May 2005

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Eat Locally, Think Globally \

Farm Fresh Atlas

Here Comes
the Sun: Solar Power at the

Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference 2005 Staff Reflections, Part II


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Eat Locally, Think Globally
it’s dinnertime. do you know where your food is...from?

by Jan Erik Gjestvang-Lucky, Merchandiser

The average plate of food in the U.S. travels 1500 miles from source to table. That’s from Madison to Mazomanie and back SIXTY-FIVE times. Just think of the frequent-traveler miles that food could earn. The distance most of our food travels, and the centralized mass production and distribution systems that lead to it, can have strong negative effects on everything from our individual health and the health of our environment to our local communities and economy. The local food movement, which, not surprisingly, encourages people to buy locally grown and processed food, is trying to change that.

Local is the new organic
In fact, a report published in the United Kingdom by the journal Food Policy shows that local food is usually “greener,” or more environmentally friendly, than organic food. Jules Pretty from the University of Essex, UK and a co-author of the report says, “The most political act we do on a daily basis is to eat, as our actions affect farms, landscapes and food businesses. Food miles are more significant than we previously thought, and much now needs to be done to encourage local production and consumption of food.” Organic food is still very important for the environment, but buying locally may have an even greater benefit.

“Promoting locally based alternatives to the global consumer culture”
The quote above is from the website of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (, which is a “non-profit organization concerned with the protection of both biological and cultural diversity.” I got some wonderful information on the issue of local food from them. Among the programs they offer are two called “Local Food” and “Global to Local Education,” which help demonstrate the need for a shift away from a global economy to a diverse, local model. They also offer education, advice, and support for people and communities that are trying to make that shift. Much of the information that follows comes
from them.

Setting a bad example
The global food system is one of the biggest contributors to increased greenhouse gases, which are considered the main cause of global warming. Our own U.S. food system is responsible for almost one-fifth of this county’s total annual energy consumption. The large centralized factory farms that are favored in this kind of system are also major contributors to air and water pollution and soil erosion, not to mention their heavy use of genetically modified crops.

There is also a real human health cost from these practices. Pesticides alone kill 20,000-40,000 farmers around the world each year, and they can have nasty effects on those who ingest them as well. The air and water pollution don’t help either. Early harvesting of crops required by long travel times to market reduces nutritional value, as does irradiation. The heavy use of antibiotics in factory farm settings (75% of all antibiotics used in the U.S.) helps create strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, making it more difficult and expensive to treat infections in humans.

Centralization from global food systems tends to drive local food producers, like family farms, out of business. This, as you may imagine, or as many of you may even have experienced, has a direct affect on the local community and economy. This is true in third-world countries as well as in the U.S., and it also increases the size and congestion of cities when displaced farmers move to them from the land. This centralization also contributes to the continuing concentration of our planet’s wealth, and its accompanying power and influence, in an ever-smaller percentage of its population.

Livin’ la vida local
Not only will a shift to local food producers help eliminate these negatives, but it will also bring many direct benefits. When you buy locally distributed food, that plate travels an average of only 45 miles, or Madison to Mazomanie and back JUST ONCE! Imagine the environmental benefits from that alone. Small, diversified farms can be up to ten times more productive per acre than larger farms. Local food is also fresher, which means it not only tastes better, but it is also better for you. Buying locally keeps money in the local economy. It also helps keep taxes down because farms typically cost governments much less in services than they generate in taxes, as opposed to suburban development, which create more costs than tax revenue.

This brief discussion of global or national versus regional or local food systems is really only the tip of the iceberg. There is much more information to be found on this subject. If you are interested, try looking on the internet, or at your local library. Our monthly book special, Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, by Brian Halwell, does a great job of introducing and explaining the problems with the current system, and it offers exciting alternatives that we can choose to help us change it.

In our own backyards, on our own shelves
Of course, we at the Co-op do everything we can to support local food producers as well. It’s part of our mission (and our bylaws): number seven of the Cooperative Principles of the International Cooperative Alliance says this: “Concern for the Community: While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.” When preparing to write this article, I did a tour of our grocery department and was surprised to find over 50 local brands that either grow or make a product locally, or both. Many of them offer more than one product, so you really do have a lot of local product choices, and remember this is just from our grocery department. Here’s a list of those producers and the city they are from. Unless otherwise noted, all of them are here in Wisconsin.

Keeping our cool
In our refrigerated and dairy section we have both salsa from Cindy’s Country Salsa and Pasquale’s On Monroe, and tortillas from El Buen Gusto, all three here in Madison. You can have pesto from Carlanna Gardens in Stevens Point with your fresh pasta from RP’s Pastas, just down the street here in town, or you can use RP’s own sauces. You can make a breakfast sandwich with bagels from Madison’s Bagels Forever and eggs from any of these fine establishments: New Century Farm in Shullsburg, Allmosta Farm in Delavan, or Phil’s Fresh Eggs in Forreston, IL. Or you can have lunch or a snack with more bagels, and hummus or savory herb pâté from Milwaukee’s Simple Soyman/Bountiful Bean. Sunshine Farms in Portage brings us fresh goat milk, and Sugar River Yogurt from Albany is “adding culture to your diet.” Dairyland’s Best of Appleton takes us back with glass bottles of milk, and Wisconsin Organics has whole, two percent, and skim gallons. Organic Valley in La Farge has a full range of milk products and sizes. Organic Valley also has soymilk, and again we have tofu and tempeh from Simple Soyman/Bountiful Bean. There is also miso from Earth Fire Products in Gays Mills, and Verona’s (and Wisconsin’s) own Bucky Badger horseradish.

