Food lover Rebecca Luria-Phillips goes organic by testing out a community supported agriculture scheme. A mystery box of fresh farm-grown ingredients is delivered to her house each week. From bitter gourd to beetroot, sweet potato to peanuts, she describes how she fed her family — including a chicken nugget-loving four year old. Photography by Conor Wall.
The popular farm-to-table movement seeks out locally produced foods and connects consumers directly with the producers. Proponents believe that the tighter the relationship between the two groups, the more beneficial the outcome for one’s health, the farmer’s income and the environment.
Healthy lifestyle-promoting ARTillery Café understands this link, as do its customers. When Phnom Penh patrons began asking owner Emma Fountain where they could source organic produce, like that served in the café, she responded by launching a community supported agriculture (CSA) box scheme.
Customers pay a $12 weekly subscription to receive three kilograms of assorted seasonal fruits and vegetables — mostly products common in the West, but some Khmer goods as well — delivered via tuk tuk to their homes each week. Some are harvested as recently as 4pm the previous day.
As of the New Year, ARTillery closed the gap between grower and consumer further by handing over the reins of distribution to Discovery Farms, which produces organically grown vegetables and fruit at two farms in Kep and Kirirom.
Talmadge Payne, board member of Cambodian Organic Agriculture Association and co-owner of Discovery Farms, says that consumers seek the organic label for its promise of food safety and reduced environmental impact. He notes that organic farmers have a saying: “If the bugs won’t eat it, why should the people?”
When ARTillery announced the CSA scheme, I committed to a relationship with a Cambodian farmer and the challenge of putting a mystery box of produce to work for my family, including the chicken nugget-loving stomach of a four year
old and the developing palate of a seven month old.
A serendipitous phenomenon occurs once the vegetables are in the house. Ingredients that can at first seem incongruent eventually pair up with each other, additional ingredients in the home and my nascent cooking knowledge to transform into something that is (usually) palatable.
Staples like garlic, onion, shallots and ginger get tossed into the pantry and fruit is chopped up for snacking. Generally, each piece finds its way into a meal, but it is not unheard of for the lettuce to wilt or a cucumber to shrivel. Here is a sample of how I make the pieces of the puzzle fit together:
Carrots, eggplant, lemongrass, coriander, Chinese kale, lettuce, Khmer basil, courgette, string beans, passion fruit, bitter gourd, taro, red chillies, raw peanuts, cucumbers
Sliced open, removed seeds and salted inside to extract bitterness. Stir fried with soy sauce, red pepper flakes and balsamic vinegar.
Outcome: still bitter and not palatable. Housekeeper chuckles once I learn what she clearly already knew.
Boiled and mixed with baby potatoes. Tossed with herb and mustard dressing for Christmas Eve dinner.
Outcome: salad is quite good with a nice tang, but taro proves too thick and heavy for the herb dressing.
Rocket, broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, onion, lettuce, parsley, tomatoes, sweet potato, bananas, pomelo, pineapple, raw peanuts
Broccoli & Onion
Steamed broccoli until soft and sautéed with onion and garlic. Added a little cream, then puréed into sauce with a little pasta water. Added parmesan cheese at the end and served over pasta.
Outcome: cream made it rich and satisfying, while broccoli made it virtuous. Thumbs-up from the kid.
String Beans, Sweet Potato & Peanuts
Handed over the reins to the nanny. She transformed them into a delicious Cambodian curry with the addition of one carrot and one eggplant.
Outcome: harmoniously aromatic and hearty.
Carrots, beetroot, cauliflower, tomatoes, red pepper, Japanese aubergine, bananas, sweet potato, limes, small pumpkin, cucumbers, shallots, garlic, basil, Chinese kale, mango
Aubergine, Mango, Basil, Limes & Garlic
Fried the aubergine. Made dressing with herbs, sugar, lime juice and zest, garlic and rice vinegar. Tossed with soba noodles and mango. Outcome: creamy and sweet, with bright notes from the zest and herbs.
Boiled until soft. Peeled, grated and then stirred into chocolate cake batter.
Outcome: moist cake without being dense. Deep chocolate flavour and a thumbs-up from the kid.
Carrots, leeks, zucchini, celery, morning glory, ginger, oranges, limes, watermelon, pumpkin, shallots, garlic, bananas, lettuce
Zucchini & Lettuce
Sautéed zucchini with spinach, corn, beef mince and Mexican seasoning. Served over lettuce and dressed with a little sour cream and chilli sauce.
Outcome: good contrast of warm and spicy and cool and crisp. A corn tortilla helps get the lettuce into a child’s stomach.
Morning Glory & Celery
Sautéed tops of celery, including leaves, with morning glory, soy sauce and garlic.
Outcome: mild bitterness of celery is a nice contrast to the neutral taste of morning glory.