Category: producer profile

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 Producer: Roots In Bloom

This article about Roots in Bloom by Andrew of Ozark Natural Foods originally appeared on their website

roots in bloomOnce upon a time you could find Mee McGill sitting at the Owner Services Desk, smiling wide at everyone who walked through the door. Mee has since moved on to become the Assistant Wellness Manager, but you can still see her throughout the store with her signature smile and perpetual cheer.

In addition to her position at ONF, she and her husband own and operate Roots in Bloom Farm, a Certified Naturally Grown farm and homestead nestled in the Boston Mountains in West Fork, AR. Roots in Bloom is an off-grid, sustainable teaching farm dedicated to providing naturally grown food and wellness products to the community and world. Roots in Bloom is passionate about healthy values, nutritious food, sustainability, and helping others in need. They provide Certified Naturally Grown produce and herbs to ONF, in addition to local nurseries and through community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. They also offer workshops, DIY kits, and other value-added products such as all-natural bug sprays, healing salves, and sunscreen. We sell many of Roots in Bloom’s products at ONF, and I can personally attest that their products work very well. I was duly impressed with her bug spray when I went for a hike one day back in mid-summer. RIB sunscreen is also recommended for protecting your sensitive skin against the sun’s harmful UV rays. We will also soon be carrying their Baby Bum Heal diaper rash cream, in addition to an all-natural ConChest rub to battle the nasty congestion one gets during cold and flu season. One of their most exciting products is their Sustainable Lifeline DIY Tincture Kits. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at making your own tinctures, then these are for you.

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In addition to her work at ONF and Roots in Bloom, Mee is also a doula, a medical assistant, CNA, and Master Herbalist. According to Mee, “I am a mother of two wonderful young women who I provided home education to for several years. Following this stage of my life, I felt it was time to expand my skills and offer assistance to the community who supported my choice to home school. I followed my dream and received my certification as a Master Herbalist. I was so interested in the things that I learned that I wanted to further my education in the medical field. I felt this would give me a better understanding of “conventional” medicine and the differences between that and “alternative” medicine. I received my nurse assistant certification and became a medical assistant as well. After spending some time figuring out where I wanted to aim my focus, I went back to work for the natural food co-op in my area and began the development of this farm. I have become more passionate about natural wellness and healthy food. It is my desire to share the knowledge and abilities I have gained with others. Currently, I offer doula and in-home care services, herbal consultations, workshops which teach about home herbalism, and working hard to develop Roots in Bloom to create a healthier future for my community.”

Roots in Bloom currently has a Crowdfund campaign to purchase a waterwheel that will be used to produce electricity. Any remaining funds will be allocated to improving the wellness aspect of their business. You can also find Roots in Bloom on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. Their website is www.rootsinbloom.weebly.com.

As you can see, Mee is a valuable asset to our food co-op and Fayetteville community, and we are so grateful to have her on our team!

 

New P6 Member: Organic Valley

Ranck_PA_06-15_0645Here at P6, we are honored to welcome a new wholesale member: CROPP Cooperative. CROPP is a farmer co-op, owned by farmer members, and better known to the public as the successful brands they market under, Organic Valley and Organic Prairie. With CROPP’s membership, along with our longstanding policy of giving the P6 label to large co-ops like Organic Valley and Equal Exchange, we wanted to address a question that is often raised. Why do these big, successful businesses get the P6 label? Isn’t P6 all about supporting the small producer? The answer is yes!

P6 is about first and foremost supporting small producers, and in these cases we’re supporting small producers who have cooperatively and democratically organized together. Our organization, the Principle Six Cooperative Trade Movement, has support for cooperative businesses built into our structure. Benson_NY_09-15_16019Cooperatives are democratic institutions, and we believe that self-governance is a key component of the food system we want to see. We know that a farmer co-op like Organic Valley, or a worker co-op buying exclusively from small farmer co-ops like Equal Exchange, puts the best interests of small farmers at the heart of their business model. Many types of businesses make claims that they support small farmers, but their top priority is still making a profit for shareholders, not the farmers themselves. In these business models, control and decision-making power is concentrated at the top of the organization rather than being shared through democratic governance. The large co-ops of small farmers that we label as P6 exist primarily to benefit those farmers. Not just by paying them a better price for their goods, but by giving them the opportunity to be a part of the decision-making process within the business. As a consumer, you can be confident that your food dollars are going to support small family farmers when you buy products from these co-ops.

