October is Co-op Month!

Willy Street Co-op, Madison, WI

My favorite grocery store is Willy Street Co-op in Madison. At first I liked it because of its hip, earthy scene and ever-smiling faces. Then, as my food consciousness grew, I appreciated it for its quality products and local providers. Now, after years of membership, I’m proud to be part of an owner-operated, community-minded organization that positively impacts Wisconsin, both economically and environmentally.

That’s a co-op for you.

October is National Cooperative Month and this year’s theme is “Cooperatives Build.” A cooperative is a business or organization that is owned and operated jointly by its members, all of whom share the profits and have a voice in how the organization is run. You can find co-ops in every industry and throughout the world. In Wisconsin alone, there are more than 700 cooperatives serving three million member-owners.

What makes cooperatives so special?

Seven principles, actually. These were established by the International Cooperative Alliance and are considered standards for the cooperative movement:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

Simply put, cooperatives are a bringing together of people for the good of all—an economic democracy, if you will. Cooperatives create a buying and selling power that often isn’t available to people individually. Cooperatives sustain family businesses, fair trade, communities and natural resources.

National Co-op Month is a nod to the thousands of cooperatives across the U.S., from food stores, to credit unions, to insurance mutuals, and everything in between.

Thanks, co-ops. You’ve got my nod as well!


Beekeeping and My Season of Growth

Jars of honey on beehiveSo my tenure as beekeeper has come to an end. Rather abruptly, I might add. Last weekend bald-faced hornets invaded my hive and even though my guard bees fought valiently—there was a massive swarm of agitation happening at the entrance of the hive—it appears the hornets have won. This week most of my bees are gone. So are about six frames of lush, unharvested honey.

Lucky for me, I had harvested my share of honey the week before. Those unharvested frames, those I left for the bee’s winter feed; those were my “reinvesting and saving portions of the harvest for yet another season of growth.” A season that apparently is not going to happen.

Yes, and no.

Yes, I’m disappointed. The nurturer in me feels bad, like I somehow let down my bees. But my disappointment isn’t overwhelming and I’m choosing to relish the sweet side. Being a newbie, I allowed myself low expectations based on the many challenges facing today’s beekeepers. I knew this would be a season of learning and, wow, I’ve learned a lot. All summer I enjoyed watching my bees forage from one group of plants to another. I became conscious of the summer’s detailed progression in ways I previously hadn’t observed. And honey! Just look at that sweet, golden honey! I hadn’t anticipated harvesting any this first year, but those little troopers worked so hard to share.

As a beekeeper I’ve had a temporary setback, but not for long. Next spring I’ll be ordering more bees and another summer of fun!

In the meantime, I’m interested in this organization: The Honeybee Conservancy. The Honeybee Conservancy is a non-profit organization responding to the bee crisis. Check out its Sponsor-A-Hive program, which puts hives in schools and community gardens across the nation. Think of the educational opportunities! The pollinating potential!

The Honeybee Conservancy is a way to “share the harvest with others” and reinvest portions for “yet another season of growth.” Writer Denis Waitley says it so well, doesn’t he?

Care to donate? Currently, a $5000 grant is matching every dollar donated.

Want a hive for your school? The deadline for registration is November 11, 2016.

Want a FREE educator’s kit? Think lesson plans, worksheets to “build reading and science skills, raise environmental awareness, and empower students to help the bees.”


Five (+) Reasons to Support Farmers Markets

Dane County Farmers Market overlooking Lake Mendota, Madison, WI

Last week, Aug. 7-13, communities across the country celebrated National Farmers Market Week. I joined in by heading to my favorite Dane County Farmers Market. As the largest producer-only market in the country, it surrounds Madison’s Capitol Square with a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, baked goods, flowers and more. It’s a beloved Saturday tradition and a definite must-do destination.

What’s the big deal about farmers markets and why is it so important to support them?

The most obvious reasons are the opportunity to taste food at its best and to meet the farmers who produce it. But here are five equally important reasons.

