Producer Profile: Deep Rooted

This post about Deep Rooted by Bjorn Bergman of Viroqua Food Co-op first appeared on their website

Many would argue that the first true taste of summer is that of a sun-ripened local tomato. Lucky for us, that first Deep Rooted greenhousetaste of summer comes sooner at the VFC thanks to Deep Rooted, our local supplier of certified organic tomatoes. Outside of Westby, Wisconsin, this is our main local tomato producer, which is why we want to share their story with you.

Deep Rooted is owned and run by Tiffany Cade and Jimmy Fackert. They met in 2011 when their families crossed paths while on vacation in the US Virgin Islands. Following meeting abroad, Tiffany and Jimmy kept in touch and started dating.

From the beginning, both Tiffany and Jimmy were interested in organic food production. Tiffany was working for a CSA farm in Chicago and Jimmy grew up in a family that valued gardening and growing food. Less than a year into their relationship, Tiffany’s stepfather Brian passed away in the summer of 2012 leaving Ski Hill Greenhouses in Westby without a main operator. At that time, they were both looking to move somewhere together so Tiffany and Jimmy decided to take the leap. In January of 2013, they moved to Westby, started growing their first tomato seeds, and Deep Rooted was born!

They founded Deep Rooted because they both saw a problem with the way the conventional produce and food is grown, processed and distributed. They thought that through experimentation and combining modern technologies with more traditional methods that they could create a better way of growing and providing food for the local community, efficiently and sustainably.

They followed in the footsteps of Ski Hill Greenhouses and continue to offer a wide variety of flowers. The biggest changes in the farm since they have taken over are the switch to pesticide-free and organic production and the addition of growing certified organic greenhouse tomatoes. Their tomatoes are the earliest and latest available local tomatoes around.

Viroqua Food Co-op has been a big supporter of Deep Rooted since their first season. In 2013, VFC was their first retail account for their tomatoes. In 2015, VFC awarded Deep Rooted a $1,250 P6 Microloan to test two different growing mediums for organic tomato production in their greenhouses. This trial helped them identify which soil mix grows the healthiest organic plants and, as a result, the best tasting tomatoes.

The couple is, understandably, serious about tomatoes. While they love all the tomatoes they grow, they do have a number of favorites. Tiffany’s favorites include Sun Gold Cherry, German Stripe and Abe Lincoln, while Jimmy loves Black Cherry, Cherokee Purple, and German Stripe. Each year they grow new varieties to see if they can find a new favorite for themselves and their customers.

The 2016 growing season marks their fourth year of operation with some exciting changes on the horizon. They are growing a new tomato this year called Sun Peach, a pink cherry tomato that is a sister variety to Sun Gold. This past April, they offered more spring planting classes than ever and this summer they hope to host a number of events on their farm, including a tomato tasting. Keep your eyes on their website and Facebook page for more details if you are interested in attending one of their events.

When purchasing tomatoes, you are supporting Jimmy and Tiffany, a second generation family farm as well as their one seasonal full time employee, Hannah Eddy. In the future, they hope to keep growing so that Deep Rooted can support at least three families with meaningful employment, wages and benefits.

Tiffany and Jimmy sum it up best. “We love what we do. There is nothing quite as gratifying after a full day’s work than knowing that you were a part of putting healthy, nutritious, delicious food on another family’s table.”

Have you had a Deep Rooted organic tomato? Stop by the VFC and pick up a pint or a pound, May through October. We have a variety of their slicer, heirloom and cherry tomatoes. VFC also carries
their annual and perennial flowers and certified organic vegetable and herb seedlings each spring and early summer in the VFC Greenhouse.

Deep Rooted also sells their tomatoes and flowers at the Viroqua Farmers Market and Cameron Park Farmers Market (Downtown, La Crosse), to numerous area restaurants and a variety of other local retail outlets. Learn more at www.deeprootedorganics.com.

P6 Hosts Successful 2016 Annual Meeting

P6 Annual Meeting 1What happens when 25 cooperators from 12 co-ops meet? A bold vision for the future of the cooperative trade movement, we discovered at the 2016 P6 Annual Meeting.

The P6 team was excited to host the Annual Meeting in the P6 home base of Minneapolis, welcoming peers from near and far. The newest P6 members, Moscow Food Co-op of Moscow, ID, and The Good Earth Food Co-op of St. Cloud, MN, joined for the first time. The meeting took place on May 19th and 20th.

The conference began with tours of the new Seward Co-op Friendship Store and of the newly remodeled Eastside Food Co-op. Attendees had tons of questions about the tools these P6 experts use to promote small, local, and cooperative products.

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After the store tours, we held a celebratory dinner at the Seward Co-op Creamery Cafe. In addition to recognizing all the great work P6 members have done this year, the dinner served as an opportunity to welcome non-P6 member co-op representatives interested to learn more about P6. The Creamery Cafe staff did a great job highlighting P6 producers, with special focus on our P6 wholesale members.

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On Friday, with the help of expert facilitators from Growthworks, Inc., we put our heads together to plan for the growth of the P6 movement. This packed day of activities allowed members to brainstorm for improvements at their own co-ops and share best practices. Additionally, we collected perspectives about the best way the P6 national team can meet collective goals.

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Many thanks to the P6 producers who donated product to help make a successful meeting: Maple Valley Co-op, Farmer Direct Co-op, Organic Valley, WiscoPop!, Peace Coffee, Seafood Producers Co-op, and Equal Exchange. Thank you for supporting the movement!

