Scrolling through Kim Ragosta’s mouth-watering Instagram feed, you might assume she works at a trendy city restaurant.
But Ragosta, a homeschooling mother of five, lives on a homestead in Richmond, R.I., where she creates recipes for local farms. It’s a way to encourage people to shop locally, and by bartering recipes for food from local farms, she’s feeding her family and keeping her grocery bills down.
“It’s amazing,” she said. This summer, “I bought things like butter, flour. But I haven’t bought meat since May 2021. For a family of seven, that’s been great.”
“My son and my husband are hunters, so we get venison, turkey, duck,” she said. “It’s neat knowing you can self-sustain if needed. That’s a big part of our homeschooling, too.”
On their homestead, the Ragostas raise heritage breed chickens and Nigerian dwarf goats and keep a vegetable garden. Homeschooling her kids, ages 5 to 13, also includes field trips to learn “where the animal you’re eating comes from. My kids are able to see, from start to finish, how this product ended up on our table,” she said. “It’s been a beautiful process.”
An East Greenwich native, Ragosta, 39, will release her debut cookbook in 2023. She talked to Globe Rhode Island about bartering, local farms, fall recipes, and how to stretch a grocery budget.
Q: I’m so intrigued by this concept of bartering recipes for food. How did this start?
Ragosta: Growing up, my father was an entrepreneur, you could say. He was great at bartering. He was a pilot and photographer, and would take aerial photography of businesses, restaurants, and [trade] a beautiful picture, matted and framed, for a $300 gift certificate for the restaurant. He was always doing things like that. I was exposed to that.
I thought: Farms could give me meat or vegetables, and I could write recipes. Farms could use them on their website, or social media. Because so many times, with farms or CSAs, people think: “What do I do with frozen chuck roast? Or daikon?”
I reached out first to Wild Harmony Farm, and bartered $30 of meat for a recipe. I reached out to probably 40 farms and artisans in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Every single one said yes.
It took off fast. I love it. And I’ve gotten to know the food community. It’s been fun being able to showcase like their products in a delicious and beautiful way that, at the same time, helps customers with inspiration and ideas. Now I’m writing a cookbook with all of these recipes, plus the ones I’ve created over the past 15 years.
How many Rhode Island farms do you work with?
I’ve worked with about 25 Rhode Island farms since May 2021, not [all] currently, though. Every farm utilizes me differently. For Rocky Point Blueberry Farm, I did recipes in exchange for letting the kids and I pick. Wild Harmony, she’s super good about having everything up on the website. Windmist prints them out and posts them on freezers. Chris and Kristina’s Market Garden prints them to display. There are tons of ways farms utilize this. It’s a good thing for them, their customers, and it’s been a huge blessing in my life.
What are a few others you’ve worked with?
Wicked Roots Micro Farm in South Kingstown. Micro Farms are popping up more and more. Another one: Farming Turtles. Little River Farm, Luckyfoot Ranch, Brandon Family Farm, Emma Acres, Cedar Valley Farm. The Local Catch for seafood. Pat’s Pastured — I actually used to work there as an egg-washer.
What’s a good recipe to stretch a food budget?
Honestly, a whole chicken. I can take a 4-pound chicken, for $20, $25, and feed my family of seven. You can do so much with it. I do dutch oven or Crockpot slow-cooking for soup, tacos, quesadillas. Afterwards, I strip that carcass completely and put it back into the pot with water, veggies, herbs to make bone-broth. That’s one of my favorite ways to stretch a meal.
I love pestos. I hate to waste anything, so I’ll take carrot and beet tops that most people throw away and turn those into pesto with some herbs, a little bit of cheese, sunflower seeds — which are much cheaper than pine nuts and taste just as good — and a good olive oil.
What are some kid-favorite dishes?
They love tacos. For a quick meal, sheet-pan nachos. I’ll put a pork-butt roast in the crock pot, make my own barbecue sauce. It’s so easy — nachos and veggies, pulled pork on top with local cheese. The kids go crazy for that.
And what are some of your personal favorite meals?
I go right to a bolognese. There’s so many ways you can do that: pork, veal, ground beef, fresh tomatoes. I love pasta. I remember when I was 19, being in the kitchen with my husband’s grandmother, she was teaching me how to make homemade potato gnocchi. And the love — I could just feel it. So any kind of Italian cuisine, I relate to the most.
Homemade pizza, eggplant parmesan, bruschetta. I love braised meats with polenta or risotto. Italian cuisine is my favorite. I love the simplicity and the passion.
So if somebody wants to trade with you, do they let you pick the food? Or do they give you something as an assignment?
I’m usually a take-charge person, but this has been me saying: “Whatever you’re able to bless our family with, I’ll be creative with.” I usually do two recipes per month for each farm. So if they give me pork chops, or ground beef, I’ll start thinking about that.
A lot of vegetable farms, I’m able to pick what I want. I love that because I can [browse and get] inspired — like that potato and leek soup. I’ve only had one farm tell me: “this is what I want for a recipe.” But I definitely need to feel that inspiration in order to make something good.
What are a few recipes for fall?
When I think of fall, I think stews, soups, breads with kalamata olives, pasta. It depends what product I’m working with. I love cooking seasonally and locally— food is more delicious when you’re in tune with the seasons.
Looks like you’re doing a lot with squash right now.
Squashes are huge. There’s so much you can do with them. For mac & cheese, I’ve made a butternut squash sauce the kids thought was cheese. And it’s so easy: Just roast the butternut squash, mash it up. Puree it, add a little milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and becomes like this beautiful, velvety creamy sauce. I’ve done it in lasagna. You could put that on pizza.
Another interesting squash is delicata squash — a beautiful long squash with green stripes. Roast them until they’re golden brown. The skin is delicious and packed with nutrients. Mix that with a little ghee or a little olive oil. I just had the best squash I’ve ever had in my life, a butterkin — a combination between a butternut and a pumpkin. The sweetness was just delicious.
And when you put flowers on your dishes, are they edible?
Yes. This year was the first year growing nasturtium. You can eat those flowers right up. And it makes it look extra pretty.
This interview has been edited and condensed.