Tag Archives: produce

Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce

April 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mary Current and her son, Anderson Current, started making hot sauce three years ago. She never planned on being a commercial food producer despite working the front and back of the house at restaurants, studying culinary arts, and being married to a retired food and beverage director. “It just kind of happened,” she says of Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce’s origins. One day this foodie and home gardener decided to make hot sauce from her bumper pepper crop. She had made pico de gallo and salsa, but never liquid hot sauce. Friends and family loved that first spicy concoction and wanted more.

Her four main sauces became habanero, jalapeño, datil, and chipotle, each with notes of poblano, anaheim, vinegar, citrus, garlic, and onion. Specialty sauces have followed. She only arrives at a recipe after much research and experimentation. Finding the right complementary combinations, she says, “is what I really like doing,” adding, “That’s what I get a kick out of. It’s like a gift.”

The initial strong reception got mother and son thinking, especially after the savory micro batches proved popular with Anderson’s friends in Colorado, where he lived with his wife, Constance. The couple worked for Whole Foods. When they moved to Omaha, Anderson helped his mom turn her food hobby into a business. Constance designed the logo with a Medusa-like head sprouting chili peppers. The two shopped the sauces around to trendy eateries like Block 16, and found that chefs and patrons also enjoyed the homemade spicy condiments.

Crazy Gringa has come a long way since Mary cooked and bottled the sauces at home and sold them out of the trunk of her car. Her condiments are now made in a commercial kitchen and are staples at the Omaha Farmers Market, select Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Hy-Vee stores, and some restaurants. She plans on keeping things small.

Working together allows the family more quality time, which is the main reason why Mary likes keeping it all in the family.

“When we make hot sauce, that’s our bonding time together,” Mary says of her and Anderson. Her husband, Doug, helps with receiving.

Mary also likes maintaining a small operation because it allows her to pour as much of her heart and soul into the operation as possible.

“It really is a labor of love. I’m never going to be rich, but I love to see the joy on people’s faces when we’re back at the Farmers Market and they say, ‘I can’t live without this hot sauce.’”

Just as Crazy Gringa showed up on store shelves, City Sprouts board president Albert Varas sought an area food manufacturer with whom he could partner. He realized these simple sauces with complex flavors have, as their base, items interns can grow and cultivate at the City Sprouts South garden at 20th and N streets. He contacted the Currents and found they shared a passion for building the local food culture.

The Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce maven partners with Omaha City Sprouts on a social entrepreneurship project that may spur more collaboration between for-profits like hers and the nonprofit urban agriculture organization.

City Sprouts South grows various peppers for Crazy Gringa’s signature hot sauces. The boutique company, in return, donates a percentage of sales over four summer weekends to support City Sprouts programs. Meanwhile, Crazy Gringa works with other local growers to supply the peppers City Sprouts can’t.

“We just hit if off,” Varas says. “They are all about community service, engagement, and sourcing hyper-local food with a mission behind it. It was always my dream we would partner on bringing a value-added product to market. It’s a great way to engage our interns.

“The relationship adds revenue and relevance to what we’re doing.”

Having the hand-grown peppers picked and processed in Omaha fits Crazy Gringa’s emphasis on fresh, local, and artisanal. Current also creates limited-run small batches for City Sprouts and other nonprofits to give away as gifts or prizes.

 

Anderson helped build the raised beds for the peppers at the site that community activists turned from a dumping ground to a garden.

Mary loves that her product helps a community-based ecosystem.

“So many kids don’t know where their produce comes from and City Sprouts helps educate them about how things grow,” she says. “Those interns learn how to garden, so they learn how to sustain themselves and their families. We’re happy to support good things in the community like this.”

Interns gain a sense of ownership in Crazy Gringa’s success.

Varas says, “The interns need something to do and something to believe in. One intern, Rafeal Quintanilla, is a mentee of mine and he really digs the idea that he has a stake in the finished product because he waters and cares for the peppers and harvests them. He has pride in being a part in creating this delicious hot sauce.”

The partnership with Crazy Gringa “has far exceeded my expectations,” Varas says, adding, “It’s not just transactional—it’s been an incredible reciprocal experience.”

Mary Current concurs, vowing the relationship will continue as long as she’s in business. “It’s an amazing concept. They’re wonderful people to work with. I can’t think of a better place to give back your money.”

More collaborations like this one may be in the offing.

”I think this is a model that could and should be replicated,” Varas says. “My hope is that we will be able to recreate this next growing season with Crazy Gringa and possibly other food businesses.”

Visit crazygringahotsauce.com

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Farmers Market in the Fall

August 29, 2013 by
Photography by Keith Binder

In 1994, Gene Sivard had an oversized garden with veggies to spare. The Old Market was having its first Farmers Market and was “begging for vendors.” Now, Sivard’s Gene’s Green Thumb has 14 acres, and the Old Market Farmers Market is in its 20th season.

Over the years, Sivard has seen it grow from a simple farmers market into a city bazaar of sorts. “Now you have crafts, meat, cheese, all kinds of beef jerky, bread,” he says. “It is a big event with a really big crowd.”

It’s become so popular, in fact, that Omaha Farmers Market added a second location. Now, you can visit the Old Market on Saturdays 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. from the first week in May through mid-October and then hit the newer Aksarben Village market on Sundays from 9 a.m.–1 p.m.

“Every market is different,” says Heidi Walz, operations manager for Omaha Farmers Market. “And that means that every season is different, every week is different. We’re rotating new things in each week as the season progresses.”

You can find a harvest calendar, with general times to expect local produce, under the Local Resources tab of the Market’s website (which, by the way, got a 20th anniversary redesign):
omahafarmersmarket.com.

Worthy of noting in that calendar is that the fall is still a great time to hit the market.

“…at the market, we can look at all the different offerings right there, a couple blocks from each other.” – Heidi Walz, operations manager of Omaha Farmers Market

“The produce stays strong through the end in this area,” Walz says. “So you’re still going to see tomatoes and potatoes and peppers and the greens, and more of the typical table fruits and vegetables that people think of. But the other cool thing is, being in Nebraska, we definitely have some fall crops. You’re going to see the apples, the pumpkins, and the gourds, as well as some of the decorative things, like Indian corn.”

It’s difficult for Walz to choose a favorite thing about the markets. But “I have two little boys, and to be able to go there and see all the varieties of pumpkins,” she says, is one of them.

“It’s fun to go to the pumpkin patch, and we do that. But at the market, we can look at all the different offerings right there, a couple blocks from each other. And the boys look at what is the most unique pumpkin, or the biggest pumpkin, and explore so many different options. It’s just really fun to let them come down and pick out a really unique pumpkin, like maybe a green one that’s really tall and slender,” she says. And, because the farmer is right there, “you can find out way more about your selection.”

Sivard also loves the fall markets. For the veggie lovers, Sivard recommends getting winter squash, like acorn squash, which can be stored in a cool basement and eaten all the way in January.

Even when the weather turns, you can still find treasures at the market. According to Sivard, “One season, we had six inches of snow on the ground and still had a lot of apples.”

And although Oct. 19–20 is the last weekend for the season, you can get a taste of the market in December at the WOWT and Physicians Holiday Market. The Holiday Market is hosted under two large, heated tents in Aksarben Village on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7–8, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Although the Holiday Market doesn’t have produce, you will find a lot of your favorite regular-season Farmers Market vendors, as well as additional gift vendors.

“It’s just so festive and local, which is cool—to get some of your holiday shopping done in a local way. Such an awesome event.” Walz admits, “It’s one of my favorites.”

The Best, Local Farmers Markets

July 22, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Krisha Goering has made a weekend visit to the farmers market a summer tradition for the last four years. The Millard mom, who often takes her own mother along for a little girl time, enjoys spending an hour or so each Sunday morning walking the farm stands at the Aksarben Village market and buying the bulk of the fresh groceries she’ll need for her weekly menu and beyond.

The veteran shopper says she heads to market each week with an action plan. “I know exactly what I’m going to get when I get there. I make a swing through the market with $20, and when it’s gone, it’s gone,” Goering says.

“I typically buy whatever’s in season. At the beginning of the summer, that’s asparagus and a variety of lettuces. Eggs are abundant [early summer], so I eat a ton of them, too. Come August and September, when the harvests are plentiful, I buy tomatoes two or three cases at a time for canning, and I grab a couple of bushels of green beans to freeze. I also buy cucumbers for canning pickles, as I haven’t had much luck growing [cucumbers] in my own garden.”

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Goering says she buys her fruits and veggies at the farmers market whenever possible, preferring locally-grown over store-bought, organic produce in almost every instance. “They’re simply more fresh and more nutritious. Store-bought goods just don’t ripen the same or taste the same.”

Visiting with her favorite vendors, some of whom she now considers her friends, is one of the perks of frequenting the same market each week, Goering says. “We chit-chat a bit, talk about our kids, share a little news…” she says. “These [farmers] are quality people. They work many hours a day and grow and sell wonderful product. I really respect them. But I don’t want to occupy too much of their time visiting, as I know they’re aiming to make new clients and I don’t want to cost them business.”

Omaha shoppers are fortunate in that they have three large outdoor markets from which to choose, all accessible by bus, bike, car, or foot. The Omaha Farmers Market at 11th and Jackson streets in Downtown Omaha is open every Saturday from 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The Historic Old Market, which served as a city market for local produce vendors over a century ago, today offers more than 100 vendors selling everything from fruits and veggies and baked goods and dog treats, to teas and coffees and jewelry and toys. Great Harvest Bread, The Tea Trove, Big Kahuna Kettle Corn, and Cibola are a few of the names you’ll see each week.

The same group of sponsors that produces the Downtown Omaha market also organizes the farmers market held each Sunday at Aksarben Village, 67th and Center streets. More than 85 vendors participate in this market, which offers much more than produce as well. Goods from Goodrich Pottery, Honey Creek Creamery, and Soup-n-More can be found alongside fruits and vegetables from Birdsley Road Blueberries, Shadowbrook Farms, and Hillside Orchard, among many others.

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Both Omaha Farmers Market ventures participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which helps financially strapped families afford healthy food options.

A third farmers market is hosted Saturdays all summer long on the south side of Village Pointe Shopping Center, 168th and West Dodge Road. A wide variety of produce from farmers within a 150-mile radius is available, as well as food and gift items from Jisa Farmstand Cheese, C&C’s Bzzz Honey, Dance in the Wind Iris Garden, and dozens of other retailers. The shopping center hosts a fun family event, Harvest Fest, on the final day of the market October 5.

Browsing the flowers, arts and crafts, yummy treats, and unique gift items at the farmers market can make for a fun, leisurely outing for some shoppers. But for health-conscious grocery shoppers like Goering—there for the fine, locally grown produce and foods and not much else—here are several tips that can help produce a fruitful visit. (Sources: Krisha Goering, tasteofhome.com, and localfoods.about.com).

  • Go early for best selection of produce, thinner crowds, and to beat the summer heat. Go late for (again) thinner crowds and the best deals; some farmers discount items at the end of the day to avoid hauling them home.
  • If you’re new to the market, make a swing through just to get an overview of what’s there. (Some markets offer a map of vendors.) Don’t buy at the first stand you see; you may find better goods cheaper down the line and have buyer’s remorse.
  • Bring your own reusable bags. Reinforced plastic or canvas bags work best and make carting produce around more convenient. If you’re buying a lot, bring a wheeled cart.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen and bring a water bottle and your patience. You may have some waiting in line to do, and not all areas are tented with shade.
  • Be considerate of other shoppers. Don’t overstay your welcome at a busy stand, block the roadway with a huge stroller, or allow your dog to invade others’ personal space. Shopping in small groups is recommended.
  • Get to know your vendors during the market’s downtime. They may offer great food prep or cooking advice, share recipes, or give referrals to other vendors you’ll enjoy. They might also share their growing techniques or food philosophy.
  • If you’re looking to not break the bank, set a budget and stick to it. Make your grocery list beforehand and avoid impulse buys.
  • Respect the vendors. Selling their goods is their livelihood, and a farmers market is not a flea market. Don’t haggle on price. If you’re not willing to pay it, politely move on.

For more info on farmers markets in Omaha, visit OmahaFarmersMarket.com or VoteRealFood.com.

Local Farmers Markets

Omaha Farmers Market—Old Market

11th & Jackson streets

May 4 – October 19

Saturdays 8am-12:30pm

Omaha Farmers Market—Aksarben Village

67th & Center streets

May 5 – October 20

Sundays 9am-1pm

Village Pointe Farmers Market

South side, Village Pointe Shopping Center

168th & W. Dodge Rd.

