One major short fall in the American food economy is waste. Farmers and agronomists have spent many years trying to boost yields as a means to wean national and international hunger. This goal has been met with general success as farms are more productive now than ever. Since the 1950’s the average American farm has doubled in size, and domestic food supply has followed suit. Currently there are 20% more calories coming from national farm operations than the at beginning of the Atomic Age. Many of these calories are now cheaper than they ever have been. However, under these numbers there are quite a few hidden costs that have bubbled to the surface, called externalities. These costs are not reflected in the direct price of food, but present problems elsewhere in a wider cultural perspective. One such externality of rising food production is an unprecedented amount of wasted calories. Food waste can occur at a few different levels: In the fields, during harvest, on farm storage, unsold food during retail, and consumer waste. Allow us, for the sake of brevity to focus on one small component of food waste: during harvest.
Crop harvesting is a business decision for many farmers; selecting what crops to picked is often determined by market demand and prices. Demand usually centers around a specified range of crops, and good prices are often earned through quality. To ensure that they cover their costs, farmers selectively harvest those crops that look best, and pick those parts of the plant that are best suited to match established consumer preferences. The ensuing loss from what is left behind amounts to about 7% of national yields, or 6 billion pounds of food per year; and remember, this is only one stage in the process of food loss. The total volume that is grown and uneaten adds up to somewhere around 40% of food produced per year, or roughly 20 pounds per person every month. So, it would seem that it is not necessarily a problem of yield that causes hunger, but one of use inefficiency.
In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of farmer’s markets around the country, places where people can interact directly with the growers to gain deeper insight as to how to use a wider diversity of crops. One such crop that has benefitted from this relationship is the Garlic Scape. Garlic scapes are the flowering shoots that emerge from primarily hardneck Garlic varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon). It is a natural process of farming to harvest these shoots early on so that the plant can direct more energy towards developing a larger bulb. Traditionally the scapes have been discarded post harvest due to nonexistent demand. However, as the dialogue between farmer and shopper got more face time, people began to learn more about this part of the plant and its culinary value. Now armed with more information, consumers have come to value this hyper seasonal crop. The subsequent demand for garlic scapes has spread beyond farmers market, and now proliferates in the produce aisle of larger grocery stores. It is a development that benefits both farmers and households alike: farmers can make money from what was once considered waste, and chefs can have a new flavor to add to their meals. A market development, such as the newfound demand for garlic scapes, allows farmers to get more out of their fields by using more than one part of a crop. It is very important that we strive for efficient use of farm resources since this is an industry that demands 80% of fresh water consumption and accounts for 50% of land use
Garlic scapes are truely a fantastic crop. There is no waste, as the entire scape can be used, which makes for easy prep and cleanup. The flavor can be best described as milder and sweeter than pungent garlic bulbs, which pairs well with light early summer meals on a hot day. It is rather versatile and can be prepared in a number of ways, and added to most any dish that requires garlic. Scapes can be eaten raw, stir fried, steamed or sauteed in with produce like zucchini, summer suqash, spinach or chard. And, of course, it is great with bacon!
Below are a few recipes that demonstrate ways to incorporate garlic scapes into your cooking. They aren’t anything complicated; I think I spend 30 minutes maximum to prepare all three dishes. The first is a simple vinagarette dressing; and the second, a basic squash and scape stir-fry. The third recipe does not include scapes, but is a deliciously fresh fennel and organge salad from Lucinda Quinn’s Mad Hungry cookbook.
Garlic Scape Vinagarette
- 10 chopped garlic scapes (Organic Redneck)
- 10 basil leaves (from the Garden)
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Combine all ingredients in a blender until fully mixed. Use with salads, or as an oil dip for fresh bread
Sauteed Garlic Scapes and Summer Squash
- 1 zucchini (Groundwork Organics)
- 1 yellow summer squash (Groundwork Organics)
- 1-2 garlic scapes (Organic Redneck)
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt & coarse ground pepper to taste
1. Wash and thinly slice squash into medallions. I sliced my about 1/8 inch thick. Whatever thickness you cut them, make sure it is uniform so they cook at the same speed.
2. Heat a good drizzle of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat.
3. Once the oil is warmed, add in the squash and cook for 2-3 minutes while flipping every so often.
4. While the squash is cooking prepare your scapes. Make a cut just under the base of the flower and discard. Cut the scapes into 1-2 inch long sections. Toss the scapes in with the squash, give the pan a good shake to mix in the scapes well. Add a splash more olive oil if necessary. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for another 5-7 minutes. The squash should be tender [browning a bit] and the scapes should turn bright green. Sauteing scapes is similar to cooking asparagus. You don’t want to overcook it, or it’ll become stringy.
Crunchy Fennel Orange Salad
- 1 Orange, peeled and supremed, with about 1/4 cup juice
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- Pinch of sugar
- Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
- 1 Fennel Bulb, thinly sliced crosswise (Groundwork Organics)
- 4 Celery stalks, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 bunch of Radished, thinly sliced (Radicle Roots)
- Whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, sugar and cayenne in a salad bowl. Toss in the sliced fennel, celery, radished and orange segments to combine. Serve fresh!