hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues February-March 2024


Homegrown HEAT

Farm-to-table meal service adds its own line of hot sauces


Gordon Sacks holds a bottle of one of the new line of hot sauces made from ingredients grown at 9 Miles East Farm. Joan K. Lentini photo

Gordon Sacks holds a bottle of one of the new line of hot sauces made from ingredients grown at 9 Miles East Farm. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


When Gordon Sacks created his meal subscription service 15 years ago, his mission was clear: to make it easy for busy people to eat healthy, locally produced food.

Sacks, a native of Connecticut, and his wife, Mary, moved to Saratoga County 18 years ago to buy a 29-acre farm in the town of Northumberland, just outside Schuylerville. They spent almost three years improving the soil and building their expertise in growing vegetables. Then they turned to producing plant-centric meals augmented with vegan, vegetarian and traditional protein sources.

Today, their bushels of organic greens, purple cabbage, tomatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes star on the menu of 9 Miles East Farm. Although their production kitchen in Saratoga Springs serves customers at an on-site cafe, the main focus remains creating healthy meals for people to consume at home or work. The meal service is specifically designed for the beleaguered working professional who doesn’t have the time or energy to cook a proper meal from scratch at the end of the day.

In the early years, Sacks said, they delivered meals mainly to customers in the Capital District region. Today, they’ve pushed their geographic boundaries — to Lake George and even to Boston — and shifted to serving more corporate and institutional customers.

“Boston and the surrounding area is a fit for us, and we’re still growing that market,” Sacks said.
His farm-to-table salads, soups and bento boxes are as colorful as floral arrangements. Sacks said he stuck with his convictions on nutrition, even though more people saw ingredients like kale and quinoa as exotic and unapproachable 15 years ago. Now, those are items his customers expect.

Although Sacks tries to steer clear of the relentless merry-go-round of dietary and nutrition fads, he is also mindful of more long-lasting preferences taking root, such as many customers’ desire for fewer refined carbohydrates and breads. Without adopting diet-culture tactics such as demonizing or banishing particular food groups, Sacks offers options such as zucchini noodles topped with arugula pesto and the use of riced cauliflower and quinoa in place of white rice in the cafe’s Korean-style bowls.

“There are no shortcuts to good nutrition,” he explained. “We believe it comes through a diversity of foods and focusing on the pleasure of a really great tomato or head of lettuce.”

And recently, condiments have taken on a more prominent role on the 9 Miles East menu — not only for flavor enhancement but for nutritional heft as well.



Homegrown hot sauces
From the start, Sacks and his kitchen staff would top their popular GO boxes with a fermented carrot chunk, a probiotic tradition in Asian culture to aid digestion.

But now 9 Miles East has developed its own line of hot sauces — all lacto-fermented and made with vegetables grown in Saratoga County.

Adam Bigelow, a chef at 9 Miles East since 2016, was instrumental in developing flavor profiles of the new probiotic hot sauces. When Bigelow was hired to take the helm of the prepared-meal operation, his initial focus was to experiment with protein and vegetable options for entrees, salads and the GO boxes — ready-made meals consisting of organic greens, whole grains, cooked vegetables and house-made dressings.

In addition to vegan and vegetarian dishes, meals can include traditional protein options such as turkey, chicken, pork and beef. There’s also an entire pizza menu using the house sourdough crust recipe.

“Our niche in the market is that everything is ready to eat — there’s no prep work involved,” Bigelow said.

Even the condiments and garnishes such as dressings, sesame seeds and sauces are already incorporated.

Because lacto-fermented foods are an integral part of the 9 Miles East philosophy, Sacks and Bigelow decided the three new varieties of hot sauces, which are available on the menu and also for sale by the bottle, should follow suit.

“The hot sauces came out of a program we do called retail items, which are small, interesting handcrafted items on a rotating basis as a supplement to add on to delivery orders,” Bigelow said. “Sometimes it will be a dozen farm-fresh eggs or a loaf of our fermented sourdough bread. I’ve always been a hot-sauce head, so I began experimenting.”


Probiotic pickling
To create the new sauces, 9 Miles East used the same process that was already in place for the lacto-fermentation of carrots, pickles and peppers for menu items. That process involves coaxing a natural lactobacillus (a commonly used probiotic or ‘good bacteria’) grown in the hospitable environment of a salt solution. It all takes place in the commercial kitchen’s airtight, pickle-fermenting buckets. Bigelow said the anaerobic environment helps the bacteria to multiply.
“The salt solution also keeps yeast and bad forms of bacteria from multiplying,” he explained. “The lactobacillus consumes some of the carbohydrates in the food pickling and produces carbon dioxide and lactic acid, which all work together to pickle the vegetables.”

As a result, entrees and appetizers ranging from tomato-rice soup to turkey chili, vegetable stir-fry, curried chicken and burritos now can be splashed with three flavors of hot sauce in varying colors and degrees of heat. Green is made with jalapeno and garlic and is somewhat mild. Orange is a carrot-habanero blend, which Sacks said “has some zip, but is nicely balanced by the sweetness of the carrot.” And Red, the most fiery of the three, is made with cayenne peppers.

Bigelow said even a small quantity of the lacto-fermented hot sauce will yield probiotic benefits.
“Just a teaspoon of our hot sauce has millions to billions of probiotic elements in it,” he said.
Customer feedback so far suggests the mild and medium sauces are the most popular, but all three are “selling really well,” he added. The sauces sell for $8 for a five-ounce bottle, and the Saratoga Springs cafe has a small retail section for items such as condiments, sourdough loaves and boules, quick breads and desserts.


From farm to many tables
Although 9 Miles East still delivers meals to local homes and individuals, its scope has expanded to corporate customers and large-scale deliveries to schools and medical facilities. Sacks’ role as chief executive keeps him busier than ever. On any given day, he can be found at his command center, hunkered behind a laptop at an empty restaurant table, coordinating food orders, deliveries and inventory shipments.

For more than a decade, Sacks and his staff worked from the farm kitchen nine miles east of Saratoga Springs (hence the name of the business). But in 2020 (“just in time for the pandemic,” Sacks noted dryly), he opened a sit-down restaurant with a generously proportioned commercial kitchen and a parking lot large enough to accommodate delivery vehicles.

“We outgrew our kitchen on the farm and wanted to move closer to customers,” Sacks explained. “The cafe gives people a chance to see our products and learn more about available service options. Plus it’s a natural extension of our mission.”

In spite of the operation’s growth, Sacks seems pleasantly surprised by the shifting tastes of at least some of the population.

“What we do is the most boring thing in world — it’s what your grandmother ate: plant-based,” he observed. “It’s really interesting. We always stayed away from trends, and what we do is the trend now.”

Visit www.9mileseast.com for information about 9 Miles East Farm’s line of hot sauces. They are available for purchase via delivery service or at the 9 Miles East restaurant at 64 Excelsior Ave. in Saratoga Springs.