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APRIL OWNER DRIVE

On April 15, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

It’s time for our April owner drive, and we want your help! As a member-owner of Bluff Country Co-op, you’ve probably already thought about the important role the Co-op plays in your life. Why not share your appreciation for BCC with your friends? The dedication of current members is the most effective means we have of gaining new members. After all, we’re all more likely to listen to a friend’s opinion than a businesses’ advertising. So, this month, we encourage you to tell your friends who shop at the Co-op why you decided to become a member-owner and why they should, too.

Why are member-owners so integral to the success of BCC? The involvement of members, both financially and personally, is what allows us to grow and better serve our community. Members provide us with the equity we need to remain stable and eventually expand, allowing us to supply the highest-quality foods and best possible service to the public — both members and non-members. But the need for member-owners goes beyond the economic: our cooperative principle #3 states that, “Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. This benefits members in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.” Thus, by placing the ownership in the hands of its customers, BCC becomes an essentially personal matter with its owners; we have a vested interest. The cooperative model allows Co-op patrons to have a say in its running. How better to ensure that BCC provides for the real needs of the community?

In order to promote our member drive this month, we’ve created a fabulous bumper sticker which we’re handing out to our members. Be creative in your use of your sticker. We’d love to know what you come up with, so when you find the perfect spot for your sticker, send us photos and we’ll post it on our facebook page. Hope to hear from you soon!

 

 

COOKING CLASS: Indian Food with Yogesh

On March 24, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Yogesh Grover, Global Studies professor at Winona State University and Indian food expert, will be offering an Indian cooking class at Bluff Country Co-op on Saturday, April 5th, at 10:30 a.m. Yogesh will demonstrate authentic, Indian cooking techniques, and food samples will be provided to participants. I corresponded with Yogesh to learn a bit more about Indian cuisine and his upcoming class.

Yogesh’s interest in cooking goes back a long way: “I became interested in cooking [...] when I was in high school. I would watch my mother cook and pay close attention to what she was doing.” The impression of his mother’s food stuck with him and, “Overtime as I left home cooking I decided to cook for myself instead of eating out,” he tells me.

I asked Yogesh what defines Indian cooking, making it unique among other ethnic cuisines. He tells me that, “[t]he major characteristic of Indian cooking is a variety of spices that give it reddish/orangish color. This color comes primarily from turmeric and red chilli pepper. Other spices commonly used along with these are cumin and coriander. These are the four spices used across the country.” Though “[d]ifferent regions have their own variations,” these defining spices give Indian cuisine unity and continuity. Yogesh also identifies “certain dishes that are supposed to go well with toasted black mustard seeds [and the fact that] [c]ilantro leaves are often used to garnish,” as notable characteristics of Indian cooking.

Yogesh’s personal favorite dishes include, “rice and beans which are called lentils in India or “daal,” a standard dish consumed in all regions of the country. “Apart from this I enjoy making chicken curry, chicken and lamb kebabs that are seasoned with Indian spices like “garam masala” along with garlic and ginger.” For the class he’s teaching at BCC, Yogesh is considering making a dish with spinach and cottage cheese. “The cottage cheese is called “paneer” in India and is freshly made at home although it is also sold in a brick form in stores,” he tells me, “It is slightly different from cottage cheese and is more like cheese curds.” Additionally, Yogesh will be happy to answer any questions participants have about Indian cooking, so if you’d like to learn more about this unique cuisine or just want to spice life up a bit, stop by the BCC deli area on April 5th for the class.

 

 

LOCAL: Reimer Valley

On February 27, 2014, in Local Producers, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Bluff Country Co-op has recently started carrying several frozen meat products from Reimer’s Valley Farm, located in Trempealeau Valley, WI. I corresponded with owner Ron Reimer about his small-scale, family-centered farm.

Ron and his wife, Nan, bought their first first Guernsey cow  when they were living at the Wiscoy Valley Land Co-op. She had twin heifer calves, which the Reimers brought with them to Wisconsin to become the foundation of a small dairy herd, which later morphed into a beef herd. The Reimer’s current Trempealeau County farm “has been the homestead of the Reimer family for 35 years, and the birthplace of three of our five children,” Ron tells me.

Ron wasn’t always a farmer: “Everything I know about farming we learned living and working with folks in Wiscoy Valley and from neighboring farmers in the Ettrick area. I was born a city boy and educated to be an engineer at UW Madison. Nan hails from the burbs of Atlanta.” However, farming seems to be in Ron’s blood; after all, he comes from a long line of meat producers and processors: “My family included one of the early meat processors in Green Bay in the 30′s through the 50′s, one of the original owner/sponsors of the Green Bay Packers. My great uncle Gus was the president of the board of directors of that team and sold his wieners exclusively in Packer Stadium as Reimer’s Valley Farm Wieners. His meat plant lost out to larger producers, but the reputation of his quality meats hopefully continues with our farm, named in his remembrance.”

