Small greens, big flavor — Meet Rebecca Mees of Lettuce Ladies

 

Rebecca Mees of Lettuce Ladies.

Walking up to 801 11th St., home of family-owned Lettuce Ladies, it seems impossible that this building — formerly home to the Ambridge Slovak Catholic Sokol — holds a hydroponic farm. From the outside, it’s still a classic, old Pittsburgh social club, clothed in weathered red brick, the outer walls still displaying a somewhat rickety “Slovak Catholic Sokol” sign. 

But, enter the alcove, and you can hear it: the faint sound of sprinklers running and air buzzing; the sounds of a farm. 

Rebecca Mees, the full-time farmer (she runs Lettuce Ladies with her parents and four other employees), leads me through the surprisingly sprawling, humid rooms, each filled with greens. Lights differ from room to room: the first, which formerly held the social club’s bar, is lit with bright, slightly-purple bulbs; the following is saturated with fluorescent reddish-purple light. 

Buttercrunch lettuce.

Sitting next to flats of Buttercrunch lettuce (a crowd favorite), bursting with bright green leaves and ready for picking, Rebecca tells me how Lettuce Ladies began: it all started in Hawaii.

While living on the island, Rebecca and her family found themselves frustrated with the lack of pesticide-free greens available to them. So, using a method developed at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa — one that uses a net pot to grow the greens in a small amount of dirt, rather than just water — they started growing their own. 

After moving to Pittsburgh in 2016, Rebecca began growing greens once again. But without the pleasantly humid and mild Hawaiian weather, the operation required some tweaks. 

“You don’t need [lights] in Hawaii with all the sun… [and] Hawaii was all outdoors, so you don’t need to pump in CO2,” Rebecca explains. “It’s been a lot of trial and error and figuring it out as we go.”

 

Lettuce Ladies’ microgreens.

This is the reason for the different color lights. Microgreens (held on the second level, away from the leafier lettuces) grow under any light and don’t need CO2 pumped in. Other varieties respond to different conditions, from darker lighting to adding CO2. 

With the growing conditions perfected, Lettuce Ladies became a smooth operation. Rebecca used the buttercrunch as an example:

It takes about six weeks for the buttercrunch heads to grow. The greens start as seeds, first planted in net pots then wet down, covered, and left to germinate and sprout for one to two days.

Then, the sprouts are uncovered and left alone to grow for six weeks, transplanted halfway through the growing period. At six weeks, the buttercrunch is picked and the pallets replanted with new seeds. 

Rebecca jokes that she “never imagined” she’d be running a greens business but is incredibly glad to be running Lettuce Ladies. They’ve grown to be a big operation, distributing to larger supermarkets, at farmers markets, and recently, to Harvie.

“Becoming a vendor for Harvie has allowed our business to reach new customers and has further enabled us to provide fresh greens to our community,” Rebecca said. “We are extremely pleased in our experience with Harvie and look forward to providing our greens to more customers.”

In the future, Rebecca and her team plan to continue expanding, moving into a new space and growing new varieties.

Microgreens.

Currently, Harvie offers two varieties of the Lettuce Ladies microgreens: a spicy mix and a mild mix. According to Rebecca, who recommends you eat microgreens on everything and anything, Harvie’s direct farm-to-consumer model allows members to get these greens as fresh as possible. 

Don’t limit yourself to thinking of microgreens as a garnish — these little guys are full of flavor! Try them on sandwiches, as the base for salads, on top of pizzas, or as a kick of flavor on sweet, dark chocolate desserts.  

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Green and White Pizza

Green and White pizza.

Green and White Pizza 

Servings: 6

Time: 30 minutes

This recipe was adapted from the New York Times. However, we encourage you to change things up! Add a hit of La Quercia Prosciutto, The Pickled Chef Company pesto, or switch up the cheeses to make this pizza your own

Ingredients

Tomasetti’s frozen pizza dough stretched

2 ¾ ounces Lioni Latticini fresh mozzarella

Olive & Marlowe Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

J.Q. Dickinson salt

½ ounce Goat Rodeo Wild Rosemary Cheese, finely grated

2 handfuls Lettuce Ladies spicy microgreen mix 

Half of a lemon, juiced

Instructions

Place the dough on a pizza stone or cookie sheet. 

Break the mozzarella into small pieces and place them gently on the stretched dough. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and a pinch of salt and scatter the rosemary cheese over the top.

Bake according to the dough instructions, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.

