Tag Archives: co-ops

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

What Makes a Co-op?

9 Apr

Since Frontier was founded in 1976, we’ve been a co-op. But what exactly does that mean?

Our co-op members are the owners of Frontier. They guide our business decisions, share in our success, and support organic farmers around the world.

Since the co-op began, we’ve remained firmly committed to our founding values — values like integrity, openness, social responsibility, and respect for the environment.

We’ve always considered the way we do business an essential part of our success — and we consider it a requirement of our success that we grow and prosper by contributing to the world rather than exploiting it.

We feel this special relationship of ownership is at the heart of our success. Not only do we have unique insight into natural products by having our member/owners in direct contact with the consumers of the products, the co-op structure has fostered our honest, responsible business practices that are increasingly valued in the marketplace.

A sentence that came out of one of Frontier’s earliest planning sessions expresses one of our most important commitments:

“In all that we do, at all times and with all people,

we will conduct our affairs and the affairs of the company with absolute integrity.”

We apply this test to everything from our product ingredient decisions to the sharing of information with our customers.

And we invite you to join us as a member of our co-op!

2012: The International Year of the Co-op Contest

13 Feb

2012 has been recognized as the International Year of Co-operatives by the United Nations.

This is an acknowledgement that co-operatives drive the economy, respond to social change and are resilient to the global economic crisis. They’re vital and successful businesses creating jobs in all sectors.

We’d like to give you a chance to support and contribute to the growth of the co-op movement. Simply post a photo on Frontier Facebook page between February 5 and February 18 that best represents the strength and vitality of your co-op. (The co-op needs to be an actual bricks and mortar storefront, so buying clubs and websites are not eligible.)

Here’s an example:

Moscow Food Co-op, Moscow, Idaho - Fair Trade Event

Then launch your own campaign to get your friends to vote for your photo on our page!

The owner of the photo with the most votes between February 19 and 25 will be rewarded with a prize of a $150 shopping spree at your favorite co-op.

And for every vote received, we’ll donate 25¢ to the Cooperative Development Foundation.

The CDF is instrumental in assisting start-up co-ops as well as providing support and training for existing co-ops. CDF has been around for over 65 years, supporting cooperative enterprise worldwide.  From tsunami recovery efforts to cooperative home care, CDF is making a difference in people’s lives.

Here are the details and official rules.

Don’t forget to snap that photo next time you go shopping!

Guest Post: Sri Lanka Sourcing Trip, by Tony Bedard

15 Jun

Today’s post is by Frontier CEO Tony Bedard, who accompanied Purchasing Manager Kai Stark to visit Well Earth partner SOFA, the Small Organic Farmers Association, in Sri Lanka. For more about SOFA and the Frontier-funded Training Center there, see our website article, Organic Training in Sri Lanka.

At least once a year I try to make a sourcing trip with a member of our purchasing team. I not only get a better understanding of the work of our purchasing staff, but the trips give me firsthand knowledge of our relationships with our grower partners. I can then share what I learn with our employees, our board, the media, and our customers.

Early this year, I accompanied Kai Stark on a trip to Sri Lanka — an island nation off the southeast coast of India. Sri Lanka is roughly half the size of Iowa with seven times as many people.

Until 1972 it was known as Ceylon — the source of true Ceylon cinnamon. Sri Lanka is the center of the Buddhist religion and culture. It’s a very beautiful island with lush tropical forests and a very diverse landscape. It’s also said to have beautiful white beaches, although we didn’t get to see any of those.

The island was prized for its location on a main shipping route early on, and it was colonized by the Dutch, then the Portuguese, and finally the British before gaining its independence as Sri Lanka in 1948. I guess this partly explains why they drive on the wrong side of the road (to us, anyway). Sri Lankans showed us time and again that they had no problem passing into oncoming traffic or driving on the shoulder of the road.

It takes a lot of travel time to get to and from Sri Lanka. On our trip home, we left at what was 9:00 AM Saturday morning back home in Iowa and arrived here at 10:30 PM on Sunday night, worn out by two ten-hour flights, a couple long layovers and another two-hour flight from Dallas.

After a similar long flight on the way there, we landed in Colombo and drove to a city called Kandy, where we met with our supplier partners. The company has a number of facilities around the city of Kandy that process and package cinnamon, cloves, lemon grass, ginger, nutmeg, and teas along with a few other spices and herbs.