Though they started out in dairy, the Reimers’ milk cows kept having bull calves, so “[w]hen our small milking herd lost out to Earl Butz’ “get big or get out”  policies, we decided to sell beef, instead of milking cows,” Ron says. Though they started farming as much as possible with draft horses, they eventually had to switch to tractors, “one of our greatest regrets in our farming lives,” Ron laments. “It is our sincere hope that our farm and other small farms do not face the same fate in succumbing to bigness as our nine cow dairy herd and my uncle’s meat business.”

The Reimer’s farming philosophy, centered on family ties and agricultural sustainability, is unique in today’s world: “Farming for us is not making a profit, it’s a way of living, and sharing the surplus,” says Ron. The Reimers sell most of their products directly to families through farmer’s markets, The Common Market in Galesville, WI, and now BCC. Their first priority on the farm is providing their growing extended family, friends, and neighbors with real, wholesome, nourishing food, and not only is the farm meant to feed the family, but its management is very much a family affair: “Our two sons, one who lives on the farm and another who is about to build a house on the farm, are still involved part time in the farming operation and before long will be operating the farm as their parents pursue other interests including operating the Beach Corners Art Studios in Ettrick, WI and teaching, selling, playing and repairing accordions. Two of our daughters left the farm to become bakers. You may know Sally and Harmony from the Renaissance Bakery that also provides bakery for Bluff Country. Sally and her brothers [still find] time to help, come haying time.”

The Reimer’s are also fully committed to organic production: they use no GMOs (including organically acceptable BT insecticides and Rotenone), manure and high   cal lime for fertilizers, and exclusively certified organic feeds. Ron tells me that, though they’re not certified organic, their organic standards were in place even before the government defined “organic” and extend past those of “certified organic,” “beyond the chemical parameters and into the spiritual, ethical and political dimensions of right livelihood.” Organic is more than a matter of chemistry and biology, Ron tells me. He argues that organic foods must be local, sustainable, and direct. “To us, bigness and organic are incompatible, because “local” does not have to be “big.” Their decision not to seek certification is based on the fact that they “would rather our customers know and trust us as people who care about what they eat and grow and sell the same food to their friends and neighbors. We offer the evidence of our healthy, happy, and successful children and grandchildren as certification.”

The Reimers’ meat is unique in that their herd was developed by crossbreeding Guernseys, whose meat is “sweet, flavorful [and] rich in carotene and omega 3 fatty acids,” with Red Angus, which produce a meatier carcass. Their cattle feed exclusively on grass, summer and winter, with the exception of young calves that get some oats and barley. Unlike most farmers, the Reimers don’t give their cows any corn or soy as they believe both substances are bad for bovine digestive systems. Their beef is butchered and processed by Ledebuhr Meats in Winona and is federally inspected. “Our cows live pretty good and long lives relative to that of commodity cattle,” says Ron, “They are not “pushed” to grow fast, and  get lots of exercise, living almost entirely outside, summer and winter.”

The Reimers have a long history of involvement with the cooperative movement: “We have been involved with coops since the 60′s in Madison, Fargo, Minneapolis,  La Crosse, and Winona. Nan and I were instrumental in starting Fargo’s first food coop in the early 70′s and were the first (unpaid) managers for several years before moving to Winona to help found Wiscoy Valley Land Coop,” says Ron, “We join the members of Bluff Country in the spirit of cooperation with one another and with the environment to produce a local and sustainable food source for the people in our region.” Stop by BCC to check out our exciting, new Reimer’s Valley Products!

 

 

Home Brew Contest 2014

On February 21, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Bluff Country Co-op is once again hosting a homebrew contest for St. Patrick’s Day, 2014! We will be announcing winners on April 1st during the Beer Club Meeting at Ed’s (No Name) Bar. Our Judges are true experts on the subject of homebrew and include Ed Hofffman, owner of Ed’s Bar; Brandon Walden, manager of Ed’s Bar and homebrewer; Larry Wolner, owner of the Blue Heron Coffee House; Jen Baechle, representing the Co-op staff; and Rich Tessler, a certified BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) homebrew judge. Competitors can win in one of four categories, each judged by two of our “experts” according to BJCP format: IPA/Pale ale, Stout/Dark, Amber/Red/Irish, and Other. Winners in each category will receive a $30 gift card, and Best in Show will receive an additional $30 gift card — not to mention bragging rights for the next year. “We usually have 30-40 entries coming from Rochester to LaCrosse, with a big representation from the Winona Area Homebrewers Club,” says Dawn Schreiber, BCC’s General Manager.

