Category: Viroqua Food Co-op

LüSa Organics: P6 Producer Profile

This post by Viroqua Food Co-op’s Bjorn Bergman first appeared on their website

In her 20’s, Rachel Wolf was captivated by the concept of soapmaking. The idea of taking simple, raw wolves-2014materials and through chemistry (and maybe a little magic) turning them into something to clean and nourish the skin sounded wonderful. After years of reading about soapmaking, she mustered up the courage and taught herself. With a group of friends, she made her first batch of soap in 1997. Things just snowballed from there.

That same year, Rachel started Queen Bee’s Earthly Delights, which produced natural soaps and other body care products. This small business venture/hobby was a lot for the Wolf family at the time – Rachel worked full time as an environmental educator and her husband Pete worked full time as a solar electric system electrician.

In 2002, Rachel and Pete had their first child, and the couple decided to take a leap. Rachel quit her job so that she could focus on raising their son. In her spare time, she continued to make and sell Queen Bee’s Products at farmers markets, as well as to friends and neighbors. At this time, she also began making body care products specifically for pregnant women and babies.

In 2006, with their daughter on the way, Pete quit his job so that they could focus all their energy on raising their children and growing their business. In 2008, they changed the name of their venture to LüSa Organics to combine their baby and body care products all under one brand. The namesake is inspired by their two children, Lupine and Sage.

Today, LüSa Organics is a small, but growing local business. They offer a full line of natural body care products that aim to enrich lives through the pleasure and the positive impact of their business practices. They handcraft a full line of soaps, balms, sugar scrubs, and essential oil blends for adults, babies, and children using the best, primarily organic, ingredients they can from the most ethical sources. That means: local sunflower oil from Driftless Organics and calendula flowers from local growers Harriet Behar and Megan Pierce, fair trade shea butter from a women’s worker-owned cooperative in Togo, and goat milk from their own goat, Melissa. They scent their products exclusively with essential oils and use only natural pigments, herbs, and clays to color those products.

Lusa_RachelWolf-Katie

While they have a full line of body care products, Rachel does have a couple products that are her favorites. “I’m awfully smitten by Da Balm, our new itch balm. I use it on my family’s eczema, on mosquito bites, and any mysterious rashes.” She also says that LüSa Booty Balm, their award winning balm for soothing and healing any kind of rashy/sore skin (diaper rash, cuts, scrapes, windburn, sunburn) will always have a place in her heart as well as her medicine chest.

LusaBalmProduction

Currently, LüSa employs six people (Karen, Angie, Brandi, Jordan, Rachel, and Pete) at their production facility within the Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua, Wisconsin. When you purchase LüSa Products, you are not only getting body care products made with high quality ingredients that also smell great, you are supporting a small, family-owned business that supports six Driftless families that you probably bump into at the VFC every week.

To learn more about LüSa Organics, check out their website at: www.lusaorganics.com While you’re there, be sure to take a peek at Rachel Wolf’s blog about her life at LüSa, being a mother, herbalist, homesteader, homeschooler, and all around rock star.

Next time you are at the VFC, check out the amazing selection of LüSa Organics Products we carry in aisle #5!

Lusa is part of the P6 program at the VFC because:

  • Local: LüSa Organics is located in Viroqua, WI less than one mile from VFC.
  • Small Producer: LüSa Organics is owned by Rachel and Pete Wolf and their products are delivered directly to VFC.

Viroqua Food Co-op P6 Tailgate Party

By Bjorn Bergman, Viroqua Food Co-op Outreach Coordinator

Outside the tentEvery March, Viroqua Food Co-op celebrates spring and its amazing P6 farmers and producers by hosting an Annual Principle Six (P6) Tailgate Party. The event is exactly what the word ‘tailgate’ invokes: a big party in a parking lot that includes eating grilled food. Instead of cheering for a favorite sports team, attendees learn about and sample products from a variety of P6 producers (local, co-op, and small) that supply the VFC with amazing food and products. This party is VFC’s way to showcase our P6 program by putting the spotlight on a number of P6 producers that are at the heart of what we do best at our Co-op.

