The beginning of the local season this spring was a bit topsy-turvy! Early crops like asparagus, morel mushrooms, and early spring greens enjoy temps in the low 70s with a lot of sun and a little rain now and then. They need heat units in the ground to stimulate growth, and with night temperatures dropping into the upper 20s, it just wasn’t happening—too wet and too cold. The earth just wasn’t warming up! Volume was low, and availability was uncertain. Growers couldn’t produce enough volume to supply the Co-op’s needs. So, we sourced from several growers. It’s a bit more work for us, but we know how good these foods are, and we know how much you like them. Overwintered spinach salad with ramps, sautéed asparagus and morels=divine!

Having struggled through May, we were looking forward to June. We knew the local season was off to a slow start, but even so, things usually pick up. We had a lot coming our way—like the nationwide warning on round red, and roma tomatoes the FDA issued on June 3rd!

Tomato troubles

As of July 1st, there have been 851 reported cases of Salmonella linked to round, red, and roma tomatoes since mid-April. To ensure customer safety, we removed these products from the Produce department immediately. To comply with the FDA warning, we ended up removing our local greenhouse tomatoes—Don’s from Arena, WI—from the shelves as well on the following day, not because we suspected them, but to remain compliant. Vine-on, cherry, and grape tomatoes had not been implicated, and were considered safe for sale.

My questions to Dan Frost, our Store Manager in charge of products, was “But Don grows vine-on tomatoes in the same greenhouse as he grows round, red tomatoes, and he doesn’t distribute out of state (most cases were reported in the Southwest), so why can’t we sell his product? What a great opportunity to promote a great local product!”

Kudos to Dan for his actions! Dan immediately got on the phone with the local FDA agent, and explained our circumstance regarding Don’s products. The next morning, Wisconsin was on the FDA’s list of sources “not implicated in the outbreak.” Hooray! Score another one for local production. In addition to Don’s tomatoes, we were also able to source some local organically grown greenhouse tomatoes.

Food safety is a top priority of the Co-op. At the time this article was written, the FDA has not been able to identify a source, and the investigation is ongoing. The Co-op is sourcing tomatoes only from areas approved by the FDA, and we are checking their website daily for new information.

First June challenge; local to the rescue. Second June challenge, local mayhem!

Storms

By the end of the second week of June, several slow moving storms systems had moved through the state. Isolated thunderstorms produced between two and ten inches of rain in short periods of time. With the ground already saturated from the 100+ inches of snow and the remnants of the 2007 floods, the water had nowhere to go. Dams broke, rivers breeched their banks, and highways were washed out. By the end of it, 30 Wisconsin counties had been declared a state of emergency. We had received our second “hundred-year flood” in less than a year! Unfortunately, the organic farmers hit hardest last August were hit hardest this year too.

Many of the farms we work with are located in Dane or adjacent counties. Steve Pincus, from Tipi Produce in Evansville, said his farm is more likely to suffer washout than flooding. George Kohn from West Star Farm in Cottage Grove experienced the same affects, and has drainage ditches to help reduce loss due to washout. None of the farmers in the area reported immediate losses due to the storms.

Harmony Valley did not fare as well. They received 12.5 inches of rain on the weekend of June 7th. Drainage ditches quickly overflowed and washed out entire fields. New plantings of corn and tomatoes were entirely wiped out. Salad mix, arugula, and sauté mix—gone. Farms in Kickapoo Valley were once again dealt a blow by Mother Nature. Jai and Joel Kellum of Avalanche Organics chose to move on from their farm after last year’s flood. This was a difficult decision for the Kellums but, after seeing their farm engulfed by the Kickapoo River again this year, justified.

The Co-op is very appreciative of the tremendous efforts made by all of the local farmers we have been fortunate enough to work with. Richard at Harmony Valley is a pioneer in Wisconsin organic agriculture, and his dedication to providing quality products has helped the Co-op grow into the successful business it is today! Our sincerest regards go out to Harmony Valley, and all those impacted by the flood.

Local availability

So, what can you expect to see locally at the Co-op in August? If all goes well, a lot! August is peak for our growing season, and on the bright side, the flood happened early enough in the season that many crops could be replanted! With the cold May and a flooded June, some of the harvests could be later than usual. But, from what the farmers are saying, things are looking good!

Expect the usual! We’ll be getting tomatillo salsa baskets from Luna Circle. From Tipi, we should see melons, bell peppers, summer squash, hot peppers, leeks, and maybe some carrots. YesterYear will have cukes, heirloom tomatoes, and grape and sungold cherry tomatoes. Troy will have its sprouts, as well as tomatoes. We’ll be getting garlic, edamame, cipolinni onions, bunched beets, mini sweet peppers, and maybe some salad mix from Harmony Valley. Look for sweet corn from West Star. Chard, bunched carrots, and Italian eggplant from Keewadin. From Jen Ehr, we should have broccoli, basil, green beans, onions, and kohlrabi! Don’t forget, a purple price insert is used to identify local products!

R is for Relief

While you’re eating well and supporting local farmers, check out our website. There is a local availability chart on the produce page, and there is also a link to the Family Farm Defenders site. Family Farm Defenders coordinates the “R is for Relief” campaign, raising and distributing funds to farmers who need them. While you’re on the web, google some of the farms mentioned in this article and check out their blogs. You’ll be moved by their inspiration!