5 ways Fair Trade supports communities

23 Oct
Sri-lanka-cinnamon-sorters

Ceylon cinnamon, which is sought after for its lighter, brighter taste, comes from the bark of an evergreen tree that is native to Sri Lanka. Frontier Co-op Ceylon cinnamon is Fair Trade Certified. Here, workers sort sticks for quality.

By Alan Miles

The basic idea of Fair Trade certification isn’t difficult to grasp — guaranteed minimum prices, decent work conditions, and fair wages prevent the exploitation of poor farmers and farm workers. I know that without Fair Trade, farmers often have no other alternative but to take whatever, often small amount is offered for their products while farm workers – some of the most exploited in the supply chain – are often subject to harsh working conditions, discrimination, and other abuses. Fair Trade certification means farmers and farm workers can earn living wages for the crops they grow which in turn helps them support their families. The certification also demands humane work conditions, encourages sustainable farming practices and supports direct trade to eliminate exploitive middlemen.

But for some time, I didn’t really understand the full impact of Frontier Co-op’s support of Fair Trade.  Hearing stories from our purchasers who have visited communities that grow our Fair Trade Certified™ spices, herbs and teas, I learned five areas where Fair Trade premiums impact overall communities: Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Fennel Seed

17 Oct

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this third installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning and coloring capabilities of fennel seed — and get tips for using it to awaken your next cooking endeavor.

Frontier Co-op fennel seed

By Tom Havran

What it tastes like: The flavor of fennel seed and its close cousin, anise seed, are often described as licorice-like, which is actually backward. Since extracts of both are used to flavor licorice (usually in much greater quantities than licorice root), the taste of the candy should be described as anise or fennel-like. The constituent most responsible for fennel’s taste is anethol — it provides a volatile, vegetal sweetness that has a slight warming sensation.

What it looks like: Whole seeds look like ribbed, fat little parenthesis symbols, greenish tan in color. (They should not have any of the dried stem, or “whiskers” attached.) Ground fennel seed is a brownish, granular powder that has a slightly damp, oily texture when fresh. Continue reading

Discovering how ‘co-op’ means ‘community’

15 Oct

By Kailee Meskimen

Stepping foot into my local food co-op, New Pioneer Co-op, for the first time earlier this year made me feel alive again. Rainbows of local produce as far as the eye could see, a make-your-own nut butter station and a tall display of more spices, herbs and teas than I could imagine (even working at Frontier!). Grass-fed beef and cage-free eggs surrounded by towers of natural care products and organic snacks. A scratch bakery and sandwich bar that produced the most heavenly aromas. Passerby shoppers smiling and suggesting their tried-and-true favorites.

New-Pi-visit2

Stopping in front of the Frontier Co-op bulk display during our visit to New Pioneer Co-op earlier this summer.

Food co-ops hold a whole new meaning for me now — community. Living in Iowa, we boast some of the world’s most fertile soil, yet, unfortunately, we are surrounded by genetically-modified crops and supermarkets filled with processed foods. Finding organic and locally-produced food is like searching for a needle in a haystack, unless you make it to the weekly farmer’s market, join a CSA or grow it yourself. Although supermarkets are striving to provide more organic and natural products, I discovered the day I visited New Pioneer why food co-ops are the go-to place and why that community is so special.

Co-op principles

The food co-op community begins with an established set of principles. According to the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) consumer website, “unlike their conventional counterparts, co-ops are owned and governed by member-shoppers and rooted in principles like community, voluntary and open membership, economic participation and cooperation. Because of these principles and practices, food co-ops inherently serve and benefit the communities where they are located.” Co-ops partner with local farms to offer consumers fresh and wholesome food. When you shop at the co-op, you help support sustainable production methods and feel good about doing it. By becoming a member, you not only feel good investing in a community-owned business, but you have the opportunity to vote and voice your opinion. Continue reading

What makes co-ops great

10 Oct

By Alan Miles

When people ask me why I’ve stayed at Frontier Co-op so long (I’ve worked here more than 30 years), I tell them I enjoy working at a place that shares my values. And underpinning most of those values — such as our environmental and social responsibility, openness, integrity and fairness — is our cooperative business structure. I believe that being owned by our customers has been a key not only to our financial success, but to maintaining our values as well.

And people seem to agree. We recently found that most people — from regular customers to those who have never heard of us — react very positively to our being a co-op and assume we conduct business fairly. Co-ops have a great image with the public. It’s something they’ve earned by, for the most part, reflecting the society-strengthening values of their cooperative owners.

What makes co-ops great

In most ways, cooperatives are like other businesses. Their facilities and equipment are much like those of their competitors and, to be successful, the businesses must be run well. Co-ops are even incorporated in most cases, filing papers with the state as a specially structured corporation. There are bylaws and other necessary legal papers. There is a board of directors that sets policy and oversees the management that runs the day-to-day operations.

But co-ops are different in that they are owned and controlled (through the election of the Board) by members who have direct participation in the business. There are many types of co-ops, but often the participation is as a customer of the co-op — as it is with Frontier Co-op. Members of the co-ops collectively supply the capital the business needs and share its earnings.

