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Put Summer in a Jar
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August 2014 Produce Parable   
Adam Calder, Produce Manager
   
Summer is an abundant time of year for fresh Iowa produce.  It is a time when too much of a good thing can overwhelm a person, so now is a great time to grab a taste of the season and store it away for the months ahead.

The Wheatsfield Cooperative produce department is stuffed with summer produce.  The Iowa grown green zucchini, gold zucchini, red tomatoes, gold tomatoes, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, green beans and carrots are piled high and ready to go home with you.  But what does one do when they have eaten their fill, and still have piles of produce wilting away in front of them?

One pickles, preserves and otherwise prepares this bounty to be shelved and stored.  In this day and age of convenience, where time is seen primarily as a commodity to be used to generate income, taking the time to pickle and preserve may seem a quaint reminder of a bygone era.  In reality, making your own home made pickles takes about two hours for one batch and requires no more specialized equipment than what can be found at your local hardware or farm supply store, or wherever you buy pots and pans from (and we even sell canning jars and lids right here at the co-op!)   

Many people enjoy a home-made pickle, and many people also automatically think of pickled cucumbers when they think of pickles.  Where I grew up in Nebraska, it was quite common for older folks to just call all cucumbers “pickles”, weather they had been pickled or not.  Anything that you can grow and eat, you can pickle.  All of the produce listed earlier in this article can be pickled.  All you need is some veggies, brine, jars and a pot to boil it in.   

Try this recipe for bread and butter pickles, one of my favorite pickles from my childhood. They are slightly sweet and spicy, and will make a perfect side kick to your remaining summer back yard cook outs.  These pickles will also be a great snack in the middle of winter, when crunchy local cucumbers are a distant memory.  Feel free to tinker with this recipe as you see fit.  Add some garlic, or a hot pepper, or some cider vinegar, it’s really up to your own tastes.  Just keep the total volume of vinegar the same, as the acidity is what keeps the food safe. 


Traditional Bread & Butter Pickles

 

  • 10 Cups ¼ inch sliced, trimmed pickling cucumbers
  • 4 Medium onions, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup pickling or canning salt
  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp mustard seed
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric


In a glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the cucumbers and salt.  Mix well and let stand for two hours at room temperature.  Transfer to a colander, and rinse off salt. 

Meanwhile, prepare canning jars by placing them in boiling water for ten minutes.  Prepare the lids by placing them in simmering, but not boiling, water until ready to use. 

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds and turmeric.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Stir in vegetables and return to a boil. 
Pack vegetables into hot jars to within a generous ½ inch of top of jar.  Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover vegetables.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot pickling liquid.  Wipe rim.
Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight. 


Place jars in canner or boiling water, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for ten minutes.  Remove canner from hear and wait five minutes.  Remove jars, cool in a draft free place.  These can store at least a year, longer if the seal remains uncompromised. 

 
The 2014 Local Season
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July 2014 Produce Parable
Adam Calder, Produce Manager

The local season is off to a tumultuous start this summer.  We had a great spring with plenty of rain spaced out between sunny, warm days which got the local produce off to a great start.  As we have moved into the summer season, there have been less and less gentle rains and more and more heavy, hard hitting thunderstorms.  Between the driving winds, six inches of rain falling in just a couple of hours and the golf ball to soft ball sized hail, some local crops did not fare well. 

Meadowlark Flowers in Radcliffe, Iowa, only managed to make one delivery of flowers to us this season before their entire flower garden was flattened by strong wind gusts and hailstones.  We are going to have to wait a couple of weeks and see if the flowers pull through, or if that is the end of our local bouquets for the summer.

Small Potatoes Farm in Minburn, Iowa, reports that the high winds and driving rain have set back their lettuce, cilantro and arugula crops significantly and they will likely require replanting.  The tops to their onions were also blown over, and usually onions stop producing a bulb when their tops get knocked over so here again we will also have to wait and see if they come though. 
   
Luckily, the weather hasn’t been bad for all the Iowa produce.  Tomatoes have really been enjoying the one to three inches of rain a week we’ve been getting pretty regularly all season, as well as the hot sunny days in between.  We are up to our eyeballs in local red tomatoes, local gold tomatoes, and local organic red tomatoes.  Don’t forget the plethora of grape tomato pints we have available from Salama Greenhouse in Boone, or the sun gold grape tomato pints from Hassevoort Aquaponic Farm in Leon, Iowa, if you are looking for a super sweet little treat. 
   
We’ve also got a great selection of local cucumbers, local green and gold zucchini, local organic cucumbers and local organic zucchini.  Check out our huge piles of green curly and lacinato kale, which happen to be right next to equally large piles of red Swiss chard and rainbow chard.  We’ve even been getting some broccoli from the Student Organic Farm right here in Ames.  It’s all fresh, it’s all local, and it’s all raised organically.  If you don’t want to wait until the weekend to get farm-fresh produce at a farmers market, then stop in to the Wheatsfield Cooperative Produce Department today!

 
A Decade at the Co-op
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June 2014 Produce Parable        

By Adam Calder               


This June marks my ten year anniversary of employment at Wheatsfield Cooperative.  I’ve been here so long, in fact, that when I started I was technically hired by the non-profit business Wheatsfield Grocery, as at that time we had not yet become an official cooperative. 


When I look back at the past decade, I can hardly believe it’s been so long if it weren’t for all of the changes I’ve experienced over the years.  The cooperative has grown much since I started as a weekend cashier.  Back then, the produce department was right next to the cash registers, the wellness department was right next to the cereal and bulk aisle, and there was no deli, marketing department, meat department, loading dock, or parking lot. 


We had about twenty staff then (and about 63 now!), and many of those twenty or so people I started working with are managers today.  If you would have told a 24 year old me back then that I would someday be the produce manager, he would surely have scoffed at the idea of getting out of bed before noon, let alone being there to open the store every morning.  In the old store the produce staff were the first there in the morning, and it was our duty to unlock the doors and let everyone else in.  Not only did I grow to love this, but I also liked being the first to greet the co-op every morning.  “Good morning Wheatsfield, are you ready for another great day?  I am!”  Maybe it was silly, but it was just me and the co-op in that first hour of the day, working together as part of a team, and I wanted to make sure the co-op knew I was excited to be a part of that team. 


So many faces have come and gone since I’ve been here.  The staff graduate from college and move away. Members get a new job, move away and take their families with them. They might show up from time to time in the co-op when they are back visiting friends and family, or they might not.  Some members are dead and gone forever, their smiling faces now just an echo in my mind, a footprint on my heart.  But they all affected me, each and every one.  They all taught me, changed me and helped shape me into the man I am today. 


I’m proud of who the co-op has helped me become.  I started here very much a naïve, ignorant kid and have grown into a successful produce department manager with a wealth of knowledge, experience and insight into the world of local, organic produce and cooperative values.  I’m proud of how beautiful our department is, of how hard the produce team works to keep it that way, of the effort my co-workers put into this place each and every day to make it so special. 


I’m humbled by all I’ve learned from the farmers in Iowa.  So many of them are grace under fire. They only know hard work, dedication and determination, and their attitudes are infectious.  How fortunate I am to have been able to work with these men and women, to be in the presence of so much integrity, so much passion, such wisdom.  There are many a keen mind under those sweat-stained farmer hats, and also usually a person happy to share a piece of that mind with you.


We’ve come so far, and yet the journey is not yet over.  I don’t know what the next ten years hold for our cooperative, but I do know that I will be here to continue to be the best steward for local, organic produce and for our community owned business as I can be.


 
Produce Supply Issues
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Our Produce Department has been struggling the last few months to keep bananas in stock. Why? There is a very real problem with global banana supplies due to pest pressure and delivery issues. The situation is hitting organic bananas the hardest. We've found some great articles on the internet and recommend this article from economist.com.

Currently, there is also an issue sourcing strawberries. We expect that issue to resolve in mid May, but you can read this note from one of our produce suppliers to learn more.

 
April Showers Sure Did Bring May Flowers
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May Produce Parable
By Adam Calder, Produce Manager


Kevin Hassevoort delivers hanging flower baskets.

Turns out there is a bit of wisdom to that old nursery rhyme.  It rained nearly every day the last week of April, and May brings with it a flood of flowers!

Currently, we have hanging flower baskets from Hassevoort Farm in Leon, Iowa.  These baskets are overflowing with geraniums, verbena, vinca, heliotrope, bacopa, petunias and herbs.  They will bloom all summer and fall, and I actually have the three baskets I bought from last year!  They got a little scrawny during the winter months on my front porch, but I applied a little plant food and set them outside this spring and they are verdant and blooming once again.  These baskets really have a long lasting value.   

On Friday, May 2nd we will get a shipment of peonies from Horsefeather Farms in Lamoni, Iowa.  These are a perennial favorite, and they sell fast so stop in and get yours soon.  They come in lovely shades of white, red and pink and are certified organic.  
   
On Thursday, May 8th we will get a shipment of fair trade roses from One World Flowers, the same flower company we get our Valentine’s Day roses from.  They will come in a variety of colors and will be as exceptionally beautiful as they were when we had them in February. 

On Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 11 in case you forgot) we will give away one rose to the first fifty mothers that come into the cooperative.  Bring your mom in for a nice breakfast, lunch or dinner and treat her to a free rose, compliments of the cooperative.  We know how hard so many of you moms our there work to feed your families, as we frequently see your smiling faces shopping our aisles and loading up your carts with great food.  We also know how often that work gets overlooked, and we want to show you how much it means to us.  So please, if you are a mother, come in for a free rose on Mother’s Day.  If you aren’t a mother, bring yours in for a nice surprise she will be sure to love.     

 
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