One-stop shopping for locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Every time I shop at the Co-op Food Stores and see Killdeer spinach, or MacLennan corn, I am grateful. Being a locavore has never been easier. Until today, however, I confess that I never gave much thought to how local farmers and the Co-op make all of that happen. One important step, taken while the ground is still snow-covered, is the annual Co-op Local Growers Meeting, held this week at the Black Recreation and Senior Center in Hanover NH.
More than a dozen local growers attended to finalize plans for the coming season. Who would be growing what crops to distribute to the Co-op stores for sale to their consumers? Charts appeared on the big screen with lists by farm and by store (Hanover, Lebanon, White River Junction), identifying type of crop (including greens, potatoes, carrots, parsley, kale and others); both organic and conventional farms were included. Some growers supply a number of different items, others a single crop. Long Wind provides its signature tomatoes. Michael Poage's Glacial Grooves of Etna NH grows and sells only shiitake mushrooms.
Killdeer Farm is cutting back to only a handful of crops this coming season as part of its planned down-sizing and sale of much of the business to Crossroad Farm. The space left by the Killdeer contraction has been partially filled by two farms new to the Co-op this year, Root 5 and Deep Meadow, who will supply a variety of organic vegetables. Root 5 will be offering something new--Japanese salad turnips. For reasons unknown, fennel seems to be in short supply; one of the growers volunteered to try to remedy that.
Greenhouse at Sunrise Farm
Supplying three produce departments and the commissary (where prepared foods are made) is the largest and most straightforward part of the growers' business with the Co-op, but there are other connections as well. The Co-op's Sarah Simpson coordinates in-store demonstrations and samplings; her goal is to get at least 75% of the growers into the stores this year to showcase their wares and interact with the customers. Stats show that it is good for sales, which helps both farmers and the Co-op. Lindsay Smith of the Culinary Learning Center at the Lebanon Co-op (she introduced herself as the "new Eli") wants to bring growers into the kitchen. The always-popular Producers' Fair--think grilled ears of corn dripping with butter or pesto, samples of ice cream, and home-grown music--is scheduled for August 12th.
Other related business: Beth Roy from Valley Food and Farm, the organization that sponsors the annual Flavors of the Valley, announced that it is putting together a farm labor directory. A representative from Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Alissa Mathews, reminded growers who sell at farmers' markets and farm stands that their scales must be tested anew each year.
Among the side conversations that occurred as the meeting adjourned was one I had with Tim Taylor of Crossroad Farm on the subject of organic and conventional farming. His farm is one among those that are not organic-certified; his crops may be sprayed sparingly and seldom, or not at all. He focuses thoughtfully on sustainability--has taught courses about it--a concept which may not always be congruent with an organic certification. He recognizes that an organic label is a bright line that can help the buyer in making choices. The cost of organic farming however, which gets passed on to consumers, concerns him. He aims to be "grandchild certified," comfortable with his grandkids playing in his fields and plucking a strawberry to eat without worry.
The final item, post agenda: class photo.
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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge