Valley Bounty: Fennel

Liz Adler is glad it’s June. On Mountain View Farm in Easthampton, which Adler owns with her husband Ben Perrault, May is a month of tireless work. Sitting down to a nice meal often feels like an out-of-reach luxury. “But then all of a sudden June hits,” Adler told me during a recent conversation, “and we’re able to enjoy all this food coming in!”

On Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms like Mountain View, the June bounty brings a swell of energy to the farm as CSA members come by to pick up their farm shares. Adler and Perrault distribute all the produce they grow on their 100 acres of farmland through their CSA. Over 1,100 members regularly come to pick up produce at the farm and Adler loves that her family is immersed in such a vibrant community. “The CSA is such a great place to be raising a family because the kids just have all these amazing foods and people around them all the time.” Adler and Perrault help cultivate the community surrounding the farm by hosting weekly storytelling events and setting up a kids’ play area during CSA pickups. “I know as a parent that there’s just not that many affordable, wholesome things to do with your kids anymore, so we love being able to offer that to the community.”

One of the Adler-Perrault June family favorites is fennel. “My kids will just pick up the head of fennel and eat the entire thing,” Adler explained with a laugh. Fennel is a versatile crop easily recognizable by its bright white bulb topped by long, green fronds. From the production point of view, Adler reports that fennel is straightforward to grow. Unlike other crops, there aren’t major diseases or pest issues that typically strike down fennel plantings. Once its harvested, it’s easy to store and versatile to cook with.

Since the fennel harvest began in mid-June, the Adler-Perrault family has been enjoying all sorts of fennel-centric meals. “Pretty much the whole plant is edible,” Adler told me. “You can eat the bulbs, you can eat the stalks, and you can eat the tops.” That flexibility leaves lots of room for creativity when it comes time to cook. At its most basic, Adler enjoys fennel sliced raw in a salad. On a nice day for grilling, she suggests cutting fennel in half, brushing it with olive oil, and sticking it on the grill until it has just a little bit of char. Recently, Adler has been experimenting with fennel recipes and found a fennel frond pesto that she loves. She starts with 1 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons pine nuts or almonds, 1/2 teaspoon of coarse kosher salt, and 1/4 cup olive oil. Then she tosses the mix in her food processor and pulses it until it becomes a paste. It’s delicious, she reports, as a dip for vegetables or over pasta.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)