Starting a grocery co-op
Q: I live in Dubuque currently and would like information on how to get our co-op. This on is the Best I have been to. Thank you!
A: Thanks for the kind words and for your interest in a grocery co-op in your area. I was sad to hear in 2017 that the Dubuque Food Co-op closed. Starting a grocery co-op is not easy as the retail grocery business is very competitive. But there are resources out there, most notably Food Co-op Initiative. FCI is a nonprofit geared towards providing resources to communities interested in opening grocery co-ops, and much of the information they have available they provide at no cost. You can learn more at www.fci.coop. We hope you’ll come back to Willy Street Co-op the next time you’re in town. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: I read the article about fats in the May Reader and have some follow-up questions: (1) Will liquid vegetable oil containers say if the oil is "expeller-pressed" or "cold-pressed"? I've looked for that on olive oil before, but never, for example, on canola oil. (2) How would I know if dairy products (milk, cheese, butter) are from grass-fed cows? (3) Does the Co-op sell lard and tallow from pastured pigs and cows? If so, where would I look for it in the store? (4) Is the author an objective source or a paleo-enthusiast writing from that perspective? Thank you for an interesting article.
A: Thanks for writing and for your patience! We’re glad you enjoyed the article. There are no regulations that require producers to label their products as “expeller-pressed,” “cold-pressed,” or “grass-fed” and so it’s totally up to the producer to decide if this information would be worthwhile to print on their labels for customers (many do, because it’s positive marketing). If a producer does not include this information on their label, you could certainly contact them to find out. We do indeed sell lard from Willow Creek, who raises pasture-raised pork, but we do not carry tallow.
Andy Gricevich is on Co-op staff, I checked in with him about his leanings, and he said “I don't follow any particular diet, Paleo or otherwise. Though I don't know that I could claim to be an "objective source" (like anybody else), I can say that my research for the article included books, articles and scientific studies coming out of a wide range of perspectives, from the USDA's official opinions to those of ‘beyond Paleo’ writers. I did my best to check everything I reported as fact against a variety of sources, and feel confident that the article is solidly rooted in good science.” He also recommended Nina Teicholz's book The Big Fat Surprise as “a non-Paleo-oriented, meticulously researched and cited book on the subject.” Please let us know if you have further questions. Have a great afternoon! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: I’ve been craving a good bowl of clam chowder recently and the other day I saw the Bar Harbor Clam Chowder in the can at Willy East. The packaging looked pretty fancy and the cost was a bit off-putting but, given my “need” for clam chowder, I decided to try it. Holy cow!! What a fantastic soup. I added a little milk and butter as suggested by the label and it scratched all the right comfort food itches. I hope you’ll keep this product in stock as I’ll be back for more.
A: I have shared your comment with the grocery buyer at the East location. I am happy that you enjoyed the soup! I have been intrigued by the label; it does look very fancy to me as well. I am also a big fan of clam chowder; now I am going to have to get some and give it a try. Thanks for giving us the feedback. Have a beautiful day. -Amanda Ikens, Owner Resources Coordinator–East
Annual Meeting & Party Gift Bags
Q: Is there another way to distribute the gift bags? There were so many elderly and people with walkers waiting in the hot sun. It just doesn't seem safe or respectful to the members of the Willy Street Co-op. Thank you!
A: Thanks for sharing your concerns with us. My short answer is: we haven't found one yet.
My longer answer is: we began offering gift bags about a decade ago to help encourage Owners to come early and get their dinner and then stay for the meeting. When we started doing this, each gift bag had maybe 10-12 items. We've refined our process over time and now gift bags contain over 20 items, and the contents of a few of them could be valued at $30 or more. Although it takes many hours to fill 1,000 gift bags, the contents are donated by vendors, so the cost to us is relatively low.
Similar to the increasing value of the contents, over the years the time at which ticket holders start to line up has moved earlier and earlier, which means some of them choose to stand there for hours. The Owners who have made it somewhat of an art form will bring a folding chair, music to listen to, an umbrella, and/or reading material. As these gift bags are free and getting one is a matter either of planning and commitment (if you line up early) or fortunate timing, it's each individual's decision if they want to wait for one or not.
We have considered some other options: Last year someone suggested providing shade for the people who line up, but spending money on tents to provide shade for an hour or so (for the vast majority of those in line) would be too expensive. Because of the railroad tracks, we are limited by how we can have the line go (in shade behind tents, for example)—having it cross the tracks would create a safety hazard. Having a lottery or a set number of gift bags (like we do with meal tickets) wouldn't help with the goal of getting people there early. We could potentially move the gift bag distribution point to somewhere else, but that will create other challenges, like moving it farther from a source of water and potentially making Owners walk across the park (or farther) to get in line for dinner.
As we do each year, we collect feedback from attendees and staff members, the planning group evaluates it and then uses it to plan for the next year—we will include this feedback as well! –Brendon Smith, Communications Director
Q: Wisconsin won a lot of awards for its cheese this year and it would be really great if Willy Street Co op could feature some of those award-winning cheeses so that the members could try them.
A: Thank you for taking the time to write. I apologize it has taken so long for me to respond. I agree with you, we definitely could do a better job featuring all of the award-winning cheeses we sell in the Cheese department. I will work with our Communications department to figure out the best way for us to do this moving forward.
Thank you, Jeremy Johnson, Meat and Specialty Category Manager
Sesame seed treasure hunt
Q: I shop at East and North. I should have asked a staff member to lead me to the white sesame seeds long ago, but never did. I discovered this at North, yesterday. The black sesame seeds are in the spice area. The white sesame seeds are in the bulk area.
I wonder if anyone else is puzzled by this sesame seed separation. Maybe a sign would help. No matter. I am thrilled that I finally found them. My crispy tofu will be spectacular now.
A: Thanks so much for bringing this up and I'm sorry you had to go on a sesame seed treasure hunt! The North store is unique in many ways and one of them is that bulk spices are separated from the rest of bulk. We will be sure to get a sign up on the bulk sesame seed container and vice versa. Some categories just have multiple uses and it’s hard to find the balancing point sometimes. We sell a lot of sesame seeds and have them in a larger container with the rest of the seeds and nuts. The black sesames are a bit more unique and usually used as a topping, hence being with the spices. But obviously, they can both be used in a variety of ways.
We are considering trying to get all the spices over to the bulk area (like at East) but we will have to do some serious shuffling around to make it work so it might be a ways down the line. Hopefully, the sign will help in the future for now. Best, Mike Burns, Product Placement Manager
Local sugar snap peas
Q: :I was in yesterday to get some produce since yours is the freshest. I picked up some sugar snap peas which I think were from Oregon and was disappointed with them. Do you not have a local farm that could provide a fresher supply? I find a lot of your vegetables are not locally raised.
A: Thanks for writing! It looks like you caught the very last of the non-local sugar snap peas that we had in house. We've been carrying local for the majority of this month from New Traditions Homestead in Hilsboro, WI. In fact, we had local sugar snap peas on sale last week!
I can say that some crops, especially the early season ones like peas, were a little late this year for us due to the cool wet spring. It seems like things are catching up now, but you are correct that most years we would expect to have things like sugar snap peas by late June.
We do our best to provide as much locally grown produce as possible, working with over 20 small farmers to supply almost everything that is feasible to grow on a wholesale scale in Wisconsin. If there are other specific things that you haven't found in our stores that you think we should have, please let me know and I can either give you some backstory, or if it is something that we don't have a local grower for, I can work with our growers to try to get it on the shelf next year.
Thanks so much! -Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director