Write Us!
We welcome your comments and give each one attention and serious consideration. Send them to or fill out a Customer Comment form in the Owner Resources area. Each month a small selection is printed in the Reader. The rest can be found in the commons or in the binder near Customer Service. Thank you!

I love Willy Street

Q: I love Willy Street! This is my first time here, and I’m enthralled. Being a student at the University, I don’t have much money. If I did, I’d buy a membership AND lots of granola. Your mission is wonderful, and I’m excited to be part of it. Danke!

A: Thanks for your enthusiasm! We’re always glad to have new and eager owners of the Co-op. We do have an individual membership that is a $10 investment/year, and you are able to withdraw your equity ($8 of the $10) at any time. -Liz Hawley, Cooperative Services Assistant

More complete labels

Q: Please, for all of we vegetarians: persuade the Off-Site Kitchen to make more complete labels for the Deli case. In the grab and go cooler, cheeses used are specified as to rennet/no rennet—but not in the deli case! This leaves vegetarians in a bind: roll the dice, or skip the entrée. Please give us complete info everywhere! Thanks.

A: Good idea! We broke down all the ingredients into their component parts but didn’t even think of this. I’ll start looking for the necessary info from vendors and get it added as soon as I have it. -Dan Moore, Prepared Foods Manager

A blast from the past

Q: Thanks for the Producer Profile focusing on the coop. I hate to pick nits, but some of the old history is inaccurate and, when it is repeated enough, becomes seen as accurate.

The story is often repeated that we opened in a shared space with Nature’s Bakery. The current newsletter talks about “The first expansion” in 1974. The reality is a bit different. When the coop first incorporated, we sold bonds to finance the opening of the store. Bond sales slowed down after an initial flurry, and we were concerned that people would wonder what happened to us if we failed to maintain a visible presence. To that end, Jerry Bridgman, one of our founders, would go to AJ Sweet on Saturday morning and pick up a case of bananas (since they didn’t require refrigeration) and whatever else looked good and camp out in the bakery’s display window. (Nature’s did more walk-up business in those days.) Occasionally he had a few other things on hand that he got from ICC (which later became North Farm), which we stored in the back of Nature’s. While we hoped to sell the stuff, the real purpose of Jerry being there was to talk up the coop, try to attract investment, and recruit volunteers. On October 9, 1974, we opened at 1014 Williamson Street (the old Wisconsin Alliance headquarters, now the Petinary). This was, to the thinking of all involved, the beginning of the coop as a store, not an “expansion.” We really had nothing to expand and were little more than a dream until that day. From our first newsletter: “It is already hard to believe that the 1st meeting for the co-op occurred in 1973... More than a year later on Oct 9, 1974, the store opened.”

The current article refers to the first store as “essentially, a very small bulk department.” While the produce department was small compared to today, it was always a major focus of the coop. We began a system of contracting with local farmers for produce with the 1975 growing season and had much more produce space than would be expected in a 900 square foot store. We began our relationship with Tipi Produce while in that store.

While it may have seemed like 5 years to those who didn’t enjoy the cramped and inaccessible space, it was really in October 1977 (not ’79) that we moved to 1202 Williamson Street.

Sources for this information include: 1) my memory, as one of the founders and the produce manager beginning in the spring of ’75; 2) the coop’s first newsletter, from the article “Our Story” by Jerry Bridgman (April ’75); 3) copies of the co-op’s old financial records, showing a tripling of sales beginning in Oct ’77 with the move to a larger location; 4) local produce purchasing records from 1976.

The coop’s history is remarkable—from that tiny space at 1014 Williamson to a big store, off-site kitchen, and soon-to-be second store. I just don’t want the history to turn into mythology before the old-timers die off or lose our memories. Maybe at the 50th anniversary we can have a re-telling of the coop’s creation myth. Then we can check out the files in my basement.

A: Thanks for the information! If any other long-time member has additional facts or stories that they would like to share, please contact me at 251-0884. -Lynn Olson, Cooperative Services Manager

Made in China

Q: After reading the article in the Reader about products from China, I decided to contact companies whose products my family uses. We use Cascadian Farms frozen fruits and vegetables in the winter months. Here’s the response I received, which presents slightly different information than the newsletter. I have yet to notice one of their packages stamped with a country of origin on the package, and I will certainly scrutinize them closely from now on.

Cascadian Farms’ response: “Thank you for contacting Cascadian Farm regarding our fruits and vegetables.

“The majority of our products are grown in the Pacific Northwest and California. However, if we cannot obtain enough organic foods from farmers in this country, we meet our requirements by purchasing from organic farmers from around the world. Whenever the product is grown outside of the U.S., you will find the country of origin stamped on the package.

“Regardless of where they are grown, Cascadian Farm produce must meet the U.S. Federal Government standards for the production, processing, and certification of organic food. In addition, the produce must also pass our strict food safety standards.

“Cascadian Farm is committed to providing consumers with the highest quality organic products. We take great care to make certain that every product meets the highest standards and satisfies our consumers.

“Again, thank you for your interest in Cascadian Farm. We hope you will continue to choose our products.

“Sincerely, Amy Metzger, Small Planet Foods, Consumer Services”

A: Thanks for reading and for your comment. I am pleased you chose to be proactive regarding your purchasing; I think it is something we all should do more often. Thank you for sharing the response you received from Small Planet Foods (Cascadian Farms)—I wish they had provided more information about their Chinese growers; it can be very difficult to get companies to give complete answers. In my recent article I mentioned Cascadian Farms as being one example of companies that are sourcing products from all around the world, and from China specifically, but I did not intend to imply that all their products come from China or that their Chinese sources are any more suspicious than any other company’s. The amount of product most companies import varies widely due to growing season, prices, weather and shipping issues among other things. Checking our frozen aisle today (Nov. 5), I found labeled Cascadian items from China, Chile, Argentina, Serbia, Canada, and the US. I also found many of their items with no origin labeling at all that in September were specifically labeled as being China, i.e. spinach, asparagus and winter squash. My personal belief is that we need to make a stand for country of origin labeling on all products, all the time so consumers can easily make informed choices. That responsibility should be put on the manufacturers, not the consumers. Right now, fruits and vegetables are not required to be labeled at all, leaving us to put total trust in major corporations (Small Planet Foods is owned by General Mills) when they tell us their unlabeled products are domestically produced. I’m not a shareholder of General Mills and not sure how much trust I want to extend them. Sources for my article included five dozen news articles from organizations like Business Week, Reuters, International Herald-Tribune, SlowFood USA, the USDA, Time, Washington Post and many others, several books, and phone and email conversations with organic certifying agencies and watchdog groups. -Kathy Humiston, Newsletter Writer