May 4 – October 5

Saturdays 8am-1pm

Tomato Tomäto

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tomato Tomäto, a year-round, indoor farmers market whose name plays off the debate over how to pronounce the name of the versatile fruit (Yes, it’s a fruit, not a vegetable), is a must-stop-shop for many in the Omaha area who enjoy fresh produce, eggs, nuts, many organic goods, and more.

Tucked back from street view near 156th and Bob Booser Drive (just north of West Center Road) in West Omaha, the store carries products from dozens of vendors, all of them local. However you say it, it’s a win-win for the entire Omaha community.

Jody Fritz and her husband, Jeremy, were no strangers to the local farmers markets. As regular weekend representatives of Jody’s father-in-law’s O’Neill, Neb., farm, Garden Fresh Vegetables, the couple got to know the other vendors pretty well.20120904_bs_9299 copy

As the weather grew cooler and the outdoor markets closed up shop, the couple realized they and their fellow vendors still had plenty to offer would-be consumers. “There still is a lot out there when the markets end, so we kind of came up with this idea,” says Fritz. That idea was to utilize the front portion of the Garden Fresh Vegetables’ Omaha warehouse as a year-round farmers market. Vendors bring their products into the shop and set their own prices, and Tomato Tomäto receives a commission off of everything that sells.

“We didn’t really have any capital to start, so that’s where the consignment idea came from, and it’s worked out well,” explains Fritz. “Consumers pay a little less than they would at Whole Foods…and the producers make more money than they do selling wholesale, so it’s kind of a nice middle place for everybody.”

“We’ll have winter squashes and greens that grow in greenhouses—lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, some peppers, those kinds of things—all year round.” – Jody Fritz, co-owner

Since the store opened nearly five years ago, the number of vendors has grown from five to 100. “As more vendors come in, each kind of has their own following, so then all their customers come in and they become customers of a lot of the other vendors,” says Fritz.

Products range from-fresh produce, eggs, milk, and meats (farm fresh chicken, beef, fish, ostrich, and more) to local wines, salsas, soup starters, breads, and pastas, just to name few. “There are always a lot of things going on.” All inventory is fresh and local; organic, as well as gluten-free, options are available.20120904_bs_9295 copy

Regarding the year-round produce selection, Fritz says that, understandably, there is an ebb and flow throughout the year. “We’ll have winter squashes and greens that grow in greenhouses—lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, some peppers, those kinds of things—all year round.”

But Fritz concedes that because Tomato Tomäto specializes in locally produced foods, there are certain items that her store will never be able to offer her customers. “We won’t ever have bananas in Nebraska,” she says through a chuckle. “I get that there are limitations to the place, but I’m just going to embrace those rather than trying to be something we aren’t. I can’t compromise…there are so many foods you can eat in season.”

The colder months bring with them opportunities for customers to order free-range, organic turkeys for Thanksgiving, as well as buy homemade holiday pies and find locally produced spirits to ring in the New Year and celebrate Valentine’s Day. “There’s always a season for everything, it seems,” says Fritz.

Alyssa LeGrand has been a customer of Tomato Tomäto since the market opened and says the quality of the produce is fantastic. “I like to support local farmers and anybody with their own business,” she says. Appreciating the competitive prices, LeGrand says she often stops in on a weekly basis.20120904_bs_9291 copy

On the supplier side, Ryan Pekarek, owner of Pekarek Produce in Dwight, Neb., has been bringing his produce to Tomato Tomäto for three years and says he looks forward to continuing to work with Fritz in the future. “[Tomato Tomäto] is nice because you come back with an empty truck every time.”

In addition to the market side of the business, Tomato Tomäto also runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program in which customers can become members of the CSA by purchasing shares in the program and, every week, receive fresh produce and local products. “I just didn’t have enough room for everything people wanted to bring in, so we were trying to find a way for the farmers to bring their food here and to get it into the hands of people quickly.”

For some, this indoor farmers market may just be the best-kept secret in Omaha. For others, specifically the approximately 100 vendors that supply a wide variety of products to Tomato Tomäto’s devoted customers, it’s the answer to their prayers.

Tomato Tomäto
2634 S. 156th Cir.
402-933-0893
tomatotomato.org