 

“We started [the contest] as a way to support and recognize homebrewers in the area, of which there seem to be many,” Dawn tells me. The Co-op held its first St. Patrick’s Day contest in 2011, so this will be our 4th year. We even have our own homebrew department which has recently undergone something of a makeover. Prices have been reduced department wide, and though we have limited shelf space, we can order almost anything a homebrewer would need if it’s not already in stock. “The idea behind home brewing in general is the same as cooking at home,” the department’s new manager, Bryce Christopherson, tells me, “Sustainability, affordability, and being able to know exactly what you are consuming.” This more artisan, health-conscious approach to beer is a good fit with BCC’s mission to support nourishing, sustainable foods.

If you’d like to enter this year’s homebrew contest, you can drop off two unmarked bottles, application slips, and $5 entry fee between March 17th-24th. For more information about the contest, visit http://bluff.coop/home/home-brew-contest/. Or, if you’re curious about homebrew and think it might be the thing for you, stop by BCC anytime to check out the homebrew department and pick up the essentials
.

 

IN SEASON: Seed Savers Exchange

On February 11, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Spring is approaching, and amidst the cold, snowy weather, those of us with horticultural inclinations are beginning to plan our gardens. Bluff Country Co-op is preparing for garden season, too, by offering a wide selection of heritage seeds from Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) located in Decorah, IA. This unique, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving heritage seeds merits a closer look.

According to SSE’s website, the organization’s mission is “to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.” It was first founded in 1975 by  Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy whose own seed collection began when Diane’s terminally-ill grandfather gave them seeds for a morning glory plant and a pink tomato — seeds which came from plants his grandparents had brought to Iowa when they immigrated from Bavaria.

Diane and Kent wanted to preserve the fast-disappearing tradition of saving and sharing seeds, so they created Seed Savers Exchange.

Seed Savers’ headquarters is 890-acre Heritage Farm located near Decorah. The the farm is home to extensive gardens, a heritage orchard, heritage-breed Ancient White Park Cattle, the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center, and numerous hiking trails. Most importantly, though, Seed Savers Exchange works to collect and preserve heritage seeds from around the world through the world’s largest seed exchange whose membership includes farmers, gardeners, plant breeders, and chefs. The seeds are collected, stored, and regenerated at Heritage Farm and distributed through SSE’s catalog and exchange. The organization also seeks to educate gardeners in the lost art of seed saving through workshops, tours, conferences, publications, and online resources.

For Seed Savers Exchange, heirloom seeds are a cultural legacy, a piece of history, and a resource for future generations. According to an SSE brochure, “75% of the world’s crop diversity has been lost since the 1900,” pointing out that, “When a plant variety disappears it’s potential to aid us in the future is lost forever.” Seed Savers is striving counteract this loss by protecting and reviving heritage plant strains — an effort you, too, can be a part of! Check out Seed Savers Exchange’s website here for more information about seed saving, and stop by BCC to pick up a packet or two of heritage seeds to incorporate into your garden plans this year.

 

LOCAL: The Jam Shoppe

On January 30, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

The Jam Shoppe is a small, family-owned jam and fruit butter business based out of Altura, MN. The hand-crafted quality and numerous flavors found in the Jam Shoppe’s line of products appeal to a wide variety tastes. Bluff Country Co-op is pleased to carry several Jam Shoppe jams and butters.

The Jam Shoppe was originally owned and operated by a Mennonite family in Missouri. In 2011, Aaron Lee bought the business and brought it back to his hometown of Altura. He began visiting local stores in order to make his products well-known locally. For a while, Aaron drove to Missouri regularly to make the jam with the help of the family he bought the business from, but soon the demand for Jam Shoppe products had grown so much that the business outgrew their Missouri kitchen. Now, the jams and butters are made by an Amish gentleman from Ava, IL.

Why are the Jam Shoppe’s products so popular? The secret lies in jams and butters free of preservatives and made from fresh, pure, all-natural ingredients. The jams contain pure cane sugar (or, in the case of the no sugar varieties, white grape juice concentrate), fruit, citric acid, and pectin. That’s it. The fruit used is whole and individually quick frozen, making it higher quality than that used in many jams and jellies. Though these ingredients are more expensive, Aaron tells me that he believes in sticking with what has worked in the past, a conviction that inspires the old-fashioned goodness of his products.

