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Eating Local

Harvest. What a warm, wonderful word. I don’t know about you, but in my mind the word harvest calls up images of crisp, tart apples piled in a basket, bundles of honey-colored wheat leaning against one another in the fields, a Picasso of leaves dancing in the autumn sun, and the last of the bounty from this year’s garden being brought inside. I may have a bit of a tendency to romanticize, but growing up with a mother whose “soul” purpose in the summer, besides her children, was tending to her enormous garden has certainly had a huge influence on me. Her passion for gardening and knowledge about how to plant in order to ensure a bountiful harvest has also had a significant impact on how I have come to understand the importance of knowing where our food comes from. I have also come to understand why—for numerous reasons—it is important to get as much of our food as possible from local sources.

When I was younger I didn’t understand that by eating food from our garden we were having an impact on the world around us. It wasn’t really explained in simple terms like, “Hey, this broccoli was locally produced and that means it is better for you in so many ways than broccoli from hundreds or thousands of miles away.” It wasn’t until I was older that I realized why it is important to me to have a garden of my own, even if at first it was only some pots or a tiny little patch of earth. For one thing, it is important for me to be able to prove that I, too, can grow at least some of my own food, although I really have to learn to back off on the zucchini. Equally as important is that it’s one way to help reduce, not just my own carbon foot-print, but that of my entire family. This last point is where shopping in accordance with my personal social and ideological views plays a fairly large role where we, as a family, decide to spend our money. Buying locally grown and produced items is just one of several considerations I keep in mind when shopping and is one of the reasons I shop at the Willy Street Co-op. The availability and quality of locally produced items carried throughout the Co-op has, at times, made me downright giddy especially throughout the summer and early fall.

Here in the Deli we are always striving toward the goal of having a wide variety of delicious items produced with local ingredients, many of which are organic. We realized a long time ago that in order to meet the high standards of our customers we needed to be providing choices that satisfy not only sophisticated palates, but also the keen sense of social and environmental issues that drive many of us to seek out places like the Co-op. That is why we have given deep consideration to the menu in our Deli cold case, focusing more than ever on salads and other tasty goodies that are made from local ingredients.

We have been making some pretty significant changes to our menu over the past few weeks, pushing ourselves to get currently available local ingredients into as many salads as possible. This has had the effect of making many of our salads at least partially locally sourced. You may have noticed that we now use RP’s Pasta in the salads that contain pasta, and the difference has been amazing. The flavor and texture of those dishes has certainly changed for the better, the noodles are more tender and the flavors of the salad are brighter and more satisfying. Now, not all of the ingredients we use can be local. For example, it is very difficult to find, or cost prohibitive to use, locally produced olive oil or black beans; likewise many spices that we use on a regular basis cannot be locally found. While we would be love to have “strictly local” products in the Deli case that is simply something that is outside our realm of possibilities. That said, we do have many great local products being used in our recipes.

Throughout the month of August we have been using the following local ingredients: red and green cabbage, Chioggia beets—their beautiful deep purple color accented by a white swirl—basil, eggplant, baby red leaf lettuce, and Japanese cucumbers. As the seasons are changing so are the the local ingredients that we have access to, and so we are constantly adjusting our selections to match what will be available with foods that will be seasonally appealing. Our cooks and coordinators at the Production Kitchen work closely with local farmers to try to ensure that we are able to obtain the best of what they have to offer, all while making sure they are receiving a fair price for their products.
In an effort to keep all of our customers and employees informed about what products we are carrying, our wonderful staff at the Kitchen has compiled a list of local farms and will be updating our Deli staff as to what products we will be getting and from whom. The farms we are currently working with include: Garden to Be—Mt. Horeb; Hidden Valley Mushroom Farm—Wisconsin Dells; Local Source—Southern Wisconsin; Los Abuelos Farley Farm—Madison; Shooting Star Farm—Mineral Point; and Stone Circle Farm—Reeseville. Of these farms, Stone Circle, Garden To Be, and Shooting Star are certified organic, some of the others use organic practices but are not certified, and all are local. If you ever have questions as to which items the Deli carries are currently using local produce please feel free to ask at the Deli counter or call the store and ask to speak to someone in the Deli. Due to the availability of products combined with what options we currently have available on the menu, we may not be able to give you an answer that very instant, but we will definitely get back to you.

While the Deli may not be able to accommodate all of your locally grown desires, we certainly believe that we have a wide variety of options to please at least some of them. Also, don’t forget that most of the recipes we use are available at the Customer Service desk. If they don’t have it readily available, we can send it to you. Why is that an important detail to remember? Well, if you have access to local ingredients, perhaps from your own garden, and want to make a totally local salad from our recipes you should have all of the necessary tools at your disposal. All-in-all we are very proud of the products the Deli is offering and having access to locally grown and produced items satisfies us onseveral levels. As the leaves start displaying their fabulous fall colors and the harvest comes in, I hope that you will join us this month and give eating local, or as local as possible, a try.

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