I think most would agree that Willy Street Co-op has some of the best local organic produce around. When I moved to Madison two years ago, I quickly learned of the amazing farm-to-table system and commitment to local and organic farming that Madison has made so successful. It became clear that Willy Street Co-op’s Produce department was a direct reflection of the amazing quality and beauty of the organic produce available to the Madison area from a wide variety of local farms.
This month marks Willy Street Co-op’s 40th anniversary and there is no doubt that the Co-op would not have been successful without the support of these incredible local organic farms. Since the Co-op began in 1974, the local Madison food system, organic farming, and Willy Street Co-op have improved and grown together.
Tipi Produce has been a major influence in Madison’s successful farm to table system. Tipi has been an integral part of the Co-op since its early beginnings. They began selling their organic produce wholesale in 1977 and have been supplying the Willy Street Co-op ever since. Tipi’s self-proclaimed goal as farmers is “to provide you with an appealing variety of high-quality produce so attractive and tasty that you and your family will eat more vegetables than you ever imagined.”
Steve Pincus and Beth Kazmar farm 45 acres of land near Evansville, Wisconsin. Steve has been farming since 1975. Beth joined Tipi in 1999. They purchased the current farm in 2001 because “it has sandy soil that warms quickly in spring and allows [them] to get an early start on the growing season.”
Steve and Beth describe their farming philosophy as “biological farmers, interested in understanding the biology of our 45 crops so we can grow them better. Crops are fertilized with cover crops, rotten leaves and composted manures. Pests and diseases are controlled through proactive management and gentle natural materials.”
The certified organic farm located 28 miles from the Co-op provides 45 different crops to over 600 CSA members. The other half of the farm’s sales come from Willy Street Co-op and other local natural food co-ops including the Outpost Natural Foods Co-op in Milwaukee and Basics Co-op in Janesville.
For anyone who has by chance never had a Tipi watermelon or muskmelon, you are missing out on my personal favorite season in the Produce department. There is nothing better than a chilled Yellow Doll watermelon on a humid summer day. Steve and the Tipi team harvest the melons at the peak of ripeness and they have it down to a science.
Starting in the fall, the world famous Tipi table carrots will be available for most of the winter. Steve has perfected the carrot thanks to the farm’s lighter sandy soil. They usually show up at the Co-op some time in October and last through February or longer.
Tipi provides numerous other crops such as green and purple cabbage, various bell peppers, greens, onions, beets, and many more. Tipi has been a leader in organic farming for over three decades and Willy Street Co-op has been lucky enough to maintain a close working relationship with the farm throughout that time. In fact, there is quite a bit of overlap between Tipi and Willy Street Co-op as staff fromboth bounce back and forth. Many people I have worked with in the Produce department have completed internships at the farm, partake in work shares annually and have even spent time on both payrolls.
There is nothing but love and respect for everyone at Tipi. Steve has created a Madison legend and Willy Street Co-op, along with all its Owners and shoppers, is forever grateful. To many more wonderful farming years, continued success, and countless watermelons for breakfast.