The jam-making process is indeed very simple, essentially the same as Grandma’s method, Aaron tells me. Basically, the jams are mixed together and boiled, while the butters are slow cooked. Aaron tells me that he likes to create flavors his competitors don’t have, flavors he terms the “non-Smucker’s flavors.” The list includes Strawberry, Strawberry- Rhubarb, Blackberry, Black Raspberry, Red Raspberry, Peach, Cherry, Blueberry, Apple Butter , Apricot, Gooseberry, Jalapeno, and Grape, and several of these flavors come in a no sugar added version. These unique flavors are good on more than just toast: he suggests trying the Jam Shoppe’s apricot jam with pork roast, or their unusual jalapeno jam with french fries, on sandwiches, or in dips and marinades.

The Jam Shoppe has been partnering with Bluff Country Co-op since Aaron first bought the business. We carry an assortment of Jam Shoppe products, and are able to order any of their twenty-some flavors. So stop by BCC to try this unique line of products.

 

Lunch & a Movie

On January 21, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

As part of Fringe Friday on January 24th, we’re showing a movie at 12:00pm at Ed’s (No Name) Bar (3rd & Franklin Sts). Plus, we’ll be serving free samples of our own soup (while it lasts). What could be better?

The film, Living Downstream, is an award-winning documentary based on the book by ecologist and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. It explores the links between toxic chemicals in the environment and cancer by way of Steingraber’s research and experiences. Through poignant and poetic cinematography, Living Downstream reminds us of the intimate link between the health of our earth and our own health. The film was shown at last year’s Frozen River Film Festival, so if you didn’t see it then (or loved it so much you want to see it again), now’s your chance!

Fringe Friday is an event sponsored by the Frozen River Film Festival. The event’s Facebook page describes it as, “an eclectic mix of arts and live entertainment offered in conjunction with local businesses, business people, artists, and musicians to promote the Frozen River Film Festival as well as the arts and locally-owned businesses,” and this month we’re joining in. Hope you can too!

 

 

TASTY: Down Under Kickin’ BBQ Sauce

On January 13, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Richard Flax is the owner of Down Under Kickin’ BBQ, based out of Fridley, MN. Bluff Country Co-op carries his unique, award-winning sauces, so I emailed Rich to learn more about his business.

Rich made his first batch of BBQ sauce in 1990. “[B]efore I knew it I was selling my sauces to friends of friends of friends and all of them telling me this is better [than] the sauces in stores,” he says. His admirers encouraged him to start selling his sauce, so in 2006, he officially bottled his first BBQ sauce, naming it after himself: Rich and Spicy. The inspiration for Down Under Kickin’ BBQ’s name came in the twenty minute drive between Rich’s job as a head chef at a restaurant and his label company: “I always thought about doing a funny caricature of a person on my jars,” he tells me, but he also wanted to do something unusual and set his product apart from other sauces on the market. “I thought BBQ is kicking and OH .. I have a picture of a kangaroo I took in Tasmania.” The Down Under Kickin’ BBQ Sauce label was born!  

Fresh with a hint of the unexpected characterizes Rich’s sauces. “I tr[y] to come up with fresh [i]deas and the freshest of ingredients that nobody else has,” he tells me, “Hence my first sauce has a little Jamican Jerk in it and it is sweet with just a little heat. [It] uses freshly ground spices and the freshest of ingredients.” Rich has made an effort to maintain the uniqueness of his sauces in subsequent creations such as Blackberry Chipotle and Tequila Lime, flavors he tells me “nobody else had.” He’s currently working on two more flavors, due to come out this spring: Raspberry Habanero and Mango Habanero. In order to ensure the highest quality and flavor, Rich keeps his sauces all natural: “I make my sauces with no preservatives and us[e] tomato paste as a base with no HFC in my products. I use fresh spices and grind up my own fresh herbs and spices.”

Rich’s sauces inspire culinary creativity and are a great way to warm up on a cold winter’s day. In fact, he has a list of his favorite BBQ sauce recipes on his website, which you can check out here: www.downunderbbq.com/recipes/. If you’d like to try one of these recipes for yourself, you can stop by BCC to pick up your own jar of Down Under BBQ sauce or stop by Saturday, January 18th at 11 am for a sample.

 

LOCAL: Whitewater Gardens

On January 6, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Whitewater Gardens of Altura, MN, is a small, family farm owned by Lonny and Sandy Dietz. You can find the farm’s regionally renowned vegetables at the Winona Farmer’s Market and local restaurants — and Bluff Country Co-op, of course! We regularly carry a large variety of produce from Whitewater Gardens, so I talked with Sandy to learn more about this unique farm.

On a typical summer day at Whitewater, you’ll find the family outdoors all day long, planting, doing maintenance work, or harvesting. Though Whitewater Gardens grows many kinds of vegetables, their main crops are carrots and sweet potatoes. Lonny and Sandy like to think outside of the box: they’re currently working on developing a geothermal greenhouse which would allow them to grow produce year-round. In this unique greenhouse, the soil is 12-14 inches deep, insulated underneath, and heated with a regular geothermal heat pump. In the summer, they use the greenhouse to grow ginger, while in the winter, they grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and green beans among other things. This year, they planted greens which will be ready in just a few weeks. Sandy tells me that they don’t know of anyone else attempting a geothermal greenhouse, so it requires a lot of trial and error. While they’ve had some success, they’re still trying to work out the kinks. The biggest challenge has been pest management, a problem they’re working on solving by introducing predatory insects such as mites, wasps, and midges. Whitewater also uses the slower winter months to participate in a farm food safety mentorship through the U of M, catch up on repairs, and sell the vegetables they’ve been keeping in storage. Sandy and Lonny didn’t come from a farming background. While they lived in the country, they both had in-town office jobs. However, they couldn’t shake the idea of farming, so in 1990, they purchased land and began growing vegetables on a 1/2 acre. Now, their dream is a reality, and they farm 8-10 acres per year. In thier farming, the Dietzs are committed to sustainability, healthy soil, and high quality produce. 

Whitewater Gardens has been working with BCC for over 10 years now. They started selling to Bluff Country when they were involved with the Southeastern Minnesota Food Network, and they’ve increased what they sell through us in the last few years. If you’d like to try some of Whitewater Gardens’ vegetables, stop by our produce section to see what’s in season.

 

 

LOCAL: Red Barn

On December 26, 2013, in Uncategorized, by admin
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Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson

Red Barn Family Farms, based out of the Appleton, WI area, is a company founded in 2008 by veterinarian Terry Homan and his wife, Paula, to preserve small family dairy farms in Wisconsin. Bluff Country Co-op carries Red Barn’s premium, old-style cheeses.

Red Barn was born out of Terry’s twenty years of veterinary practice on all sorts of Wisconsin farms, where he was able to witness first-hand what did and didn’t work. Paula tells me that, “[a]s the dairy industry has changed dramatically over this time, Terry became increasingly convinced of the value of the small family farm to Wisconsin’s dairy industry and wanted to do something to help preserve them.  Terry believes family farms particularly excel at animal husbandry and excellent milk quality.” Thus, he established Red Barn in order to ensure both the viability of small-scale farmers and viable businesses and the humane treatment of their animals.

In order to ensure that farmers receive a fair wage, Red Barn has created a unique and innovative pay scale  which operates outside of the commodity market and “allows our farmers to earn more for their milk based on their ability to meet [our] standards of excellence.” These standards consist of the “Red Barn Rules:” all milk must be rBGH-free; only small Wisconsin family farms where the family does the majority of the feeding, milking, and caring for the animals are admitted into Red Barn; stringent standards of animal health/care and milk quality are enforced; and farms must be American Humane certified (making Red Barn farms the only midwestern farms that are Humane Certified!). Currently, the company boasts eight contributing farms with an average herd size of 55 cows. “The goal is always to add another family … and another and another.. to our list of producers,” says Paula.

Red Barn’s cheese production is as unique as its milk production: “we use small cheese plants that are somewhat analogous to our small family farms. They produce cheese in small batches with attention to detail,” Paula tells me. This attention shows in the finished products; their Heritage Weis line of cheeses has won 10 medals at both U.S. and world cheese championships within the last three years.These cheeses are made by Springside Cheese in Oconto Falls in 13lb wheels, wrapped in cheesecloth, and dipped in red paraffin. This old-world cheese making processes is “a bit of a lost art,” says Paula. Other Red Barn cheeses include Heritage White Cheddar (Springside Cheese), Edun New Zealand-style Raw Milk Cheddar (Willow Creek Creamery, Berlin, WI), and a new, American original cheese for 2014 made by Katie Hedrich of LaClare Farms.

If you’d like to try some Red Barn cheese, you can stop by BCC. “Our superior-tasting fluid milk confirms our simple premise that the healthiest cows produce the best milk,” states Paula, “For our Red Barn farmers, the best part of farming is the satisfaction of seeing their hard work and dedication to the exceptional health and care of their animals and land appreciated by those who enjoy premium Red Barn products.”