 

Origins of our Tailgate Party

For years, Viroqua Food Co-op hosted a CSA Open House at our store every March. While the event was a great way for owners and shoppers meet the farmers supplying our store with produce and learn about area CSA farms, it didn’t generate much increased foot traffic or increased sales for our store. We wanted to have a bigger event with more producer and community involvement and connection to our Co-op’s mission. In the Fall of 2011, Viroqua Food Co-op began integrating P6 into our store. We recognized the value of P6 as a vehicle to communicate with owners and customers more than just how food was produced (i.e. local, organic). P6 allows us to showcase the ‘who’ behind the products in our Co-op (i.e. co-op, non-profit organization, small), which we feel help us better achieve our mission.

Driftless brewing company

 

After labeling P6 products in our store, we were looking for a way to kick off our P6 program and introduce it in a meaningful way to our owners and shoppers. We wanted to have a party that focused on our P6 program and brought more people into our store. At this party, we wanted to invite between 10-15 P6 producers to sample their food and products. Our small 4400 square foot store couldn’t hold that many sampling producers while allowing people to shop. A store vendor brought up the idea of setting up a tent in our parking lot for the producers to sample in. With all of these ideas colliding, we decided to host a P6 themed event in a tent in our parking lot that took the place of our annual CSA Open House. The only question that remained was what we should call the event? Since Viroqua Food Co-op is located in the heart of Wisconsin, our culture is immersed in consuming lots of cheese and brats while cheering on our favorite sports teams, which lends itself to the state pastime of Tailgating (having a party with your friends in a parking lot). Why not have a P6 Tailgate Party that celebrates our P6 producers and brings together our community?

Simply Bee Natural

Nuts and Bolts
raffleWe aim to have our P6 Tailgate Party on either the third or fourth Saturday each March from 10am-2pm. Our hope is that that all the snow will be melted and it will be at least 40°F outside by this time in Southwestern Wisconsin. Additionally, this is typically a slower time for community events in our town, so we hope to get a better turn out. We rent a heated 40×20 foot tent with sidewalls from our local rental center. Inside the tent, we have tables for 12-16 P6 producers to sample and talk with customers. We make sure we invite P6 producers from every department of our store (including CSA Farms) so that attendees can experience the many different types of P6 farmers/producers that supply our Co-op. A full list of the producers at our 2015 P6 Tailgate Party can be found here. We also have a number of prize drawings that attendees can enter. In 2015, we had a P6 Prize Basket full of P6 products you can find in our store and A Year’s Worth of Free Organic Valley Milk, which was donated by Organic Valley. In true tailgating fashion, the VFC Deli grills out during the event. Their menu features a variety of P6 foods like Wisconsin Meadows burgers and Organic Prairie hot dogs, and brats and deli sides like potato salad and coleslaw.

 

A Beneficial Community Event

Our P6 Tailgate Party is always a successful event for our Co-op, our community, and, most importantly, our P6 producers. The event increases foot traffic and sales at our Co-op. In 2015, our P6 Tailgate Party brought in 15% higher sales for our store as compared to a typical Saturday in March. Additionally, products that were sampled at our 2015 P6 Tailgate Party saw a collective 378% increase in sales when compared to sales of those same products the Saturday prior to the event.

2015 VFC Tailgate

Our owners and customers seek to attend the event and connect more with what P6 after attending. We prominently advertise our P6 Tailgate Party in the community, including on the front cover of our newsletter, in the local newspapers, on the radio, and on social media. Many community members make a point to attend to connect with and try samples from our local, co-op, and small producers. The event leads to more people understanding the P6 message. When we had our first P6 Tailgate Party in March of 2012, many attendees were being introduced to P6 for the first time. After three years of putting on the event, increasing the presence of P6 messaging in our store, and always featuring P6 in our Newsletter, customers and owners are really beginning to connect to what P6 means. One owner recently told me that she really appreciates seeing P6 labels in the store because it allows her to support producers that are helping create a more just, cooperative, and local food system in our future.

seed savers exchange

Most importantly, the P6 Tailgate Party is a huge way to support our P6 producers, which are at the heart of our Co-op, working to create a more just and resilient local and cooperative food economy. Producers are extremely excited and thankful to get an opportunity to have a sampling and info table at the event. One of our 2015 P6 Producer attendees Tiffany Cade from Deep Rooted, our main tomato supplier commented, “It was so nice to meet some of the customers who buy our tomatoes at the co-op it was also so nice to hear so many great things about how people use them and are looking forward to them this year.” Now in our third year, prior to the event we get numerous requests from our P6 producers to sample at our Tailgate Party. We now aim to have a different set of P6 producers at the event each year so that new P6 Producers get an opportunity to attend the event each year.