A surprise rainstorm made leaving the temporary parking area of our 1983 Member Meeting a cooperative effort.

A surprise rainstorm made leaving the temporary parking area of our 1983 Member Meeting a cooperative effort — exemplifying what the co-op business structure is all about.

Continue reading

Autumn’s abundance: Squash recipe roundup

6 Oct

By Kailee Meskimen

Squash is one of nature’s most fibrous and versatile products. Most varieties are native to the United States, and a good number of them are available year-round — although now is the time to find the best winter squash at your farmer’s market, co-op or grocery store.

Because of squash’s versatility, cooking and baking with the variously shaped and colored vegetables is never boring. Experimenting with how squash is cooked, how it’s seasoned or how it’s served is fun! Before you venture into the kitchen, check out our cooking, storing and preparation tips for winter squash.

From soup to pizza, you can come up with nutritious (and delicious) squash fare for almost any occasion. This fall and winter, try some of our favorite recipes:

Simply Organic black bean acorn squash chili

Black Bean Chili with Acorn Squash and Toasted Pepitas

Warm up with a hearty, squash-based soup:

Continue reading

Hearty, healthy and authentic: Growing up ‘co-op’

1 Oct
Maia Pugh at New Pioneer Food Co-op

Digging in at the bulk bins at my own local co-op, New Pioneer Food Co-op in Coralville, Iowa.

By Maia Pugh, Frontier Co-op marketing intern

I didn’t always feel lucky to be raised by parents who were concerned about the importance of wholesome, ethically sourced food.

My family lived in northeast Tennessee for the first ten years of my life, and we weren’t exactly surrounded by a booming community of people seeking to live “all-naturally.” I was likely the only one in my elementary school to have been born at home with the help of a midwife (whose small, organic farm we visited often), and certainly the only one whose placenta had been planted under an oak tree in the front yard. While other kids in my neighborhood learned how to train their talking Furbies and went on exhilarating adventures with Mario and his brothers, I learned how to tell an earthworm from a grub worm and helped my mom with the deliveries for her cloth diaper service.

When I went over to friends’ houses, I remember enviously browsing through what seemed like endless cupboards of delectable snack foods — Rice Krispies Treats, Doritos, Cocoa Puffs cereal and double-stuffed Oreos. At my house, we got organic carrot sticks and whole grain crackers with unsweetened peanut butter.

I didn’t look forward to my turn to bring refreshments to share at school. Why couldn’t my mom just get that all-natural, homemade Pop Tarts just weren’t as good as the real things, coated in high fructose corn syrup and vanilla frosting, and oozing with artificial cherry filling?!

Maia Pugh at La Montanita with Frontier Co-op spices

Pointing out my favorite spices during a visit to La Montanita Co-op in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this summer — proof that my family’s vacations always include at least one stop at a co-op!

My first co-op: La Montañita Co-op

When I was ten years old, my family moved from good ol’ rocky top country to “the city different” — better known as Santa Fe, New Mexico — where all things funky are eagerly embraced, and countless bumper stickers preach the importance of wholesome, natural living: “Let food be your medicine,” “Say no to GMOs,” “I’d rather be gardening,” and, my personal favorite, “Eat more kale.

After working in conventional retail food stores for more than twenty years, my dad had accepted a position as general manager of La Montañita Co-op in Albuquerque. Although my parents had always been committed to making sure the house was stocked with nutritious food, they hadn’t previously been members of a co-op.

I remember the first time I walked into La Montañita Co-op. Instead of the bright white floors and clean-cut symmetry of the conventional grocery stores, I was greeted by natural light streaming in through the large windows and a rustic, somewhat eclectic atmosphere of earthy colors and smells and light-hearted chit-chat between customers and employees.

I can’t say this very first experience brought some sort of overwhelming tidal wave of awe over me. I was, in fact, quite skeptical. Where were the service clerks in their pressed white shirts and ties and bright white smiles? Where were the big yellow signs screaming for my attention, “SALE! SALE! SALE!”? Where was the brightly colored candy aisle with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Skittles that never failed to trigger wide eyes and salivating cheek glands? And what on earth was all that food doing in huge plastic bins for people to just scoop out as they pleased?

But I do remember it feeling so real. So hearty and healthy and authentic. And over time, I stopped wishing for pressed white shirts and brightly colored candy aisles. Continue reading

Sustainability’s next generation

23 Sep

By Alan Miles

My hope for the future has been encouraged by meeting some of the smart, energetic and hardworking individuals in the emerging generation of sustainability leaders. I’m optimistic that their commitment to organic growing and social justice will have a positive impact on our world.

If we’re to have a sustainable future, these leaders will have to continue to build upon our current consciousness and practices of sustainability, addressing both the environmental and social issues of a growing world. The annual scholarship our co-op endowed in 2009 for the farming apprentice program at the University of California Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) is one way we’re helping build this next generation of leaders — and one that I’ve personally enjoyed being part of.

Alex Vaugh, this year's scholarship recipient.

