Jeralyn Beach is Making Waves of Grain (and Other Crops)

The new general manager of Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance looks to broaden the cooperative’s appeal.




photo by laura petrilla

 

Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance is a cooperative of 30-plus regional farmers founded in 1999. The organization supplies the largest percentage of local and sustainably grown produce to Pittsburgh-area restaurants and also operates a vibrant CSA subscription and online farm stand. 

“It was a long and rambling path to get here,” says Jeralyn Beach, general manager of Penn’s Corner since April.

She worked in restaurants in high school and studied food-service hospitality management as an undergraduate at Ball State University in Indiana. Beach, who was interested in restaurant management, then attended a yearlong culinary program at Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island. “I thought it was important to have the hands-on experience of working in a kitchen,” she says.

Rather than work in restaurants, Beach took as a job as a food-service manager for the New York City Department of Education, overseeing the food programs at four schools in Brooklyn. “School food is tough. It’s a federal program with a lot of restrictions and limited resources. People get burned out very easily,” she says.

So she started to look for other opportunities to influence food systems. That research prompted her to join the initial cohort of students in the Food Studies master’s degree program at Chatham University. 

Beach served as produce specialist and then food-resource manager for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank for five years before joining Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance. Her immediate goal is to make sure the organization — which recently has seen a significant staff change — rolls through a smooth transition into the summer growing season.

She sees Penn’s Corner’s partnerships with restaurants — big Burrito Restaurant Group, Legume, The Vandal, The Porch at Schenley and many others at various points in the growing season — as pivotal to the growth of member farms. “Chefs are busy. If they can get multiple products from multiple farms in one delivery, that’s a big advantage for them,” she says.

Penn’s Corner members include farms such as Blackberry Meadow Farms, Bedillion Honey Farm, River View Dairy and Jarosinski Farms. While they can provide products ranging from heirloom tomatoes to heritage hogs, gaps remain in their portfolio. “There are still crops that could grow here such as asparagus that we’re not growing at the scale to meet the demand of restaurants,” she says. 

Beach also wants to continue pressing forward with direct-to-consumer outreach, and she says home-delivery of products and more choice in the CSA box are possible options. 

“We have the ability, as we continue to grow, to work with our farm members to push them to adapt and change to meet the needs of restaurants and individuals and consumers for the types of products that they’re looking for,” she says.



 

Saffron Risotto with Asparagus

Here’s the recipe that I always use for saffron risotto, but I love adding fresh asparagus to the recipe as soon as it is available in the spring. I use a recipe from “The Best of Casual Italian Cooking Trattoria” by Mary Beth Clark, and I just add cut-up asparagus toward the end of the cooking process.

  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp minced shallots (or substitute spring onion and green garlic for another early-spring variation)
  • 1 c Arborio rice
  • 2½  c meat or vegetable stock
  • ½ c dry Italian white wine
  • generous pinch of powdered saffron
  • ¼ c grated good-quality Italian Parmesan cheese
  • salt and ground white pepper
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • one bunch of asparagus, cut into ¼-inch pieces

Directions: In a deep saucepan over low heat, melt 2 Tbsp of the butter. Add the shallots and saute until almost translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the rice, coating it thoroughly with the butter. Cook, stirring, until the edges of the grains are translucent, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the stock and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice absorbs most of the stock and there is only a little visible liquid remaining, 5-6 minutes. Add another 1 cup stock, stir to mix and again allow the rice to absorb most of the liquid, another 5-6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the 1/2 cup white wine and saffron and stir to distribute the saffron evenly. Add the asparagus at this point as well.

Allow the rice to absorb most of the wine, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add another 1/2 cup stock and continue to simmer, stirring, for 4-5 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and the remaining 1 Tbsp butter and season to taste with salt, white pepper and nutmeg. The risotto should be al dente at this point. If it is too moist, simmer for a few minutes longer; if it is too dry, stir in a little additional stock to achieve the desired consistency. Taste and adjust with more wine, cheese and seasonings. Remove from the heat when there is a little more liquid than the desired amount, as the rice will continue to absorb it. To serve, mound the risotto in warmed shallow bowls and serve immediately.
 

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