After years of being a couch gardener (also know as a renter watching PBS garden shows dreaming of the day Shelly Ryan would beg to film my amazingly eccentric, whimsically recycled and functionally productive garden), the credit union allowed me to say a piece of land was mine to tear up as I pleased. After five years of finding the hardiest and most abuse-resistant perennials, I’m ready to try my third attempt at finding the hardiest and most abuse-resistant foods to grow.
The task of being “keeper-of-the-seeds” at the Co-op fulfills that kid-in-a-candy-store feeling for me. Poring over seed stories—where they came from, how they were named, how old they are—is, to say the least, pleasant for me. I also thoroughly enjoy being the link between these seeds and your backyard and community gardens. This also means that I get to pick which new seeds to offer you this year along with past favorites, a feat I did not take for granted.
Looking at last year’s sales, I am proud to announce that the top six seed sellers last year were greens (Sweet Genovese Basil, Seed Savers Lettuce Mixture, American Spinach, Cilantro, Apollo Arugula, and Giant Parsley). We have brought in three new greens for you to grow: Strawberry Spinach, Forellenschuss (a romaine that holds well in heat) and Crisp Mint Lettuce. Also new are two varieties of beans to dry (Calypso and Good Mother Stallard), two soybean varieties (Envy and Shirofumi) and Seed Savers’ “oldest documented and most productive pole bean” the Lazy Housewife Bean (how could I not?). I noticed some heat lacking in the pepper selection (six at zero heat and one at level five) so I added Alma Paprika (1), Ancho Gigantea (2) and the Beaver Dam (3). I also chose several interesting additions like True Lemon Cucumbers, West Indian Gherkins, Japonica Striped Maize, Strawberry Popcorn, Job’s Tears, Night-Scented Tobacco and Prickly Caterpillar.
Look forward to the big bags of Ocean Forest potting soil making their way back to the Co-op for the spring and summer along with larger bags of worm castings (in my opinion, both good Mother’s Day gifts...hint, hint). Alive with beneficial bacteria and organisms, worm castings are safe and easy to use. They can be used as a top dressing for your houseplants and gardens (just spread, then water) or by working into the soil. For those feeling more adventurous, we will have the Wormtopia on display for part of April. This worm bin is easy to use indoors and turns food scraps into compost or worm tea. We will be offering this worm bin as a pre-order in conjunction with Paradigm Gardens as part of our Earth Week celebrations. In addition to soil and castings, we also have a variety of seed starting materials, a small selection of other organic fertilizers (including bat guano) and garden gloves.
Another favorite of mine that will be arriving around the same time is our selection of fruit, vegetable and flower seedlings. Although the seedlings are ready to go home with you in mid-April, they are not ready to go into the ground just yet, at least not without quite a few precautions. I usually try to use Mother’s Day (my excuse for an afternoon of uninterrupted dirt flinging) as a guide for checking if the Wisconsin weather seems like it might let them live outdoors. Earlier than that requires more attention than I am usually up for so if I bring seedlings home now, I keep them inside to get to know them for a few weeks first. It is possible to put them in the ground, but do your research first.
We are getting our seedlings again from two great, local, organic family farms—West Star and Voss Organics. We will start out with some cool weather crops from Voss like leeks, kale and broccoli as well as cilantro, basil, cherry, paste hybrid and heirloom tomatoes. These will show up right around the start of the Dane County Farmers’ Market. The West Star bedding plants will begin the next week with Earth Day. Look forward to some arugula, thyme, chives and perennials but check their website for a more complete list of what they will have available. West Star has a lot to offer, and we will be carrying their organic flower bouquets as the season progresses. If you would like to request a certain plant from either farmer, feel free to place a special order form at the Customer Service desk (please leave your e-mail if it is easier to contact you about availability that way).
While I’m writing this, the ground is still crusty with thick ice after the melting of a warm, February thaw re-froze. This article has reminded me that I do love the season changes of our region and I am greatly looking forward to the change to spring; a time play in the mud and coax things to grow (with no mosquitoes).
I recently received a Customer Comment from an Owner who noticed that we carried several kitchenware products from China, and wanted to know what we knew about the companies’ environmental and labor practices. When I started this position, my first goal (after learning what the heck I was doing, of course) was to address this frustrating topic myself. My searching has uncovered some good news and bad news. Bad news first: truthfully, for some products, we just don’t have the answer to the above questions. It is painfully difficult (if not close to impossible) to find affordable (a key word to many) products not made in China. The good news is that we found a few. Some of our current vendors, like New Wave and Down to Earth, seek out manufacturers who practice fair employment and hire third-party certifiers to audit the factories they use. We have also found a few new companies whose practices should satisfy our desire for high-quality, safe and fair products.
I am pleased to be able to introduce you to a new company called To-Go Ware. Their products are designed to aid our to-go society and to integrate ways of being more mindful and conscious of the impact our lifestyle has on the planet. We will be carrying their bamboo utensil carrying sets and their tiered stainless steel food containers. Hearing the stories of where their products come from illustrates the company’s commitment to ethics.
Americans toss out enough plastic forks, knives and spoons each year to circle the equator 300 times! The utensils are made of bamboo sourced and made in China by a small cottage industry factory. The forest the bamboo is sourced from is regularly visited by a third party certifier and their audits assure To-go that the sourcing and harvesting is sustainable and that they employ fair trade practices.
The utensils come with carrying packs of two types: CONSERVE and WEAVE. CONSERVE is a recycling and waste management NGO (non-government organization) in New Delhi. The family-owned company recycles a massive amount of plastic shopping bags by employing men and women “rag-pickers” of Madhuban to collect, sort and wash the bags, drying them on clothes lines. The bags are pressed into sheets that are then designed, cut and stitched into bags (including some of the carriers for these utensils). The non-profit NGO provides jobs for 300 people and uses the money made to fund projects, such as building schools and creating more jobs, to help the rag-pickers and other marginalized sections of the community.
WEAVE (Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment) is an organization that was created with the intent to empower indigenous women and support their needs and basic human rights. The organization has evolved especially in the context of the influx of refugees from Burma. The goal of providing education and training to these displaced women and children is achieved in one way through supporting the cottage industry. WEAVE has produced a high-quality line of crafts including, once again, the carriers for these utensils.
The stainless steel Tiffin Sets (lunch box systems that hail from India) are reusable and lightweight. Made out of 200-grade stainless, they are safe and have not had any coating applied. They are safe to use with heat such as an oven, a stovetop, a toaster oven or an open flame (which makes them great for camping). The Tiffins are made in Mumbai, India by a company that is ISO 9001 (quality assurance) and has a proven track record of protecting the human rights of their employees. The company they source their stainless steel from is also certified ISO 9001, as well as ISO 14001 (environmental protections).
We formerly only carried Preserve’s personal care (toothbrushes, razors) and tableware. We now carry their line of recycled and BPA-free plastic food storage containers (three sizes) and cutting boards. One style of cutting boards is made of recycled plastic and two others of Paperstone. All of Preserve’s products are made in the U.S. and of 100% recycled plastics and 100% post consumer paper. They are not tested on animals. (Ever. Period.)
And so, perhaps not all is without hope. I will continue to search for and bring to you products we all can get excited about.