Organic Valley

Now with our 3rd Annual P6 Tailgate Party on the books, I can honestly say that our P6 Tailgate Party is Viroqua Food Co-ops cornerstone event each year. Yes, this event could be put on with a ‘local’ theme, but I don’t think it would have the same impact. Having P6 be the main focus of our Tailgate helps us highlight more than local – it helps us recognize the importance of co-op, non-profits, and small producers in creating a more just and equitable food system. Since starting our P6 program, we are doing a much better job at telling the story of our work to create a more just and responsible food system.

outside the store

P6 Producer Profile: Seed Savers Exchange

A version of this post by Bjorn Bergmann appeared on Viroqua Food Co-op’s website. All photos are by Seed Savers Exchange.

We’re sure that many of you are eagerly awaiting the disappearance of snow and the thaw of the soil to seed-savers-seed-packetsmake way for the 2015 gardening season. In the upper Midwest, it’s time to pick up seeds so you can start planning and dreaming about your 2015 garden. For that reason, we thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about one of Viroqua Food Co-op (VFC)’s P6 seed suppliers, Seed Savers Exchange (SSE).

Seed Savers Exchange is well known to VFC customers when it comes to organic heirloom and open pollinated seeds, but there is a lot more behind this amazing non-profit than their glossy seed packets and full color alluring seed catalog.

Seed Savers Exchange was founded in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy. Diane’s grandfather gifted the couple some seeds from two garden plants: Grandpa Ott’s morning glory and German Pink  omato. These seeds were brought by Grandpa Ott’s parents when they immigrated from Bavaria to St. Lucas, Iowa in the 1870’s. The gift of these seeds gave Diane and Kent the idea of starting a seed exchange where seed saving gardeners and farmers across America could exchange them with others, thereby preserving and making available many heirloom varieties that were disappearing.

That year, Diane and Kent, along with 30 others from around the United States participated in The True Seed Exchange, which allowed them to trade and share seeds amongst the group. This publication is now known as the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook and is a cornerstone of the organization.

In 2015, Seed Savers Exchange celebrates its 40th Anniversary, and there is a lot for this organization to celebrate! In the time that has gone by, SSE has found a home at Heritage Farm, just north of Decorah, Iowa. This 890-acre farm is nestled among sparkling streams, limestone bluffs and century-old white pines, and features the SSE Lillian Goldman Visitors Center (education center and demonstration garden), Preservation Gardens, Historic Orchard and a herd of Ancient White Park Cattle. Additionally, they have become an extremely important non-profit member-supported organization that preserves and shares America’s culturally diverse, but endangered garden and food crop heritage in a variety of ways. Some of the ways include: maintaining a seed bank, offering their yearly Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, Seed Savers Exchange Seed Catalog and offering many educational opportunities.

SSE-Gardens-and-Barn

Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm is home to one of the largest seed banks of its kind in North America. It houses over 20,000 varieties of heirloom and open pollinated varieties of vegetables and herbs that have been donated by gardeners and farmers across North America. SSE preserves and maintains all of these varieties by growing and saving seeds for each variety about once every five years.

Seed Savers Exchange was founded upon participatory seed preservation through their Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook. Through this publication, members of SSE may list and purchase seeds directly from other farmers and gardeners. Today, members list over 19,000 unique varieties through the Yearbook as a way to keep open pollinated and heirloom varieties circulating in the hands of gardeners and farmers today and into the future.

The most visible way that Seed Savers Exchange is preserving our garden heritage is through their yearly offering of the Seed Savers Exchange Seed Catalog. Each year, they release this 100+ page catalog that features 600+ varieties of heirloom and open pollinated seed varieties that are available for purchase by the general public. These are the same varieties of seeds that can be found on our seed racks in our seed department.

SSE-Seed-Diversity

SSE also aims to educate others about the importance and practice of seed saving and seed preservation. They do this through hosting numerous events at Heritage Farm, including a Spring Garden School, Heritage & Heirloom Apple School, Summer and Fall Seed Saving School, Annual Conference and Campout, Tomato Tasting Festival and a Fall Harvest School. In addition to their work at their headquarters, they do presentations at a variety of venues, festivals and events around the United States to get more people interested in seed saving and creating public seed libraries and seed banks.

To learn more about SSE, check out their website www.seedsavers.org and/or visit Heritage Farm this summer during one of their fun and educational events they host at Heritage Farm near Decorah (http://s.coop/1v7tz).