Alex Vaugh, this year’s Simply Organic 1% Fund scholarship recipient. Alex hopes he can develop a combination CSA/food bank sustainably farming operation to produce fresh, organic food for families in need.

Responsibility and awareness

When the scholarship was being set up, our then-Vice President of Sustainability Kathy Larson visited the Center and said afterwards, “I was impressed with the quality of the program — and even more so with the apprentices enrolled in the program.”

Having interviewed all five of the apprentices who have received the scholarship so far for their profiles on Simply Organic’s website, I agree completely with Kathy’s assessment. Our scholarship recipients’ sense of social responsibility and awareness of the role our food systems play in it are qualities that can help build a better world. Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Annatto

19 Sep

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this second installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning and coloring capabilities of annatto — and get tips for using it to awaken your next cooking endeavor.

FR-Sleeper-Spices-Annatto-Seed-Facebook (1)

What it tastes like: Annatto seeds, or achiote, come from a tropical South American tree. The seeds are usually ground into a powder for culinary use and have a nut-like, slightly peppery-spicy flavor. Some liken the taste to a less emphatic melange of nutmeg and black pepper.

What it looks like: The whole seeds of annatto are irregularly triangle-shaped and about an eighth of an inch wide. They have a brick- to barn-red color, as does the powder due to the intensely yellow to orange-colored carotenoid compounds bixin and norbixin. The red color of the spice becomes orange to yellow when diluted in the cooking process in the same way that the red color of saffron spice colors dishes a saffron yellow. Annatto lends a yellow to orange color to commercially-produced cheddar and American cheese, butter and many other foods. Continue reading

Summer’s bounty: Winter squash

17 Sep

In the final installment of our summer series about enjoying in-season organic produce, learn simple tips for highlighting winter squash in fresh, well-spiced meals as summer turns into fall!

Frontier Co-op Winter Squash

By Tom Havran

Winter squash are time capsules of summer’s bounty that you can enjoy all through the autumn and winter months. These hard rind fruits contain richly colored and flavored flesh that is a power house of beta-carotene laced nutrition. Because they lend themselves so well to both sweet and savory side dishes and main courses, there’s no reason not to enjoy winter squash as much as possible!

Some of the most popular, readily available and versatile varieties include acorn, delicata, butternut and spaghetti. Learn more about each type’s characteristic color, texture, flavor and application here.

How to prepare it: Thick-skinned squash, such as acorn and butternut, lend themselves to storage, while thin-skinned, small squash like delicata should be used as soon as possible. The simplest, and arguably best, way to prepare squash is to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with oil, adorn with spices and roast until fork-tender.

Spices and herbs to complement: Squash offers a balance of starchy, neutral flavors and nutty sweetness that allow it to work well with both sweet and savory seasonings. Classic pairings include cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and maple for sweet, and cayenne, sage and thyme for savory. Try creating mashed squash flavored with garlic, thyme and black pepper, or immerse tender boiled or roasted cubes of squash in a smoldering curry dish or creamy corn chowder seasoned with cayenne.

For a different flavor twist this fall, season your squash with Simply Organic’s new Crazy Awesome Veggies Sweet Cinnamon Chili seasoning mix. Continue reading

One member, one vote: How co-ops meld business and democracy

11 Sep
Tony Bedard, right, and Dr. Sarath Ranaweera, an organic agriculture and tea specialist who founded the agricultural processing and exporting company Bio Foods Bio Foods (Pvt) Ltd and helped create the growers organization the Small Organic Farmers’ Association (SOFA). Dr. Ranaweera, who is our partner in a program to build wells in northern Sri Lanka, spoke at this year's Annual Co-op Member Meeting.

Tony Bedard, right, and Dr. Sarath Ranaweera, an organic agriculture and tea specialist from Sri Lanka. Dr. Ranaweera founded Bio Foods (Pvt) Ltd (an agricultural processing and exporting company) and helped create the Small Organic Farmers Association (SOFA). A partner in our program to build wells in northern Sri Lanka, Dr. Ranaweera spoke at this year’s Annual Member Meeting.

By Tony Bedard, Frontier Co-op CEO

This year a national election follows on the heels of both our recently completed Frontier Co-op Board of Directors election and Co-op Month in October. It seems a good time to reflect on the democratic nature of our co-op and cooperative business in general.

The second of the seven Cooperative Principles states that co-ops must have democratic member control. (These principles were set out in Rochdale, England, in 1844 and have remained the foundation on which co-operatives around the world have operated ever since.) This principle gives all members equal voting rights on a one member, one vote basis.

Frontier Co-op democracy
Frontier Co-op’s 40,000-plus members are represented by its elected Board of Directors. The members elect seven Board members, two advisory positions are appointed by the Board and Frontier Co-op’s CEO is automatically a Board member. A Board election is held each summer to elect about half of the Board members. (The terms are staggered to provide continuity.)

The Board directs co-op business, representing the members in approval of strategies and budgets, long-term planning, hiring and evaluating the CEO and other ownership responsibilities. The membership has direct responsibility for changes to the co-op’s business structure through modifications to Frontier Co-op’s articles of incorporation. Changes to those documents must be approved by a full membership vote. Continue reading

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