Meaty fine
Our recently-turned-vegan meat buyer said he is (or was) especially fond of the pork products from Willow Creek in Loganville, and also the lamb from Pinn Oak Farms in Delavan. We have Hart & Vold Heartland bison/buffalo from Baraboo and Cates Family Farm’s grass-fed ground beef from Spring Green. Roesler in Cashton provides us with organic chicken, and Stoddard’s Country Market processes beef and pork in Cottage Grove. We also carry a number of meat products from Organic Prairie, which is a part of Organic Valley, whose meat products we also carry.

Walking down the (grocery) aisle
In aisle one, we have macrobiotic cookies from Macrotreats in Viola.

In aisle two, which is mostly bulk foods, we offer granola and trail mix from our Willy Street neighbor Nature’s Bakery. You’ll also find bulk honey from Some Honey in New Lisbon. Another almost neighbor from Baldwin Street, Just Coffee, brings fairly-traded, freshly and locally roasted (although not locally grown) coffee. We also carry Steep & Brew and its own fair trade brand, Café Fair, both roasted here in town.
The only local products in aisle three are tomato based. We have Rosarrio’s classic spaghetti sauce from their restaurant in Monona. Bogberry, a cranberry based salsa made in Lodi by Slack’s Jams and Jellies shares space with chef Rick Bayless’ Frontera salsa from his restaurant in Chicago.

Aisle four seems to be a local food hotspot. Maple Syrup comes from Amelse Farms in Viola, Maple Valley in Westby, and Haubrich Bros. in Clintonville. Forest Country of Merrill makes simple syrup with either maple syrup or honey added to it. Gentle Breeze in Mt. Horeb and Some Honey (also in bulk) in New Lisbon both provide us with many wonderful varieties of honey. You’ll also find Ecco la Pasta (made by RP’s Pasta) gnocchi mixes (just add water)! Don’t be fooled: even though Milwaukee’s pickles has “Wisconsin’s hometown favorite” on its label, they’re actually from New Jersey (41 times to Mazomanie and back!). Closer to the home, and to the front of the store, we have jam, apple butter and pumpkin butter from Slack’s Jams and Jellies in Lodi, Futter’s nut butters from Buffalo Grove, IL, and some packaged granola from Nature’s Bakery. Spread throughout the aisle are also some products from Oskri Organics in Ixonia: barley coffee, date spread, tahini, and vegetable oils.

Aisle five has one of my favorites: the sesame cashew circle from Simple Soyman, as well as maple candy from Maple Valley, and sesame bars from Oskri Organics. Way down at the end we have popcorn from Krinke’s Farm Market, in Reeseville, and don’t forget the entire line of Sprecher’s soda, brewed in Milwaukee.

A little crusty
Local bakeries thrive in this area, and they’ve all got their own unique style and flavor. Nature’s Bakery, Stella’s, Silly Yak & Bread Barn, Caspian Café, and Madison Sourdough are all right here in Madison. Then there’s Clasen’s in Middleton, Natural Ovens in Manitowoc, Kamm’s in Brooklyn, and Nokomis in East Troy. A bit of a stretch at 11 times the round trip to Mazomanie is French Meadows from Minneapolis, MN.

Real cheesy
What’s that? You say you want some local cheese? Hmmm, let me see there might be a couple of places in Wisconsin: Cedar Grove in Plain makes many varieties of rBGH free cheese. Juusto cheese from Pasture Pride in Cashton is a baked “bread” cheese. Salemville in Mayville makes award-winning bleu. For your favorite soft-cheese-lovin’ patriot, we have Président Brie from Belmont. Mt. Sterling Cheese Co-op (guess where they are) makes only goat-milk cheese, but has many types. To keep vampires, and everyone else, at bay, try Country Castle’s Limburger cheese, made in Monroe. Another Monroe cheese company whose product we carry is Roth Kase. There are also Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa, Crave Bros. in Waterloo, Still Meadows in Ferryville, Uplands in Dodgeville, and Wisconsin Organics in Bonduel.

So cool it’s frozen
Last, but not least, we have the frozen stuff. Again you can have RP’s Pasta ravioli with Renaissance Farms pesto from Spring Green. We also have seitan from Earth Fire Products in Gays Mills, and handmade tempeh made by Bandung, the Indonesian restaurant in Gateway Mall on Willy Street. Simple Soyman also makes piecrusts, and for à la mode, try Sibby’s premium organic ice cream from Westby. We also have ice cream from Chocolate Shoppe, right here in Madison, or Cedar Crest, made in Cedarburg. For those who can’t or won’t do dairy, we have Chicago Soy Dairy’s Temptation non-dairy dessert, which, according to another of my vegan co-workers, is the best vegan ice cream ever!

Buy, buy local—buy, buy happiness
I hope you take the time to look for and try these products, and that you look more into the theories and realities of local food production. The issue of global consumerism and distribution systems versus local, sustainable systems is really a very complex one, tightly interwoven with many others. It’s hard to know where to even begin to make things different. The best thing we can do to support and encourage change, however, is really very simple: buy locally grown and/or produced food whenever we can. If it’s organic, that’s even better. We at the Co-op will keep doing our part if you do yours!