The locavore movement in these United States is in full swing and this trend in eating has, on the macro level, reflected a priority of preference long present in Willy Street Co-op’s loyal customer base: local before all else. Revealing important complexities and relationships that go beyond the “organic” label, this way of choosing and preparing foods highlights the increasing desire of consumers to be tied to a particular place and season. Shopping and eating this way has always posed a challenge to even resourceful imaginations, and the short, explosive Wisconsin growing season doesn’t make things any easier.
At Willy Street Co-op, we are constantly striving to blow away the smoke surrounding the marketing of natural and organic foods to reveal something our customer can trust in. This was the motive behind our commitment to 100% organic fresh produce—all the time, not “whenever possible”—and 100% Wisconsin-produced dairy items. In these decisions, we hoped to set the bar for clarity and transparency to our membership. Many businesses now are realizing the advantages in tying some of the new food buzzwords to their products and these marketing strategies can leave the unwary consumer no better informed about the provenance or content of their food than in the days before “local,” “natural” and “organic” played no part on commonly seen menus. Our goal is to make absolutely clear how we make our purchasing decisions and what you can expect to find in your Deli.
As spring approaches, we are gearing up to debut items in our Deli case that are composed of ingredients—without exception—that fit the Willy Street Co-op definition of local food (“Foods and goods produced in the state of Wisconsin or within a 150-mile radius of the Capitol.”). We will be making these items plainly apparent with prominent signage. Our hope is that as each year passes, we will be featuring more and more of these items until they comprise up to 50 percent of our Deli case offerings. It will be apparent to Wisconsin farmers and gardeners that there is an exalted window of 8-10 weeks in which this is almost no challenge at all, given the stunning variety of produce available at the height of the season. But it’s not quite so simple, is it? Taking, for example, olive oil out of the mix has a domino effect on our usual product catalog similar to removing flour from a bakery. As we’ve been researching the possibilities, it has been these less visible building blocks of prepared foods that have emerged as the biggest challenges rather than produce or grains. Keeping these items cost-effective year round will be a new set of challenges for us, but we’re on board for it.
Badgerland Produce Auction
One of the avenues we intend to travel on the way to reaching this goal is the use of the Badgerland Produce Auction, headquartered in Montello. I was introduced to the BPA at the 2009 meeting of the Institutional Food Market Coalition in Madison. In addition to inspiring testimony from several large foodservice purveyors who had started to source locally in the South Central Wisconsin and Northern Illinois region, there were presentations by Mary Jean Reading, the BPA manager, and Lois Federman of “Something Special from Wisconsin” foods. Those who had started to access the produce available through the auction said they had seen their ability to employ local foods increase while simultaneously seeing cost reductions—a win-win for all involved. The week after I attended the meeting, Deli Manager Megan Blodgett and I started a series of conversations about how Willy Street Co-op could become involved with this program in 2010. We’re eagerly awaiting the first auctions in May.
Expect to see these items take shape slowly in our case, just as the growing cycle takes time to awaken. By mid-summer, we will really be rolling with it and should see good variety and quality through September. The real test of the program will, of course, be the winter months when the ingenuity of our Kitchen will be our main defense against the monotony of over-wintered produce. As always, we look forward to your feedback on the 100% local program—we’re counting on it, in fact, to make it a success into 2011 and beyond. Please write or email and let us know how we’re doing once you’ve tasted these new items, and what changes or improvements will keep you coming back for more local food.
Spring is in the air. We recently spoke with Diana Murphy at Dreamfarm, who confirms that her goats are kidding. But seriously, what that means is very soon we will be happily selling Dreamfarm fresh goat chevre from our cheese case again. Many of our customers have developed quite the addiction to this light, tart, wonderfully fresh local goat cheese. We carry four different varieties: peppercorn, herbes de Provence, Italian, and plain. If you haven’t tried some, you’re in for a treat.
Felix Thalhammer from Capri Cheesery in Blue Rivers, Wisconsin, was sad to tell us that his St. Felix aged goat cheese is going to be temporarily out of stock until the most recently created batch can age properly. In the meantime, he has provided us with another delightfully intense, hand-crafted goat cheese from his stocks. He calls it Billy’s Midget; a wonderfully full, nutty flavored bandage wrapped cheddar. Try a piece soon.
Hollands Family Farms
We were pleasantly surprised by your response to the Hollands Family Farms Marieke Goudas. Evidently so were the Pentermans. Their cheeses got so much favorable attention from the media that the backstocks were quickly depleted. If you’ve noticed that your favorite Marieke Gouda hasn’t been on the shelf in awhile, this might help explain the cause. We’ve been assured that more delicious Goudas are on the way, however, so don’t lose heart. And, of course, if you haven’t tried them, make certain that you do so soon. These are some of the best Wisconsin-made cheeses that we have tasted, with unbelievably full, complex flavors and textures. If you’ve only tried one flavor, make sure you sample a different one next time you’re in the store. You won’t regret it.