1. Seasonal Flavor

Long before the days of picking produce in an unripened state, stockpiling it in warehouses and then trucking it cross-country, people ate differently. They ate seasonally. That is to say they harvested food grown in their own good earth at the time it was peak in ripeness, and they then either ate it or home-preserved it while it was still fresh. If they were Midwesterners, they ate asparagus in spring, tomatoes in summer, and apples in autumn. Because withstanding the rigors of transportation was not an issue, these now-heritage varietals were grown with an emphasis on flavor. They were nutritious and, oh, so full of natural tastiness.

Farmers markets allow us to go back to those times. They enable us to celebrate the God-given rhythm of growing seasons and purchase foods at their highest quality. On top of that, farmers markets offer a wonderful diversity, with many varietals we’ll never find in commercial groceries.

A great book on the benefits of eating seasonally is Animal, Vegetable, Miracleby Barbara Kingsolver.

2. Environmentally Friendly

Scientific American coined the term “5,000-mile salad” in reference to the global distance an increasing number of our store-bought fruits and vegetables travel. Conversely, many farmers markets require vendors to sell food produced within a specified distance, some as low as 50–100 miles. Buying from the farmers market means you’re spending your dollars on food, not fossil fuels.

Americans have developed an insatiable appetite for healthy food and farmers markets are rising to meet the demand. Saturday, as I moved in a shoulder-to-shoulder flow of people, I noticed a majority of venders advertising themselves as using organic and GMO-free practices.

Market vendors love to discuss farming with their customers. They share a contagious energy for growing good food and protecting the soil in which its grown.

fresh produce from Wisconsin farmers markets

3. Affordability

I went to Saturday’s market to supplement my own garden with poblano peppers for Marisa McClellan’s corn salsa recipe. I happily came away with a few extra items, all for less than $20.

  • 2 bags squeaky fresh cheese curds: $5 each
  • 1 lb. crowns-only broccoli: $1
  • 2 lb. carrots: $2
  • 4 poblano and red peppers: $2.75

Shopping seasonally and locally enables us to buy better quality for less money. Take this $1 broccoli, for example. Apparently my area is having a bountiful year for cruciferous vegetables and they’re priced exceptionally low. Next week, after I’ve finished canning corn, I’ll be back for more broccoli to put up for winter. Fresh, local, inexpensive—how can I go wrong?

Healthy, organic food has a reputation of being too costly but farmers markets debunk such nonsense. Farmers markets offer us a way to eat  healthy and economically all year long.

4. Social

The farmers market is just plain fun. It’s a bringing together of humanity to celebrate one of our most basic joys and needs—food. Good food! At the Dane County Farmers Market, families gather for picnics on the Capitol lawn. Street musicians bring festivity to the air. Dancers entertain us. At my small, hometown Tuesday market, friends and neighbors greet one another by name. The honey vendor offers me, a newbie beekeeper, helpful advice and happily takes my empty jars for recycling.

5. Support for the Local, Sustainable Farmer

I have a soft spot for the self-employed. I revere those with the moxie to separate themselves from corporate America, those with a drive for something more than money—in this case, food that won’t poison us or the earth. For these entrepreneuring hearts, a farmers market is the land of opportunity.

A farmers market is where the handcrafted soapmaker supplements the family’s income so he or she can stay home with the kids. Where immigrants can make a living and connect with the community. Where whole families can work together and kids gain the confidence that comes with business and social skills. Where the high school musician can earn money for college. Where farmers can continue in small, organic practices because there are customers who share their passion for quality food.

Supporting your local farmers market affords these opportunities to continue. If local farmers succeed, they will continue providing us with quality food and they will invest their earnings back into our community. Their success is our success.

Another great book is Gaining Groundby Forrest Pritchard. It’s the hard-work-and-economics story of establishing his grass-finished beef in the Washington D.C. farmers markets.