Customers at VFC, check out all the amazing varieties of seeds from Seed Savers Exchange on their seed racks in our produce department. You can rest assured that each purchase of SSE seeds helps support their mission of preserving open pollinated and heirloom seeds for future generations.

Seed Savers Exchange is part of the P6 program at the VFC because:

Local: Seed Savers Exchange is located in Decorah, Iowa about 48 miles from VFC.
Co-op/Non-profit: Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization.
Small Producer: Seed Savers Exchange is a member-supported and non-profit organization. Their seeds are delivered by mail to VFC.

Del Sol Chocolate: P6 Chocolate at Viroqua Food Co-op

lynn-cacao-beans

This profile was written by Bjorn Bergman and originally appeared on the Viroqua Food Co-op website.

Lynn Kronschnabel got the itch to make chocolate in late 2011. After learning about the rich history of cacao in the world, as well as its amazing nutritional characteristics, she decided to learn how to make the “Food of the Gods” from cacao bean to chocolate bar. It seemed like a perfect fusion of her love for traveling, food, wellness, and human connection.

Upon researching at length about education opportunities for prospective chocolate makers, she realized that there were few places to learn the trade, especially places that weren’t overseas. Shortly thereafter, on a serendipitous evening walk in Viroqua, she ran into a friend. Their conversation quickly turned to chocolate. Kronschnabel’s friend told her about Michael Sacco of ChocoSol, who was making bean-to-bar chocolate in Toronto, Canada. “You should contact him,” the friend urged.

After a couple days ruminating on the idea of contacting this relative stranger, she sent Sacco an email. He proved to be right person to get in touch with. After a number of conversations, he invited Kronschnabel to volunteer at his chocolate workshop for a week to learn about the trade.

Chocolate Station

It seemed a little crazy to drive all the way to Toronto to learn about chocolate making, but she dove into the opportunity and went. Over the course of her week in Toronto in March 2012, she learned the ins and outs of the artisan chocolate making at ChocoSol. Michael Sacco is a sharer, in the truest sense of the word.

In a week’s time volunteering, Sacco shared with Kronschnabel his passion for making chocolate, including how to source cacao responsibly, chocolate making recipes, techniques and resources, and business tips on how he made his bean-to-bar chocolate venture successful. She left Toronto with a great deal of gratitude for her mentor, a mind full of chocolate dreams, and a stone mill for grinding cacao.

Hand-labeling her chocolates

After lots of experimenting and taste testing, in December 2013, Kronschnabel delivered her firstchocolate bars to the Viroqua Food Co-op under the Del Sol Chocolate brand. Today, she continues to craft delicious artisan bars from cacao bean to chocolate bar in her commercial kitchen that is attached to her home. She distributes her hand made delicacies to nine different retail locations in Viroqua, La Crosse, and Madison.

Del Sol Chocolate is set apart from other chocolate in our Co-op in many ways. First off, Kronschnabel is extremely committed to sourcing responsibly grown and traded cacao to make her chocolates. In today’s world, that is a tall order for small bean-to-bar chocolate makers. As far as Kronschnabel knows, there are no importing co-ops organized in the United States that help small cacao farmers get their harvest to artisan chocolate makers. Since beginning her business, she has pieced together a network of cacao producers that she purchases from, which include:

Lynn holding molds

  • Cacao Bisiesto in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Learn more here.
  • Maya Mountain Cacao, Toledo District, Belize. Learn more here
  • ChocoSol based producers in Lacondon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico and the Oaxacan Mountains of Southern Mexico.Learn more here:

Kronschnabel is committed to using only pure ingredients in her chocolate. She only uses certified organic sweeteners (cane sugar and locally made maple sugar) and vanilla. She also locally sources many of the additions to her bars, which include hickory nuts, hazelnuts, herbs, and spices.

Lastly, Kronschnabel is the epitome of a chocolate maker. In today’s era of mass produced chocolate, most chocolates are produced by chocolatiers who purchase processed chocolate liquor and make chocolate. Kronschnabel imports whole raw cacao beans and transforms them into a finisheLynn cacaomilld chocolate bar in her chocolate workshop. As a result, she is able to pay the utmost attention to ethically sourcing her cacao and making sure it is super high quality right at the start of chocolate making.

If you’d like to try Del Sol Chocolates and meet the maker, Lynn Kronschnabel, make sure you come to VFC’s Holiday Open House on Friday, December 12, from 3-7pm. Lynn will be there sharing samples and stories about her delicious chocolates! More information here.