_DSC4877-minOrganic Valley has been a key supporter of P6 over the years, including funding our videos through their Farmers Advocating For Organics fund. They are an excellent example of cooperative economics in practice, and we are thrilled to have them on board as members. In order to tell the full story of our longtime supporter and newest member, I interviewed Jerry McGeorge, Vice President of Cooperative Affairs at Organic Valley, and his insights are throughout this article, which also draws from Organic Valley’s publications, particularly their farmer-facing co-op website.

In 1988, several small family farmers in Wisconsin started an organic vegetable marketing cooperative they dubbed Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool (CROPP). In July of 1988, they branched off into an organic dairy program with seven farmers who collectively produced 10,000 pounds (about 1,200 gallons) of milk every day. After a year and a half of disappointing sales, CROPP developed the Organic Valley brand and began marketing its own products directly. The cooperative has branched out several times since then with organic eggs in 1993, organic meats under the Organic Prairie label in 1999, and organic soy in 2004. Because the co-op has grown far beyond the Coulee Region, CROPP now stands for “Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools.” These producer pools organize farmers by type of product (dairy, meat, soy, etc) and by region. You can read more about the pool structure here.

DSC00126-min (1)Organic Valley is owned by 1,800 farm families in 34 states, Canada, and Australia. Those farmers elect and make up the board. The organization doesn’t exist to make profits for corporate shareholders; it exists to provide a livelihood for the owners who do the work to produce the milk and other products while meeting consumers’ growing demand for organic food.

Organic Valley’s pioneering “Y In The Road” payment system pays the farmers first, before retaining profits for the business. Organic milk prices can be very volatile, and the crash and boom cycle leads to an unpredictable income for farmers, who may be raising children or planning for retirement. Organic Valley evens out this cycle by planning target prices for each coming year, and has never sold below their target price. This means Organic Valley farmers can predict how much money they will be making in the coming year, and plan for the growth of their business (because all family farmers are small business owners, too!). Organic Valley also supports farmers as they transition into organic farming, which provides a pathway to a higher sale price for farmers that are currently selling conventional products, and expands the number of cows raised organically.

Ranck_PA_06-15_1749This stable pricing model has pioneered a new way of doing business in the organic milk industry. Other brands working with organic dairy farmers have followed suit in terms of offering a consistent price, to keep up with the competitive pricing offered to farmers by Organic Valley. At this point, about 10% of the organic dairy farmers in the country are owners of Organic Valley, and they are still seeking out new owners to meet the demand for Organic Valley products. Organic Valley’s policies don’t only improve life for the farmers they work with directly; they ripple out to the whole industry.


Jerry McGeorge explained that Organic Valley is a national co-op with a regional focus. Dairy is a product with a short shelf-life, so supply-chain concerns are particularly pressing in this industry. The Organic Valley brand is recognizable across the country, but the milk you shelf tags in dairy coolerbuy likely came from the region you live in. The national scope of the co-op also allows farmers to support each other’s variations in production. This is especially important in cases of severe weather conditions. When tornadoes come through the Midwest, or California faces a drought, consumers still want milk. Farmers in different regions are less likely to be impacted by the same environmental factors, so a functional, farmer-owned distribution network builds resiliency.

Speaking of the environment, Organic Valley is committed to environmental sustainability. They are one of the only food companies in the US that sells only certified organic products, which has huge impacts on the ecosystems surrounding the member farms. Organic means that Organic Valley member farms never use antibiotics, toxic pesticides, synthetic hormones, or synthetic fertilizers. The cows raised by Organic Valley farmers are pastured, which produces healthier milk and nourishes the soil. In addition, Organic Valley has installed enough wind power to cover 63% of the energy use at their headquarters, including their 10-story cold storage facility, as well as investing in solar and biodiesel. More information about their sustainability commitment here.