A Farmers Market Near You

Looking for market locations and schedules? Here is a national directory. Also, here is a south-central Wisconsin directory (it’s a social media post I did for Forward Mutual—I can write for your organization too, by the way:-).

Wednesday Webs: Things Keeping My Interest This Summer

Bees on their brood frame in Wisconsin

So this has been my summer of beekeeping. Since I know absolutely nada of these honeys, I’m learning things as I go. For example, I now know the cone shape in the center above is a queen cell and since I already have one queen, another could be problematic. I should get rid of this cell. Or not. The challenging aspect of Beekeeping 101 is that the old salts are notorious for their variety of preferential practices (kind of like our world of marketing, yes?). In any event, so far I’ve managed to not kill my bees, nor have they left me for a better keeper.

Besides beekeeping (and my usual gardening and raising baby chicks), here are other agricultural interests that have me humming this summer:

  • Speaking of bees, here’s an interview on what we can do to improve their future, by an unconventional Madison entrepreneur
  • Similarly, the Chicago Honey Co-op works to produce honey and promote the good work of bees
  • You’ve heard of CSAs. How about CSFs, (as in Alaskan fish)? Grassroots, out-of-the-box entrepreneurism at its best!
  • We Live On the Internet. We Die Alone. Are we living our lives online instead of living it for real? This isn’t a farming story, but its poignant intensity shows a season of life that applies to us all. This summer spend time digging in the dirt. Grow food and share it with people. Spend real time with real people!

Soil Sisters ad by Adunate Word & Design

  • I’m once again proud to be working with Soil Sisters, a fun-filled, culinary and ag event. Here’s the ad Adunate did for them, which appeared in the summer issue of Edible Madison magazine. Going to be in Wisconsin this summer? Come to Soil Sisters, Aug. 5-7.

Sponsor Sampler, by Adunate Word & Design

  • Later, in fall, Fermentation Fest will once again host its convergence of food, agriculture and art. Here’s a piece Adunate did as a sponsor sampler. Interested in sponsoring Fermentation Fest? Contact the Fermentation Fest team right away because they’re putting things together as we speak!

That’s all for now, folks. Hope you’re having a blessed summer!


Magnificent Trees for Earth Day 2016

Old growth forest in Hartwick Pines, Grayling, MI

Last week while traveling in Michigan we spent an afternoon in Hartwick Pines State Park. When I was a kid my family spent a lot of time vacationing in nearby Grayling so this whole Au Sable River region holds special memories. It was great to be back (snow and all, ha!).

Chapel in the Pines, Hartwick Pines State Park, Grayling, MI

It’s also fitting because today is Earth Day and this year’s emphasis is Trees for the Earth. If you want to celebrate trees, Hartwick Pines is the place to go. It’s a 9,672-acre park that during the late 1800s was owned and logged by the Salling-Hanson Lumber Company. Thankfully in 1927, Karen Michelson Hartwick, a company heir, donated the land to the State of Michigan as a memorial to the logging industry. With that came 85 acres (now 49) of old growth, 350+ year old, red and white pines. Talk about glorious trees! There’s also a second growth forest that was planted in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp.

How blessed we are that people in the past cared enough to preserve trees for us today. Now we have an opportunity to pay it forward. In recognition of its upcoming 50th anniversary, the Earth Day Network has set a goal of planting 7.8 billion trees by 2020 and they’re looking for us to help.

Reliance Peach bareroot trees

Here’s our contribution: Peach trees. They’re replacement for those we lost a few years ago to Wisconsin winters. Since peaches aren’t native to this area, their lifespan isn’t as long as it might be in a more southernly climate (oops, we’re not exactly following the article I wrote for Forward Mutual’s weekly news:-). Nonetheless, I’ve been missing the home-canned goodness they offer, so we’re happy to replace them as needed. Grow fast trees, grow fast!

Happy Earth Day everyone! Plant a tree and celebrate the good earth God has given us!

Nature, agriculture, food and history are some of my favorite topics. If you need copywriting for your organization, drop me a line!