Meanwhile, put the greens in a large bowl and dress it lightly with a splash of the olive oil, lemon juice, and a further pinch of salt, or to taste.

When the pizza is done, put the dressed greens on top of the pie and serve immediately.

Behind the Box: Sage Pence, Harvie’s Outbound Logistics Manager

Behind the Box is Harvie’s way of connecting you to the people behind your weekly grocery delivery. Meet Sage Pence, who started in August as Harvie’s first — and only — delivery driver. Now, not even a year later, she’s leading the entire fleet. 

Sage Pence, Harvie’s Outbound Logistics Manager.

What is the last thing you ate?

This morning I made myself breakfast tacos with almost all Harvie products! Made from Frankferd Farm Blue Corn Tortillas and Jubilee eggs scrambled with J.Q. Dickinson Smoked Salt then topped with Ocho Chipotle Salsa, garlic hot sauce, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cilantro, and Schneider’s Dairy sour cream! The breakfast rounded out with a cup of earl grey tea and a spoonful of Bedillion’s Wildflower Honey. 

What’s your favorite comfort food, go-to meal, or recipe?

Honestly, all food is comfort food for me. If I’m cooking myself: oven-roasted potatoes, rainbow carrots, Brussels sprouts, and beets tossed in balsamic vinegar, EVOO, honey, dried rosemary, and dijon mustard paired with lemon yogurt dip is a classic. But, if I’m eating out, I will go for literally any of the arepas from the Venezuelan restaurant, Cilantro & Ajo, on E. Carson St. 

What’s your favorite Harvie Product?

Ocho’s Chipotle Salsa. The consistency, flavor, and spice put it in my top 3 favorite salsas ever. The first container I bought was gone in less than 12 hours. Now it’s a weekly addition to my Harvie box. 

What’s your favorite spot in Pittsburgh? 

No matter how many times I visit I can never get enough of the Phipps Conservatory, so much so that I applied to work there before I knew about Harvie. Oh, and the Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville too. 

What’s your favorite thing about Harvie/working for Harvie?

This is cliche but, my co-workers and our shared passion to disrupt the supply chain of ‘Big Ag’ in favor of regionally sustainable farms, co-ops, and producers. The collective reality of us humans living through a climate crisis means we will see destabilizing weather events cause overwhelming gaps in the global food supply, much like we have seen throughout the pandemic. 

Our nation’s small producers have the potential to feed most communities and cities, and Harvie’s model gives them a fighting chance to not just survive but thrive — all the while developing a durable chain with reduced transportation emissions and less food and material waste. The stewardship ethos of Harvie gives me hope. Being surrounded by wonderful people and delicious food seals the deal. 

Ocho Salsa Vegetarian Enchiladas

Veggie enchiladas.

Ingredients

1 tbsp Olive & Marlowe Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

1 Blue Goose Farm onion, diced

2 Blue Goose Farm garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp Clarion River Organics jalapeño pepper rings, diced

16 oz Wild Purveyors Baby Bello mushrooms, sliced 

2 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced

16 oz frozen chopped spinach

¾ cup Frankferd Farms pinto beans, soaked, cooked, and drained

2 cups Ocho Salsa Salsa Verde

J.Q. Dickinson salt and Burlap & Barrel black pepper to taste

10-12 Frankferd Farms flour tortillas 

16 oz shredded Lykens Valley Creamery Monterey jack cheese

Optional: chopped Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative cilantro and red onion and diced Yarnick’s Farm heirloom tomato, for serving

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and sauté until softened and starting to brown, about three minutes. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant.

Add the mushrooms and jalapeño and some salt and pepper to the skillet. Sauté until softened and starting to brown, stirring only occasionally. Add the zucchini and sauté until softened again stirring only occasionally.

Add the frozen spinach no need to defrost —  to the skillet and sauté until most of the liquid has evaporated (push the veggies to the side and if you see liquid pooling at the bottom). This can take about 10 minutes. 

Add the pinto beans and 1/2 cup of salsa verde to the skillet and stir together. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Spread ½ cup of the salsa verde on the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Fill each tortilla with the veggie filling, roll, and place seam-side down in the baking dish. Once the dish is filled, pour the rest of the salsa verde on top, then drizzle with the shredded cheese. 

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes at 375, and then for another 10 minutes uncovered or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. 

Top with tomatoes, cilantro, and red onion if desired, then enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Heather Knepper of Ocho Salsa. Learn more about her Cali-style salsas here!

