Unwrapping the farm-to-box movement

BY CARL CORRY //

Satur Farms is keeping up with the Joneses with a vertical push into mail-order markets.

When Paulette Satur and her husband, Eberhard Müller, first bought an 18-acre farm in Cutchogue back in 1997, their primary goal was to provide fresh ingredients to the French restaurant Lutece, one of several Manhattan restaurants the German-born Müller has owned and operated since coming to the United States.

“It started as just a little garden,” Satur noted.

Paulette Satur: How did her "garden" grow?

Paulette Satur: How did her “garden” grow?

But the little garden “started growing,” she added, especially when other New York City restaurants started asking about Satur Farms products. Today, the farm operates 250 acres in Cutchogue, the nerve center of a thriving wholesale operation known for its baby greens, heirloom tomatoes, rainbow-colored radishes, rare herbs, baby carrots, fennel, leeks, potatoes and candy cane beets.

Satur, who grew up on a Pennsylvania dairy farm, and Müller – a native of Germany’s Black Forest region who shot to fame when NYC seafood restaurant Le Bernardin, which he opened with French restaurateurs Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze, earned a four-star New York Times review in 1986 – oversee a completely organic operation.

In addition to chemical-free insect repellants and recycled packaging materials, the farmers rotate their crops to minimize disease occurrence and allow certain soil nutrients to replenish. They also plant cover crops – a custom blends of clover, legumes and grasses – to prevent toxic runoff, deter weather-related erosion and create a natural fertilizer that promotes microbiological soil activity.

Satur Farms employs the same ecologically friendly practices at its secondary site, 500 acres in Florida that allow year-round growing opportunities. In addition to wholesale vegetable supplies, the farm offers ready-to-eat salads and other branded products to FreshDirect, Whole Foods and other specialty groceries.

No stranger to innovation, Satur Farms is now establishing itself as a provider to mail-order easy-cooking companies including Blue Apron and Plated. The e-enterprises ship boxes packed with directions and exact ingredients for a week’s worth of user-selected recipes.

That makes them ideal partners for regional growers like Satur Farms, even if it took Satur a moment to get her head around this new approach to grocery shopping.

“There is a lot of change in how people are getting their food,” she noted. “But when they gave me an example of a meal to try, I was like, ‘Wow, this is convenient.’”

The farm, which now employs about 70 hands and moves some of them to Florida for the growing season there, has been providing mail-order products for several months, responding to bid requests and “hoping for the best,” according to Satur, who studied horticulture at Penn State University and earned a graduate degree in plant physiology from the University of Arizona.

Her studies and experiences led her into wine sales – Satur worked several years as a consultant for distributor Martin Scott Wines, advising top NYC restaurants – before she met Müller and the two launched Satur Farms. Now, the entrepreneur sees parallels between her wine-sales background and the amateur-cooking trends behind the boxed-ingredients movement.

“We were always excited about when a new chef was taking over, because they had an adventurous sensibility,” Satur said. “And now there’s this new concept. It’s like that.”