftovers end up coming back to where they started.

Shadle explains that biodegradable waste comes back from the restaurant’s bins and goes straight to the compost pile, which creates a very nutrient-dense soil for the growing beds. Mark and Ami also serve their food from the Gmonkey food truck on biodegradable, vegetable-based plates, napkin and utensils and implement recycling and composting of kitchen food scraps, which are then brought back to their home base.

Eventually, Mark would also like to be able to heat the farmhouse by using a compost-centric system that would rely on biodegradable ingredients and woodchips —one of the many plans he has in the works.

“I want to set an example for people,” he explained. “I’d like to show them it’s actually easy to do these projects and leave a smaller footprint.”

The solar panels, which unassumingly blanket the roof of the farmhouse, are one excellent example.

About five years ago, Mark and Ami received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that covered 75 percent of the solar panels that now provide power for quite literally everything at the farm. Their most recent electric bill actually had the electric company owing them money. One of the most impressive parts of Shadle Farm, however, is the Gmonkey food truck, which uses the property as its headquarters when not in use seasonally at food festivals or catering events.

This sustainable, all-vegan mobile food truck was custom built by Mark and Ami. It runs on solar power and bio diesel veggie grease, making national televised news on NBC, FOX and CBS in less than a year from opening, and resulting in the Best New Mobile Truck Business award in 2013.

The couple also has another plan in the works—a second sustainable farm located in Culebra, Puerto Rico. There, they intend to grow a wide variety of tropical fruits and vegetables that they’re unable to produce in Connecticut, including coconuts, avocados, papaya, mango, lemon, starfruit and breadfruit.

The Shadles, who seem to be filled with boundless energy and infinite amounts of eco-friendly project ideas, are truly an inspiration and an excellent reminder that we all have the ability to leave a smaller footprint on this planet.

 

 

The Stand Juice Company

By Nicole Rivard

Carissa and Mike Hvizdo, owners of the Stand Juice Company, a vegan juice bar and eatery in Connecticut, were practicing farm to table long before it was “cool” to do so. “It’s always been our approach because good food happens seasonally, and it grows in local farms and gardens,” said Carissa, who has been a vegetarian for 18 years. Ami Shadle tends to her vegetables in the greenhouse at her farm in Durham, Conn.

Since the Hvizdos opened their first location on Wall Street in Norwalk in 2006—they opened a second in Fairfield in 2011 and moved from Wall Street to a bigger space in South Norwalk this summer — the husband and wife team have been sourcing as much produce and fruit as they can locally in Connecticut and other parts of New England.

But in the fall of 2013, they took farm to table to a whole new level—they put their Fairfield County, Conn., home on the market and started searching for a place to start their own farm. They found it in the village of East Haddam, Conn., where they purchased and moved to Hideaway Farm. “It was a huge change for us, we hadn’t even mowed our own lawn for years,” Carissa said with a laugh.

“We had a desire to get our hands in the soil, slow down a bit and spend more of our time outdoors. We also always dreamed of expanding our pack of rescue dogs to include farm animals.”

They are already successfully growing crops for their menu of juices, smoothies, sandwiches and salads, as well as other restaurants around the state thanks to the guidance of friend Farah Masani, owner of Farah’s Farm in Wilton, Conn., and so many customers and friends who made donations.

Currently, they have three acres in production and will add more next year. Economically it makes the most sense for them to focus on boutique vegetables such as herbs, peppers and tomatoes, Carissa said.

“I have amazing okra,” she added. “The Whelk and Le Farm in Westport, Conn., are all using my okra. We are also growing green beans and Swiss chard for a couple of restaurants. Pumpkins, potatoes and winter squash are also doing really well. The jams and raspberries that we are using in our store are all from our own farm. All of the herbs are also from our own farm. “These things don’t take up a lot of space and are doing really well in our soil. We are using this no dig farming technique, so we aren’t killing the soil. We are adding compost on top of the soil—which is another reason for rescuing farm animals, so we can use their waste.”

So far the duo has rescued five goats, a cow, two barn kittens and a flock of very happy chickens, all for love…and compost. 

“The goats have cleared land for us so it’s made it possible for us to expand pasture and even grow fields,” Carissa said. “We let them dictate when they are going to ‘work.’ Goats graze and that’s what we let them do. It’s really a little balanced ecosystem.”

While Carissa admits it will be hard to source from their own farm throughout the winter since they do not have greenhouses yet, in the fall she said that she planned to keep planting beets, carrots, potatoes, winter squash and greens until frost and hoped to be able to harvest in December.

“We are quite blessed to have so many other farms/ farmers that have greenhouses…so we will still rely heavily on them for the next couple winters,” Carissa said. “The winters in New England are a challenging time for us, however, we ramp up soup production and swap out cucumbers for cabbages and root veggies during the winter. This challenge actually improves the quality and healthfulness of our products while keeping in line with our local mission and the Ayurvedic beliefs that we should consume more ‘warming foods’ (cabbage, ginger, garlic, turmeric, beets) in the winter, opposing the ‘cooling foods’ of the summer (melons, cucumbers).”

Some of the local farms the Stand sources from are Maple Leaf Farm in Canterbury, Conn., which provides maple syrup, the primary sweetener for everything at the Stand, and Sport Hill Farm in Easton, Conn.

“I just got 500 pounds of tomatoes in the last couple days from Sport Hill,” Carissa said back in September. “I’ll probably get another 1,000 pounds next week to make salsas and jams and simmer sauces. We can in house and use it all, so we aren’t having to buy canned tomatoes to make a chili in the colder months.”

Things like almonds, avocados, mangoes and bananas aren’t sourced locally, but the Hvizdos do their best to use domestic sources. They plan on expanding the Norwalk menu to offer more salads and seasonal fare, but will keep definitely keep favorites like the curry collard wrap with curry almond pate, red peppers and sprouts and the tempeh reuben, a combo of bbq tempeh, sauerkraut, mustard, nayonaise, on toasted organic whole grain bread and olive oil. A popular salad features avocado and tomato, on a bed of greens topped with almond hummus and olive and caper tapenade.

THE MAKING OF THE STAND

The Stand evolved from Mike and Carissa making juice and meals for Mike’s mom who was undergoing chemotherapy, and Mike’s grandmother, who has had a lifelong love affair with sweets. Back in 2005 both were very sick and really responded well to green juice and vegan meals. They developed a detox cleanse juice program based on Mike’s education at Hippocrates Health Institute, put some flyers around town advertising it, and were completely overwhelmed with demand within six months. Thus they set out to find a commercial kitchen to open the Stand Juice Company.

They feel lucky to now be able to have their own farm to fulfill their farm to table mission.

“Hideaway Farm is a place that overall has been gentle to us as new farmers and our new village of East Haddam has been very kind in its embrace,” Carissa said. “We feel incredibly blessed for this opportunity.”