Open a jar and gather — Meet Heather Knepper of Ocho Salsa

 

Ocho Salsa Original Salsa

Three years ago, Heather Knepper made a career change. The Los Angeles native became a real estate agent, working with her husband, Ron Knepper, to open Your Town Realty. 

To make contacts, she started selling salsa. 

Heather now spends around 80% of her time on salsa, chopping, mixing, and packaging Cali-style salsas for her small-batch company, Ocho Salsa.

“I thought maybe I’d sell salsa at the farmers markets and talk to people and get to know people,” Heather said. “It was a risk.. [but] here we are, three years later, and [Ocho] is growing.”

Heather at the Taste of Harvie Holiday Market.

Heather’s salsas tie back to her LA roots. As a junior in high school, living in California again for the first time since she was nine, Heather found it hard to see her father — who had a two-hour commute to work every day — during the week. So, on Friday nights, they’d catch up at their neighborhood Mexican restaurant over chips and salsa.  

“We would have this time to connect and talk about our week and what was going on. That, to me, was special,” Heather said. 

When she moved to the East Coast, Heather wanted to pay tribute to that time with her dad and, unable to find a salsa she truly liked, started trying to recreate the one from her past.

Ocho Salsa Salsa Verde.  

Currently, Ocho Salsa — named for both her dog who passed away in 2017 and after a favorite tequila brand — offers five salsas through Harvie: mild, peach, chipotle, hot habañero, and salsa verde. Each is made Cali-style, hitting a pleasant middle-ground between chunky and smooth. They’re thick enough to stay on chips yet not pico de gallo-level chunky.  

What makes her salsas different, however, is the not-so-secret secret ingredient: smoked salt.

“[The Mexican restaurant] fire-roasted their tomatoes, and I can’t do that on a scale when I’m making 100 or 200 salsas,” Heather explains. “We smoke salt with cherrywood for four hours. There’s smoked salt in every one of the salsas; it gives them that kind-of Mezcal flavor.”

Heather’s salsas are always as fresh as they can be; in the summer, she grows some of her produce in a backyard garden, sourcing the rest from Pond Hill Farm, and in the winter, she sources her ingredients from Soergel Orchards

Farm-fresh ingredients are just one of the few reasons Heather is proud to be a Harvie member and producer.

Harvie has played a huge role in Ocho Salsa being able to move forward and grow our business. It’s also a fantastic way to support other local farmers and producers which is a win/ win for all of us and the surrounding Pittsburgh Community,” Heather said. 

“It’s crazy the difference between fresh, homegrown [produce] and what’s store-bought,” Heather added. “To me, that’s the main reason why I love getting [ingredients] from Harvie and supporting local farmers. You’re getting a way better product.”

As she says, it’s “so good you’ll want it eight days a week.”

Ocho Salsa at a farmers market.

Eventually, Heather hopes to switch over to full-time salsa making, adding products like canned salsas, marinara sauce, jams, and more. But no matter how big she gets, the spirit of Ocho will stay the same: “open a jar and gather.”

Add Heather’s flavor-filled salsas to your next Harvie order! (A favorite of ours is the salsa verde. It’s perfectly acidic, smoky, a little sweet, and tastes great on everything.)

New to Harvie? Become a member today, and get local groceries — including salsa — delivered to your door. 

25,000 meals for Pittsburghers in need and how your Harvie membership can help

The biggest motivation for me in developing Harvie was to create the service I wanted for myself. I wanted all of the best food in the region conveniently delivered direct to my home – this is the food I wanted to feed to my family. 

Now I’m eating this great food every week while supporting small businesses, and I’ve never eaten better in my life!

However, I’m also aware that it is a huge privilege to eat this way and not everyone in Pittsburgh has the opportunity to eat like this. So I’m proud of our collaboration with 412 Food Rescue and the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.

Here’s what we achieved with your help in 2021:

  • In 2021, Harvie partnered with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and local food blogger The Pittsburgh Web for a campaign that resulted in the donation of over 10,700 meals for people in our community facing hunger.
  • Harvie also works closely with 412 Food Rescue year-round, giving you the option to donate your weekly box instead of skipping. Thanks to you, over 17,249 lbs of food were donated, providing 15,681 meals to community members in need.

How can you join us in supporting this anti-hunger work?

Need to skip? Please consider donating your delivery!

If you are not able to receive a delivery, consider donating your groceries and we will get your food to someone in need via 412 Food Rescue. You can mark your delivery for donation on your ‘Upcoming Deliveries’ page in your Harvie profile: https://www.harvie.farm/member/deliveries

Donating your box also keeps your ‘Harvie streak’ going!