Teague_8376The democratic process at a cooperative isn’t always easy. There can be real differences of opinion between the farmers as they work together to govern their business. In one example, the co-op faced a challenge when some farms started selling raw milk. While some farmers were in favor, due to the possible health benefits and different flavor of raw milk that drive consumer interest, others were concerned about the impacts on the entire brand if one or two people got sick  from raw milk sold by an Organic Valley farmer. Ultimately, the farmers made a decision to not allow raw milk sales from any  of their farms. As Jerry put it, whether or not you agree with that decision, the farmers were able to make it democratically, in a way that ultimately reflected their mutual self-interest.

Teague_8378Organic Valley is a strategic partner for P6 because of their dedication to and experience in cooperative business growth and supply chain development. The logistics of transporting that milk around the country takes thoughtful planning and a tremendous amount of work. Organic Valley has started a subsidiary business called Organic Logistics. They saw that their costs for shipping product were higher than necessary because they were sending out less than full loads, or shipping product in one direction and paying for the truck to come back empty. Organic Logistics uses Organic Valley’s shipments as an anchor, while providing distribution services for other small, organic businesses. This maximizes the value of the shipments and builds a P6 and organic economy. Jerry emphasized the challenge that distribution poses for small producers who are trying to expand. He highlighted Walmart’s success at figuring out distribution challenges as one reason for their financial success. If we want to build an alternative food system, we need to develop efficient systems for getting healthy, fresh food to people.

The ability to aggregate or “pool” the farm products of several small producers is a key concern for large-scale cooperative businesses. Organic Valley attributes part of its success to its ability to aggregate — that is, bring together the products of many small farmers to a shared product stream, like a milk packager, and to market them collectively. As Jerry put it, there is strength in numbers. Reaching a certain economy of scale allows the co-op to offer farmers the kind of stabilized sale prices mentioned above. Bringing the product together — aggregation — so it can be sent out to a wide range of retailers — distribution — while allowing farmers to retain democratic control of the business is what makes Organic Valley an exemplar of P6’s values.

DSC00130-min (1)Jerry said that Organic Valley hopes to offer a similar stabilizing effect as a member of P6. Jerry, along with Organic Valley’s VP of Sales, Eric Newman, who sits on the P6 board, got interested in P6 through the Viroqua Food Co-op. Viroqua Food Co-op is the closest food co-op for most of the staff at Organic Valley’s La Farge, WI headquarters. At the time VFC was joining P6, Jerry sat on the VFC board. Many people worked to develop a way for farmer co-ops like Organic Valley to plug into P6. As Jerry put it, natural food co-ops are Organic Valley’s oldest and most loyal customers. Finding a way to strengthen the connection between grocery co-ops and all farmer co-ops, including Organic Valley, aligns well with Organic Valley’s commitment to the sixth  cooperative principle.

Organic Valley is a leader in the field of cooperative agriculture. We enthusiastically welcome them into the P6 cooperative and look forward to working with them for many years to come.

Producer Profile: Apple Seeds Teaching Farm

This post by Julie from the A La Carte Department at Ozark Natural Foods.

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When I started working at ONF nearly three years ago, there was a giant empty field next to the co-op. I remember thinking that it was odd that a huge lot was sitting empty in the middle of town. Then I learned that it was to become a teaching farm operated by Apple Seeds, a non-profit organization focused on the Farm to School movement. Here local school children can learn about gardening, cooking, and the healthy benefits of eating fresh vegetables. Having resided in Berkeley, CA, where Alice Waters began the first teaching garden in the United States, I was already familiar with the benefits of this educational format, not just for the children but for the community as a whole. I was thrilled that the concept was catching on right here in Northwest Arkansas.

With the support and hard work of local businesses, community members, school partners, and of course kids, they transformed that empty field into a thriving teaching farm. Now it is home to more than 5,000 square feet of gardens, an outdoor classroom, and a team that provides garden-based programs to students. Their farm programs, including Farm Lab and Farm to Table, are hands-on, fun, academically rich, and inspire young students to make healthy food choices.