Farmer Direct Cooperative: A New Kind of Co-op

P6 was honored to bring Farmer Direct Cooperative (FDC) on board as a member last year. FDC has been operating in Canada since 2002 but is just beginning to bring their products — beans, grains, and oilseeds — to the American market.

I spoke with founder and Director Jason Freeman and Retail Sales & Marketing Coordinator Katherine Gee about their co-op’s story.

Farmer Direct All Member MeetingFarmer Direct Cooperative was founded by Jason and three farmers in 2002. Jason had been operating a small organic food company and upon its sale was approached by the farmers he had been working with to market more of their crops. The farmers faced unfair pricing, poor logistics, and a lack of transparency. They collaborated with Jason to build a cooperative that would let them sell their crops, which included flaxseed, lentils, hempseed and peas, in a fair and direct way.

The Canadian prairies have a strong cooperative history, particularly for farmers. Farmer Direct Cooperative’s board president, Kevin Bristow, grew up watching his father run member services for a large conventional farmer co-op. What Farmer Direct Cooperative brings that is new is their commitment to their three attributes:

  • 100% Farmer Owned
  • 100% Certified Organic
  • 100% Domestic Fair Trade Certified

No other business boasts all three attributes, so let’s take some time to dig into what they all mean.

Farmer Owned

John Finnie & SonOrganizing as a cooperative, or farmer-owned businesses, was a bit of a no-brainer for the farmers. The strong culture of cooperatives in the area laid the groundwork, so when the farmers decided to come together, they knew they wanted one member, one vote; open and voluntary membership; and a way to participate fairly in an economic endeavor. What other way than through a cooperative? Their board president summed up why he joined the co-op as: “I believe in cooperatives, I believe in fairness, I believe in transparency. Collectively we have more strength, more advantage, more opportunity.”

Certified Organic

All 60 family farms that are member-owners of Farmer Direct Cooperative are fully organic. Most of them have been organic for at least 10 years. None of FDC’s members are “split operations,” or farms that grow both conventional and organic products. The strong commitment to only selling organic products is one of the big draws that brings farmers into the cooperative.

Domestic Fair Trade Certified

Farmer Direct Cooperative FamilyWhile running an organic farmers’ co-op was already innovative, Farmer Direct Cooperative made the decision over the last few years to continue their leadership in the field by certifying all their farmers Domestic Fair Trade. Farmer Direct Cooperative was the first business in North America to receive that certification, which ensures that business in North America are treating workers fairly and farmers are paid a fair price.

Jason said that change in any co-op can often cause members to split off. Despite the high reporting and auditing requirements that come with Domestic Fair Trade Certification, only two farmers left the co-op when the decision was made to bring the label on board. The overwhelming majority of FDC farmers saw this new certification as an important way they could push the industry in a fairer direction.

Another change for Farmer Direct Cooperative is their recent decision to expand into the US market. Joining P6 as the first international member was one step in their process to get connected to the players in the US market. Katherine, who serves as the primary liaison to P6, shared that building relationships with co-ops around the US and learning about the landscape and distribution here has been a huge advantage.

Farmer Direct Cooperative products on the shelf at Viroqua Food Co-opThrough their membership in P6 and the advocacy of our members, Farmer Direct Cooperative was able to get their products into the Co-op Partners Warehouse, which serves co-ops and other grocery stores all over the Upper Midwest. This type of distribution, which goes from a farmer co-op to a warehousing co-op to a grocery co-op, begins to build the co-op to co-op supply chain that’s at the heart of P6’s vision and a big part of the world Farmer Direct Cooperative is trying to build.

Jason and Katherine shared their visions for a more P6 world. Jason emphasized that co-ops may never fully replace conventional businesses, but that they serve as a crucial foil for the current system. In a P6 world, democratically owned businesses will drive corporations to better behavior through competition as the public gets more experience with cooperatives. There has to be an alternative to the rampant greed that leads to exploitation along the supply chain. Katherine foresees a world where co-op made is the preference and customers are knowledgeable and excited about cooperatives.

Jason and Katherine are optimistic about the long-term impacts of P6 on their co-op. We are extremely excited to continue to grow with them. You can learn more about Farmer Direct Cooperative at their website.

P6 Welcomes Two New Members

P6 is thrilled to announce that we have two new members joining P6! Moscow Food Co-op in Moscow, ID, and The Good Earth Food Co-op in St. Cloud, MN, are the most recent retail grocery co-ops to sign on.

Moscow Food Co-op

Moscow Food Co-opMoscow Food Co-op is a 43 year old co-op located in Moscow, ID. Moscow’s biggest goal in launching P6 is to elevate the visibility and economic impact of producers aligned with their values. They are motivated to use P6 to highlight their identity as a cooperative authentically connected to their community. For them, a successful implementation of P6 is a consistent, rewarding, exciting experience for their customers; a well-educated staff enthusiastic about the value of supporting small, local, and cooperative businesses; and thriving global and local partners.

The Good Earth Food Co-op

Good Earth Food Co-opThe Good Earth Food Co-op has been serving the St. Cloud, MN, area since 1971. Good Earth is launching the P6 program as they are developing many kinds of store signage for the first time, giving them a great vantage point to introduce their customers to the program. They share the same values as P6 and look forward to using the program to deepen and continue their support of small, local, and cooperative producers and to support the education of their members.