How to donate your box.

Make a donation to 412 Food Rescue in your delivery

You can also give food to 412 Food Rescue while you are customizing by adding a $10 donation to your order. Search for “Produce donation” while customization and you will find this:

How to add a donation to your Harvie delivery.

We do our part too! We donate food left over at the end of each delivery day to 412 Food Rescue.

Thank you for joining us in making sure everyone in our community has access to healthy, fresh food!

— Simon

Grapefruit from California? But I thought Harvie was local?

We are so excited to have grapefruit, lemons and oranges from Putt Family Farm available this week. In our effort to bring you a full grocery list (so that you don’t have to think about shopping multiple times in a week), citrus has been a top priority.

In an ideal world, perhaps everything would be grown and distributed within the confines of our local food system. But Pittsburgh cannot support orange trees. So the question becomes: what’s the best way to get oranges?  

Meet Putt Family Farm.

The Putt Family

Putt Family Farm is a citrus farm in Bakersfield, California. The family is close friends with Clarion River Organics (one of Harvie’s top growers!), and these organic oranges and chemical-free grapefruits and lemons are tree-ripened for peak sweetness. In a note from the farm on this year’s crop, the family noted “with all the heat we had this summer, they should be good and sweet.”

How does California citrus fit in with the Harvie sourcing philosophy? 

  1. Sustainability: This citrus is grown with sustainable practices. We work with producers who are good stewards of their land and animals.
  2. Local Economy: While Putt Family Farm is not in Western Pennsylvania, it has direct ties to its local economy in Bakersfield. By supporting this small family farm, you are supporting a local economy and food system instead of an industrial food system. 
  3. Transparency and Story: We want you to know your farmers! This is the second year in a row we’ve gotten Putt Family Farm citrus, and each winter we will probably bring them back. Get to know the family and the delicious citrus.

How cool is it that this farm came to us through Clarion River Organics? Small farm connections and systems throughout the country are built off of one another. For small farms to beat the big guys, we first have to transform the Pittsburgh food system and then expand our reach.  

Connecting Supply to Demand

 

Simon with Dan Yarnick of Yarnick’s Farm in Indiana, PA.

For the last 15 years, I’ve worked at the intersection of agriculture, food and technology. I’ve long been frustrated that the supply from local farmers and the demand from consumers both existed, but sales were stagnant. Farmers and other food artisans in our region produce a lot of food and can produce more, but lack consistent sales to support strong businesses.

The heart of our work has always focused on removing barriers to accessing local food for consumers. At first, we started as a software company for farmers. Eventually we realized that we needed to solve a bigger problem to make buying local food simple and convenient. We dug into the logistics of distribution and most importantly, home-delivery. It has been a long journey with twists and turns, and Harvie Pittsburgh emerged in the pre-pandemic days of 2020 to make our vision of convenient local food a reality. 

There’s a lot of talk about eating fresh and local, but with Harvie, you are actually doing it.

In 2021, Harvie members supported 211 local farmers and artisans and put over $1.8 million back into their businesses. Together, we can do even more this year.

This changes everything for small farms and artisans, our local economy, and hopefully your quality of life!

My guiding theory that there was a missing connection between the supply and demand for this kind of food has so far shown true.

This is just the beginning of what we can do together. We are going to keep improving the experience for you so it is easier for you to buy your groceries from local businesses, through Harvie. You will help to grow the demand for food from local farmers and artisans, driving more money into small businesses where it belongs. 

Thank you for being part of this good change.

— Simon

The importance of a quality ingredient — Meet Chef Justin Severino of Salty Pork Bits

Salty Pork Bits cured meats. Photo by Adam Milliron.

Justin Severino bills a long list of accolades.

In 2016, his Spanish-inspired, Lawrenceville restaurant Morcilla ranked number four on the highly-respected Bon Appétit Hot 10. In 2014, Justin was named the People’s Best New Chef for the Mid-Atlantic region bFood & Wine magazine; in 2015, he won again. His cured meats put his restaurants — Morcilla and the now-closed Cure and Larder of East End — directly into the local and national spotlight. On top of all that, the chef and skilled butcher is a four-time James Beard Award nominee.

But when talking to Justin, you can see that these awards and celebrations — while a huge honor — have not altered his commitment to a passion: charcuterie. It’s simply moved him along a little faster.