Since 2014, they have grown more than 3,000 pounds of produce. The veggies have found their way to local school garden markets and their burgeoning Farm to School program, as well as their annual fundraisers and to Ozark Natural Foods, a long-standing partner and neighbor. Some of the produce that ONF sells from Apple Seeds are tomatoes, bok choy, herbs, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant. Apple Seeds is passionate about their mission of inspiring healthy living through garden-based education. By building Apple Seeds Teaching Farm in the center of town, they can better serve the needs of our growing community.

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Now, when I take my breaks at work, I go outside and see teachers and children roaming the gardens, leading and learning. I can actually hear the excitement in their young voices as they volunteer for a task. I see the staff tending to the rows of plants, pulling weeds, and covering them when the weather turns. I’ve watched the garden beds transform from rows of soil into tall sunflowers, lush tomato plants, and other delightful veggies. I’m so grateful for this beautiful view, but even more so that Apple Seeds is providing the next generation with the knowledge and skills to grow and be healthy.

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Producer Profile: Fazenda Boa Terra

This blog post by Bjorn Bergman originally appeared on Viroqua Food Co-op’s website.

This month we are highlighting a relatively new producer to Viroqua Food Co-op. Fazenda Boa Terra is a certified organic producefarm located just outside Spring Green, WI owned and operated by Lidia Dungue and John Middleton.

Lidia grew up in Santa Barbara, Brazil. She received a degree in agronomics from UNESP Ilha Solteria and worked for fertilizer companies after college. After being less than inspired by this work, she decided to travel to the United States to get some practical experience working on farms. A full year apprenticeship on an organic vegetable farm was a huge turning point in her life. After getting a degree that was in line with and supported conventional agriculture, her eyes were opened to the fact that organic farming truly does work. Following this experience, she had the dream of owning and running her own organic farm.

John Middleton grew up in the hills and forests of upstate New York dairy country. From his earliest years he was surrounded by chickens, dairy goats, pigs, fruit trees, a large garden, and plenty of forests, all of which gave him a deep appreciation and love of the natural world. Another part of his youth was spent playing farmer with his grandfather, learning handy and mechanical work.

After high school, he attended Rochester Institute of Technology and got a degree in Environmental Science hoping to pursue a career in conservation biology research. By the end of college, he had a deep understanding of the link between nature, environment, society and agriculture. This led him to an interest in being a farmer.

John and Lidia met in 2007 while working on organic farms in upstate New York. Since meeting they have been inseparable. They both realized their collective dreams of farming in 2010, when they started a farm business together. After four years of farming collectively, they were approached by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Taliesin Preservation, Inc. and Otter Creek Organic Farm to lead a joint venture to start an organic vegetable farm at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green. In 2014, the couple started their farming venture and they are currently focusing on establishing the infrastructure, building community ties and developing their markets.

In the future, Fazenda Boa Terra hopes to create a model organic farm at Taliesin where beginning and advanced farmers alike, along with consumers, can learn about efficient farming systems, equipment and investment strategies that are highly productive and profitable on an organic farm. They hope to do this through the development of a rigorous residential apprentice program, on-farm workshops and agro-tourism, while maintaining environmental stewardship, long term sustainability, their passion for nature, and most importantly, their love of healthy soil.

They chose the name Fazenda Boa Terra in honor of Lidia’s home country of Brazil. The English translation equates to “Good Earth Farm” which has a twofold meaning. It applies to their environmental consciousness with a deep desire to harmonize with nature in all of their farming operations. But the primary meaning of “Good Earth Farm” is all about soil. They know healthy soil produces plants healthy enough to naturally resist insect attacks, disease and foul weather. When investing in their soils; they invest in themselves, their customers and their community.

Fazenda Boa Terra sells its produce to a variety of retail outlets including VFC, to restaurants, and at the Spring Green and Hilldale (Madison) Farmers Markets on Saturdays. Next time you are at VFC, be sure to keep your eye out for certified organic produce from Fazenda Boa Terra in our produce section.

Learn more about Fazenda Boa Terra on their website  and their Facebook page.