We grow all of our vegetables at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy Wisconsin. MFAI is certified organic, but QuintaMKE is not.
We follow all certified organic methods so that MFAI can maintain it certification. We do not use chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. We often go beyond organic standards, for example by choosing not to use single-use plastic mulch. However we can not legally advertise as organic.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a great way to buy local food directly from a farmer. Think of it as the original meal-kit for home delivery.
You purchase a “share” and become a farm “member.” The farm delivers a box of vegetables regularly throughout the growing season.
Quinta CSA members receive 20 boxes of produce that we grow at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. You get things like Lettuce, Carrots, Beets, Tomatoes, Spinach, Basil, Onions, and other things that come and go with the Wisconsin growing season. The cost for our CSA includes front-door delivery for people in East Troy, Waukesha and Milwaukee (if you're not in those area's just ask). Deliveries run June - October.
It’s an Old Wives’ tale that tomato seeds are bitter and must be removed before cooking a sauce or a stew. Actually the seeds are pretty flavorless, while the jelly surrounding the seeds is incredibly flavorful and contains high levels of glutamate.
Glutamate is a naturally occuring amino acid, found in all protein-containing foods such as cheese, milk, mushrooms, meat, fish, and many vegetables. This amino acid is one of the most abundant and important components of proteins. Glutamate plays an important role during brain development and helps with learning and memory. Glutamate is also produced by the human body and is vital for metabolism.
Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, Umami
For human beings, taste is an indispensible survival skill. Detecting each of the five basic tastes can signal something different. For example the sweetness of sugar can signal an energy source, while a sour taste can signal danger of rotting food. Umami serves as a signal to the body that we have consumed protein, and people taste umami through receptors that respond to glutamates.
Recent studies have revealed the presence of umami receptors not only on the tongue, but also in the stomach. When food enters the stomach, and receptors detect an umami substance (glutamate), the umami information is conveyed to the brain. The brain in turn transmits a message to the stomach that triggers the digestion and absorption of protein. Thus umami is closely involved in protein digestion and absorption, giving it a vital role in our bodies.
Umami also helps to reduce salt content in cooking. Numerous studies and statistics link excessive salt intake to many different lifestyle diseases.
Since the word “umami” is originally Japanese and the Japanese expressions “to have umami” can mean “deliciousness,” “umami” is often confused with “deliciousness.”
Some chefs add tomato leaves to sauce to enhance flavor. While cooking sauce a lot of the aroma compounds from the flesh of a tomato are concentrated down into flavor. Adding fresh tomato leaves after cooking gives back some of that aroma. For best results, tear leaves into small pieces and use a cheesecloth or a coffee filter so you can remove leaves after cooking.
Do you have to peel your vegetables? The simple answer is, No.
Or more specifically, it’s up to you.
A lot of recipes call for removing the skin of produce, and really it has become a natural step in cooking. The two traditional reasons why we peel our vegetables are bitter taste and harmful residues (pesticides and herbicides). However, we work hard to avoid both.
First of all, QuintaMKE does not use chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. In fact our land owner, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, is certified organic. Pesticides that end up on the skin of fruits and vegetables don’t belong in our food. And actually, peeling this kind of produce doesn’t make it safe, because some pesticides are designed to be absorbed through the skin.
With naturally grown produce you don’t need to peel and you don’t want to, because the skins contain the highest concentration of nutrients. In carrots, Vitamin C and niacin are most concentrated in the peel.
Next, the bitterness. We generally believe that a bitter vegetable is a bitter vegetable. And more often than not, a vegetable is bitter because the farmer chose a variety to withstand shipping and handling. We choose varieties based on flavor, not shippability. Our carrots are surprisingly sweet and our baby beets have a tender skin.
For things like carrots and beets that are grown in the dirt, we recommend spraying thoroughly or even scrubbing with a brush (there are even brushes made specifically for vegetables). And we recommend tasting and testing your veggies before slicing and dicing. After that, it’s up to you whether or not to peel.
"Wow, these taste like candy." My absolute favorite way to interact with farmers market customers is to offer a sample cherry tomato. Nine out of ten people take the sample, and at least eight out of ten walk three feet, then turn around and say something like, “that’s the best tomato I’ve ever had,” or “I don’t even like tomatoes, but that was delicious.”