“[I’m not satisfied by] people knowing who I am,” he said, sitting at a table inside the Lawrenceville Salty Pork Bits store, the business he founded to sell his charcuterie. “I am excited about the sausages that parents want to buy and make their family dinner with.”

Chef Justin Severino. Photo by Adam Milliron.

Justin, a native of Ohio, found his passion for cooking after high school. 

“All of my friends were eating garbage,” the chef said, referencing his time working in construction while his roommates and friends were in college. “I said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to eat this way.”

So, Justin began spending a lot of time with his mom and grandmother on the weekends — he grew up in a family of “very Italian-American people” — learning how to cook. Eventually, after a winter working construction in Ohio, he decided to go to college. He ended up at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, which he quips was the “best bad decision I ever made.”

From Pittsburgh, Justin moved to California. Working in restaurants on the West Coast changed how he thought about food; instead of techniques, he began to think about where his food came from. 

This made Justin — a chef that has built his career on butchering and curing meats — stop eating meat for a time.  

“Meat became a focus for me when it came to food ethics,” he said “One of the things I thought, first and foremost, was that I had never taken the life from an animal. I thought I should take life from an animal if I was going to eat animals in the future.”

A stint volunteering on a farm during slaughter days pushed Justin towards butchering. This turned into a “total obsession” over pigs —Justin estimated he’s butchered over 1,000 pigs in his career — and with a van and space in a community kitchen, he started a butcher shop at a farmers market named Severino’s Community Kitchen, where he explored the craft of salami and butchering.

Sausage from Salty Pork Bits. Photo by Adam Milliron.

Fast forward a few years, and after a short time in the kitchen at Eleven, on a farm in Virginia, and running a now-closed Downtown restaurant named Element, Justin opened his first solo eatery in Pittsburgh: Cure. 

Cure was one of many stepping stones towards Salty Pork Bits. Opening a charcuterie business without any background in Pittsburgh was risky; butcher shops, to Justin, were a failed concept. Even though most people wanted to buy high-quality things, they wanted the supermarket price. 

Cure gave Justin the notoriety to open Morcilla, operating today as a restaurant and the hub for Salty Pork Bits. 

Justin jokingly refers to his curing room in the basement of Morcilla as the “cutest salami dojo you’ve ever seen.” 

But it was the pandemic that propelled Salty Pork Bits into what it is today. 

“COVID hit, we closed everything, and the orders started flying in the front door,” recalled Justin. 

Salty Pork Bits has transformed since its original form, launched first in 2018. Today, there’s a comprehensive marketplace of salami, cured meats, subscription services, and dry goods — many of which you can find on Harvie. Justin plans to focus energy on expanding Salty Pork Bits, as he says: “I love restaurants — clearly I have to — but people knowing how to cook is essential. Having good ingredients is essential.”

Justin’s accolades aren’t for nothing; his salami and sausages are delicious. Don’t miss out! Add Salty Pork Bits salami and packaged sausage (a Harvie favorite is the Spanish Chorizo!) to your next grocery box.

New to Harvie? Become a member today.  Visit eatharvie.com to sign up!

 

New Year, New Habits

Fields at Birch Creek Farm.

As another year begins, we at Harvie take time to reflect on the months behind us. Often, this is what shows change — not New Year’s resolutions (one cannot upend their entire life in one day) — but the reflection on the last year as a whole. This is where you can see the change and impacts of habits in your life.

Similarly, Harvie cannot upend the entire food system in one day. However, looking at 2021 as a whole, we can see the huge impact we’ve had on the Pittsburgh food system.

This year, we’ve supported 211 local and regional producers, tried 1,392 different products,  and put more than $1.8 million grocery dollars directly into the hands of small farmers and artisans. This impact does not stem from resolutions, but rather guiding principles: get local food into as many hands as possible and lower the barrier to entry to eating locally.

Rather than having New Year’s resolutions, we’re going to set some guiding food principles in my own life. Here are a few we’ve come up with:

In the orchards of Dawson’s Orchards.

1. Cook on the fly: Think less recipe-based and more like an Iron Chef.

2.  Shop with a plan: Consider meals when shopping. This will reduce food waste and stress in the middle of the week.

3.  Put value in the mundane products: Sometimes, it’s hard to justify buying something like local flour when it’s available for three dollars a bag at a grocery store. But the impact of a local or sustainably grown bag of flour is just as great as the impact of a local bag of apples.

4.  Sustainable protein consumption: Knowing your protein source is paramount.

Have more guiding food principles for the year? Let us know!