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Eating local has never been a more valued and storied action in our food culture than it is today. What was once a default, hardly a choice, is now sought after as an ennobling practice and an important way to strengthen the web of community and economic ties that bind us—and, not least, a way to get more flavor out of your food.

Sometimes, eating local is less expensive and sometimes it isn’t. That’s a tough issue. Intuitively, eating from a source closer to home, with the costs of transportation and handling/distribution reduced to a minimum, should be cheaper. When it isn’t, it’s usually because a particular ingredient or process isn’t subsidized or isn’t as cost-efficient at a small, local scale as it is at a larger one. For a customer wanting to eat local, seeing a local product that looks and tastes a lot like a mass-market equivalent but costs more begs a look behind the scenes to show where the money goes.

The best way to illustrate the power of what you do when you choose to spend your money locally is to take you on a little tour of the pumpkin puree that our Production Kitchen began purchasing from Innovation Kitchen in late October and used throughout our holiday pie season. Innovation is a fast-growing processing hub in Mineral Point, prioritizing Wisconsin growers and businesses. This was the first year we were able to use local pumpkin in our pies and represented the realization of a longstanding goal to provide our Owners with the most local pies available in Madison outside of a home kitchen. The puree, incidentally, is the same used by our neighbor Peter Robertson of RP’s Pasta in his tortellini.

Heck’s Farm Stand in Arena, was founded in 1972 by Gary and Cheryl Heck and is known by travellers on Hwy 14 for their spectacular display of homegrown pumpkins. around harvest and Halloween time. This year, Bobby Kennedy of Heartland Fruit and Produce in Lone Rock delivered over 7,500 lbs of pumpkin from Heck’s to the Innovation Kitchen’s processing facility. At the Kitchen, two to three full-time staff and two part-time staff were kept busy through the season rendering these pumpkins freezer-ready as puree—to be picked up again by Kennedy and dropped at Midwest Perishables in Madison, awaiting delivery by Innovation’s Rick Terrien and use by Willy Street Co-op’s Bakery and Kitchen. If you bought a pumpkin pie from us this year, or ate some of our curried pumpkin soup, most of your money never left Dane, Dodge and Iowa Counties and supported the livelihoods of at least 10 people in those counties.

I’ve always believed that the best reason to spend locally, the reason that keeps people wanting to do it, is quality. We feel that increasing our use of Wisconsin-grown produce in Willy Street Co-op’s Deli and Bakery foods by partnering with Innovation will make your food taste better as well as leveraging your food dollars into our local economy in ways that will pay us all back. Please drop us a line and let us know which local foods you want to see more of in your meals—and how we’re doing! 2015 promises to be an exciting year.

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