Viroqua Food Co+op Blog

The Kickapoo Harvest Gleaning Project

Posted by Charlene Elderkin on Tue, Aug 25, 2009 @ 01:22 PM

Written by Dani Lind, VFC Produce Manager

On a lovely Friday afternoon in the middle of July, Driftless Organics in rural Soldiers Grove welcomed me and five other volunteers out to their fields & packing shed to harvest (or “glean”) around 400 pounds of seconds, last pickings, culls, and market returns.

This was the first run of a pilot project of Valley Stewardship Network’s Farm & Food Initiative called “Kickapoo Harvest: Gleaning for Healthy Communities,” aimed at getting healthy, locally produced food into the hands of those who need it most in our region. The gleaned food was distributed to residents of Park View Manor, a fixed income housing complex in Viroqua, as well as the Living Faith Food Pantry.

Over the last year, volunteers of the fledgling Farm & Food Initiative (of which I serve on the Steering Committee, and VFC’s general manager, Jan Rasikas, serves on the Advisory Committee) completed a Community Food Assessment. Several of our findings inspired us to start this pilot gleaning project:

  1. Many low-income residents lack access to locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables.
  2. Most area vegetable farms must ship their produce to surrounding urban areas to make a living.
  3. In the vegetable farming business (except for those who grow for processing), only the cream of the crop gets shipped to market, often times leaving blemished and odd-ball veggies, or “seconds” – which usually don’t make economic sense to harvest, wash, pack, and ship - to rot in the field.

This 2009 pilot program engaged adult and youth volunteers to harvest this excess “unmarketable” produce and fruit grown at several area farms (participating farms include Ridgeland Harvest, Keewaydin Organics farms, Harmony Valley, Miles Farm, Slattery Family Farm, & Turkey Ridge Orchard). Once a month through October, the harvested produce will be cleaned and nicely boxed, CSA style, by volunteers before being distributed to Park View Manor residents.

In addition, area chefs (including VFC’s very own Kim Sandker, as well as VFC members Monique Hooker, Macon Luhning, & Frank Wildingway) are offering cooking demonstrations and recipes to residents along with their gleaned food boxes to help them out with some of the more unusual contents.

Excess gleaned produce is also being distributed to the Viroqua Public Schools’ 5th Season Project. This project was begun last year as part of the school’s Farm to School Program to purchase locally produced food, prepare and freeze it for use in school lunches throughout the school year. The School is partnering with us to provide them with some free gleaned produce as well as delivering seconds for the burgeoning Farm to School Program. In exchange, we get use of the Viroqua High School cafeteria for washing and packing gleaned produce.

With a year of experience under our belt, we hope to be eligible for grants to expand our project next year, enabling us to supply gleaned food to more community members in need. In the future we’d also like to assist local institutions (like schools, hospitals, nursing homes, jail, etc.) in purchasing locally produced food, providing new markets for seconds and other area farms’ products.

If you wish to donate your time or money to help harvest, wash and pack, or distribute gleaned produce, please call Jessica Luhning (608) 637-8568 or email

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Tags: Local, Food, Farm

Seed Saving Saviors

Posted by Charlene Elderkin on Tue, Aug 11, 2009 @ 10:41 AM

Written by Arwyn Wildingway, VFC Plants & Seeds Buyer

Sometimes when I look out and see the irresponsible, irreverent way we humans have structured this modern life, I can feel hopeless about our future. But an experience like the Seed Savers Exchange annual conference in Decorah, Iowa verifies my belief  that we can get along and live harmoniously with nature.

This was my first conference as a new member of the Seed Savers Exchange, so I didn’t know what to expect, but I was drawn to attend by its relevance and importance for our survival. Not to mention some of my heroes of organic agriculture were there.

Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine feeds his family and his community fresh food year round in a climate as northerly as ours. He gave a 2 hour demonstration of greenhouse techniques. He utilizes all hand tools, some of which he designed himself (and markets through Johnny’s Selected Seeds) because he believes in the power of human determination and work, which throughout history has supported our growth. In his keynote speech, Eliot noted how starting in the woods, with soil pH of 4.6, they simply applied already documented organic gardening techniques and amendments, with complete success. They have to be intensive as they only have 1½ acres, and they admire the spaces and natural fertility of our area. (Remember, we are lucky!)

Eliot’s wife Barbara Damrosch illustrated the bounty of their endeavors with a beautiful slide show, and pointed out that the colors and vibrancy of fruits and vegetables call out to us because our DNA requires them. She gave some cooking ideas, including battering and frying celeriac rounds, which I can’t wait to try.

Both Maine residents encourage everyone to extend their intake of homegrown foods throughout the year by planting cold hardy greens like mache, claytonia, spinach, and lettuce on both ends of the regular growing year, and by bringing into your home pots of herbs, celeriac, and brassicas for greens in the winter. Also both have written books which I refer you to for more in-depth information.

My favorite speaker was Mike McGrath, former editor of Organic Gardening, and current radio show host on WHYY in Philadelphia. His humor brings light and ease to the perceived difficulty of organic gardening, and all kinds of questions are answered on his website (Check it out!) He spoke on seven secrets of successful heirloom gardens, which was very common sense and enlightening at the same time. I’ll write a summary of that in a future post. His answer to all problems is shredded leaves -- because they feed the worms, whose castings are now proven beyond a doubt to be more nutrious than even compost itself. And he shared that the highest quality compost, made of shredded leaves and coffee grounds, burns a hot pile that scientifically proves itself to cure and prevent bacterial and fungal plant diseases, besides being perfect in N, P, K, and Ca.

I appreciated that the Seed Savers Exchange gave the conference such an organic bent –  I think they know it’s the way for the future to thrive, as is their work of saving 2,500 varieties of heirlooms. During the weekend we had the opportunity to tour their fields and orchards, visit their flocks and herds, and admire their new facilities for seed processing, storing, and germinating.

I wished I could have attended every workshop as they all looked interesting. Too many details to relay here, but get yourself a copy of Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth to learn lots. We all can and should contribute to the health of our biosphere by saving some seeds. It’s an ancient activity, like many things largely forgotten in modern times, enjoying a resurgence as humanity wakes up again to what’s real.

Also, next time you’re in downtown Decorah, visit the Porter House museum near the courthouse. The rock wall surrounding it is so beautiful I felt completely blown away. My world is changed for seeing it!

by Arwyn Wildingway, VFC Plants & Seeds Buyer

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Tags: Plants & Seeds

Eating Local - It's not just for "foodies" anymore.

Posted by Charlene Elderkin on Thu, Aug 06, 2009 @ 12:46 PM

Viroqua Food Co-op Conducts Community-Wide Challenge to Eat Local from August 15 to Sept. 15

Eating local is not just for foodies anymore. Whether it’s “60 Minutes,” the New York Times or the Vernon County Broadcaster, more and more media are talking up eating local. And, more shoppers are walking the talk, both as a way to become more mindful eaters and to support the local economy.

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Tags: Cheese, Local, Cooperative, Food, Farm, Produce, Plants & Seeds, Deli/Bakery, Beer/Wine, Wellness/Body Care, Bulk, Grocery, Meat & Fish


Posted by Charlene Elderkin on Thu, Aug 06, 2009 @ 10:46 AM

Linking Local Farms and Institutions in the Chippewa Valley

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Tags: Local, Cooperative, Food, Farm