Q: Food waste is a big issue linked with hunger, poverty, environmental impacts, and affecting the people who grow our food. Stats highlighted in a recent National Geographic article (www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/03/global-food-waste-statistics/) are shocking, and it simply seems wrong that we are wasting so much food when so many people in our communities go hungry each day. 1/3 of the food we grow worldwide ends up being wasted, and much of this waste happens before the food even reaches the consumer. What is Willy St. Co-op doing to address this issue? Are you working with local growers to purchase “less than perfect” produce? Do you ever participate in gleaning to collect produce that would otherwise waste away in the field? Do you donate excess food to local food pantries? What more can we as a co-op do about this? I am sure Willy St Co-op is already being more proactive than most conventional grocery stores; I would appreciate learning more about what is being done currently and potential for the co-op to do even more to address the food waste issue.
A: Thanks for asking! We do our best to ensure that the vast majority of the food we have makes it to mouths before it ever gets disposed. For example, if the food may become a loss for the Co-op, it is either given to employees or food pantries, depending onwhich department the food is coming from and the quantity of food that needs to be distributed. Imperfect produce that is still good to eat is discounted for purchase. Organic trimmings from produce and pulp from the Juice Bar is put out for customers to take and use as animal feed or for organic compost. Prepared foods that are at the sell-by date are donated to staff in our “free boxes,” which are in various areas at all of our locations (East, West, the Off-Site Kitchen and the Central Office). When food is leftover from a catered or in-store event, it is often donated to staff as well. If we have large amounts of perishable yet still viable food available from something such as a catered in-store event, we donate the surplus to food pantries. Please let me know if there is anything else I may do for you. -Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services
Customer Service at its best
Q: I was at Willy East this morning picking up some breakfast and lunch for the day. I typically visit Willy East at least a few times a week for breakfast and or lunch. This morning I had my hands full because I didn’t use a basket like I should have for my items. My lunch slipped out of my hands and dropped on the floor in front of the registers. The kind cashier, Ilana (not sure how to spell her name), came to my rescue and helped me clean the mess up. I see her every time I stop in at Willy East in the mornings. She is always so kind and friendly when I see her. When my food fell on the floor she told me to go back and grab another one (I had sushi) and she would clean up the mess for me. When I returned to her register she was still all smiles as she usually is. Please let her know how wonderful she is. There are days when I am having the worst mornings and in a rush, and when I get to her check out line she is always so calm and friendly. It is a highlight of my morning and a reminder to myself that I need to calm down. Thank you Ilana :)
A: Thank you so much for this great feedback. It is always so nice to hear what a great job our staff is doing. I will pass your words on to Ilana right away! I hope you have a great day! -Lindsey Hardy, Front End Manager–East
Q: I’ve noticed that the produce section of the store does not sell locally grown products. In the past there was a cooler devoted to locally grown apples and other goods. I find this disconcerting. Local producers in the state produce carrots, spinach, herb, apples that are available year around. Can’t see any reason that the coop doesn’t sell local apples through the winter, herbs from say Growing Power in Milwaukee (which I can buy at Woodmans), local spinach (readily available at the winter market), local carrots (also readily available at the winter market). I’ve asked this question numerous times over the years and the answer has always been that local suppliers cannot provide the volume the Coop requires. That may be true, but why does it have to be an all or nothing proposition. Why not sell more local products like in the past and use the same cooler (now populated with desserts) that has been used in the past?? Keep it stocked with whatever volume of local produce and fruit you can. Might be hit and miss, but so what. Seems like the Coop has abandoned the sale of local winter produce and fruits in the off-season. That is profoundly sad and I think a disservice to members.
A: Thanks for writing with your concerns! I’m really sorry that your are disappointed with our current selection of local winter produce.
Regarding the specific items you cited in your email:
- Winter Carrots: We have them! We carry Tipi Produce local organic carrots every winter, in our bulk display, 5lb bags, and 25lb bags for juicing. Traditionally, Tipi’s supply runs out sometime in March or April. This year, they may last even longer, making an almost year round supply of fresh local carrots!
- While they last, we also have Tipi Produce purple and yellow carrots in stock, although I expect these will run out before the traditional orange ones.
- Through the entire year, we also carry 2lb bags of organic carrots from California, because there are some owners who are looking for the lowest cost organic carrots, and the California product is traditionally a bit cheaper.
- Spinach: Yes, this product is now available at winter farmers markets, which is awesome! Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find a farm that is willing or able to sell us winter spinach atwholesale volumes or prices. It seems that farms’ entire crops are able to be easily sold at higher prices direct to customers at farmers markets and through CSAs, which makes total sense from the farmer’s perspective. I hope that in future years we will be able to find a farm to partner with for this product, but so far, no luck.
- Last year, and again this year, we have started a relationship with a farm (Valley View Organics) who supplies us with a limited supply of 5.5oz bags of fresh hoop-house-grown spinach in the very early spring. We began carrying this spinach on 3/19 this year, and hope to continue until the outdoor spring spinach season starts up for other growers. Supply is limited, so I would advise calling ahead if you want to be sure you get some!
- Apples: We haven’t been able to find an apple grower who is able to supply us through the entire year with good quality apples. We do work with several local growers, and carry their product as long as we can get it, but that usually means an end to the season in late January or February. If you know of another source, I’d love to hear it!
- Herbs from Growing Power: I was unaware that they are wholesaling their herbs. Thanks for the tip, I’ll look into it!
Currently [written at the end of March]we have around 40 unique local produce item on our shelves, including:
- Root Vegetables & Tubers: The winter storage supply is quickly running out, but we still have a decent supply of local beets, carrots, celeriac, burdock, daikon, potatoes, rutabaga, beauty heart radish, parsnips, turnips, and shallots.
- Sprouts and microgreens from Troy Gardens and Supercharge.
- Mushrooms from Schickert’s (button, crimini, portabella, and shiitake).
- Early spring spinach (as I described above!)
In addition, this year, we started a pilot program in partnership with Innovation Kitchens in Mineral Point to preserve local, organic produce for winter use. Right now, you can find locally grown canned tomatoes, frozen broccoli florets, and frozen butternut squash cubes in our grocery department. This has been a very exciting program and we are planning to expand it next year to encompass even more items.
If there are other products (like the herbs from Growing Power) that you think should be on our shelves, or if you know of growers willing to wholesale to us during the winter months, I’d love to hear about them!
Thanks again for writing. Local produce is a topic very near and dear to my heart, and it’s always great to hear from Owners who obviously feel the same way! Best, Megan Minnick, Director of Purchasing