QuintaMKE tomatoes are not like grocery store tomatoes. Those tomatoes are picked green and ripened with ethylene gas while they’re in the back of a truck being shipped across the country. In contrast we harvest tomatoes every 2-3 days and never sell a tomato that is older than 7 days. Because we value fresh food, we choose our varieties based on flavor, not shippability.
Growing tomatoes is a very labor intensive task. We are not certified organic, however our landlord, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute is. This means that we must follow all of the same organic practices as certified organic farms, but we cannot legally advertise as organic.
We grow our tomatoes in the soil, with lots and lots of finished organic compost. We trellis and trim our tomatoes to keep them healthy and happy. Tomato plants are susceptible to a lot of soil borne diseases and fungi, so good hygiene is key. We prune our plants and trim leaves for good air circulation every week. While we prune, we pick off pests like horned worms that like to take single bites out of otherwise beautiful tomatoes. The large amount of attention given to our tomato plants keeps us ahead of the many problems, and pays off in high yield per plant. After all, growing lots of food in as little a space as possible, is a great way to reduce our impact on the Earth.
There’s about a billion ways to cook tomatoes; salsa, sauce, pizza, salad, soup, galette, ratatouille, bruschetta, sofrito, satarasch, caponata, panzanella. It seems like every different culture has a different go-to tomato base. When faced with more tomatoes than you think you can handle, cook something and freeze it (or just wash and freeze whole tomatoes), you’ll be glad you did this winter.
Or you could simply eat ‘em. Eat ‘em like an apple, eat ‘em like a plum, eat ‘em like a cherry.
Quinta grows a special kind of lettuce that grows like a head lettuce, but cuts like a leaf lettuce. This let’s us get the finished product to you without plastic packaging, and a whole lot less work.
When we first started growing, lettuce was a challenge. Chefs and customers demand small or baby leaf lettuce that mixes up nice into a salad. To do this you’d have to grow long rows of closely spaced tiny lettuce plants, like planting a row of grass. Then, because you don’t want chemical herbicides in your food, you’d have to weed those long rows of tiny plants with special cultivating tools. And even with the best equipment, it’s impossible to get 100% of the weeds.
Let’s say all goes well and you have a healthy row of thousands and thousands of tiny lettuce leaves. You go along and cut the leaves with a special harvester, wash the leaves in big tubs, pick out all the leftover weeds, and dry the leaves on huge drying racks so that they don’t go soggy. Now you’ve got to get it to the customer. And what’s the easiest, cheapest, most convenient way to get thousands of tiny leaves packaged and sent to someone's home? Plastic bags and plastic containers. And in case you were wondering, those plastic salad containers are not recyclable. Yes that’s right, those huge shelves of lettuce stacked up at the grocery store are all packaged in single-use plastic containers.
Recycling makes us all feel good. Maybe it makes us feel like we’re doing our part to reduce the waste and plastic that ends up in our landfills and oceans. But the reality is that recycling is an industry, and not everything that is “technically recyclable” is “profitable or efficient to recycle.” Even things that say “recyclable” on the bottom, are not getting recycled. That means that most of the plastic bags and plastic salad containers that you take home from the grocery store will end up in a landfill or worse.
Faced with this reality and all the hard work that goes into growing herbicide-free leaf lettuce, we did not market this kind of stuff until we found a special variety that we call Sweet Lettuce. It is just that, sweet, but it has other qualities that make it special too. The leaves of Sweet Lettuce grow small and are all connected at the bottom of the core. It is easier to grow, weed, harvest, and wash. Like we said earlier, our Sweet Lettuce grows like a head lettuce but cuts like a leaf lettuce. That means the stem is the packaging.
When you get Sweet Lettuce home, simply turn it over and cut off the stem and core (like cutting the bottom of a bouquet of flowers). The leaves should fall loose and be ready for a salad just like that! Oh, but don’t forget the vinaigrette and maybe some cherry tomatoes.
To be sure about what is recyclable, you should check your local curbside recycling guide. Here’s a link to Milwaukee’s Curbside Recycling Guide.