While we found their plant and facilities to be very nice and the employees extremely positive, it was even more impressive to see the network of over 2000 small organic farmers — most of whom farm less than two acres of land to support their families. While in the fields, we saw how the farmers grew and processed the nutmeg and cinnamon that we buy.

We’re glad that Frontier’s purchases allow the farmers to earn a 10-15% premium for growing organic products.

One of our primary goals for the trip was to check on the progress of a new training center near Dambulla, in the central part of Sri Lanka. The training center includes roughly 100 acres of experimental farm ground where growers can get both classroom and hands-on training in growing organically and bio-dynamically. During the first year after the center opened, over 120 farmers were trained — some from as far away as Pakistan.

It was a joy and a privilege to see firsthand the impact that our business with them has on the growers and other workers and their families and communities. We can all be proud that our work here at Frontier has such a positive impact on people halfway around the world.

Tony Bedard, far right.

Kai Stark, left.

Check out the Frontier website for more information and a video about this sourcing trip to Sri Lanka.

Well Earth™ Making a Difference in Sri Lanka

11 May

One of Frontier’s valued Well Earth™ partners is the Small Organic Farmers Association (SOFA), a 2,043-member cooperative of small scale, organic farmers in Sri Lanka.

The president of SOFA, organic farmer Bernard Sri Kantha, is proud to tell us that the cooperative is founded not only on the principals of organic agriculture and Fair Trade, but also on that of shramadhana — a Sinhalese word for the giving of one’s self, whether time, energy, knowledge, experience, wealth or physical labor, to help improve the welfare of the community.

In the spirit of shramadhana, Frontier donated $25,000 in Well Earth™ grant money to support the construction of an organic training center in Sri Lanka.

Completed in late 2010, the first classes are already underway, educating farmers on sustainable cropping techniques such as composting, erosion control, rain harvesting, and natural pest management. Aside from offering participants a classroom setting, the training center is also a fully functional research and development farm, allowing students to immediately put their education to use with hands-on field demonstrations and exercises.

Co-op members like Mahinda Karunarathna, the father of two children, exemplify this ideal. Mr. Karunarathna grows pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and a myriad of other spices on just a few acres of mountainous land, along with tending a rice paddy and keeping chickens to feed his family. Although his farm and family life are enough to keep him busy, he makes time to share his experience and expertise in sustainable farming methods with other local growers.

The result? During 2010, the cooperative earned a total of $150,000 in Fair Trade social premiums. For communities where farmers typically earn $900 to $1,200 annually, these premiums have enabled the construction of clean water sources and schools, as well as funded scholarships, education programs and a vast array of other beneficial projects.

And while the premiums have made the financial aspect of these programs possible, it has been the volunteered time and effort of people like Mahinda Karunarathna that have ultimately made these things a reality.

Our new May 2011- April 2012 includes a feature on this project written by Kai Stark, Frontier’s sourcing expert who works closely with these farmers on this project. As Kai explains, “The seeds of our farmers are able to grow due to the water provided by you, our customers. Thanks from Frontier, and our growers, for sharing in our vision to make the world a better place.”

Check out the video to visit Sri Lanka along with Kai:

As always, we invite you to read more about our Well Earth™ program.

We created it with you in mind.

A Chat with a Customer

28 Apr

We’re always grateful when one of our customers takes the time to drop us a line to let us know what they think about our products. Awhile back we got a nice message from Gina, a customer in Minnesota, telling us she was a fan of our spices. We shared her kind words in our internal employee newsletter.

Gina, Frontier customer from Minnesota.

We thought we’d reconnect with Gina for a more in-depth conversation to share with you. Happily, she was willing to share some thoughts and a recipe. We can’t say it enough: our customers are the best.

Hi Gina. We know you cook and bake often. Let’s start by talking about which spices you use most in your kitchen.

OK, I had to clean out my spice cabinet to get a good idea on this one. And I hope you don’t mind, I grouped them!

  • Pepper: we use fresh ground peppercorns every day. It’s the first bulk spice I bought after getting a nice pepper mill.
  • Cinnamon: fresh cinnamon is great in both sweet and savory dishes; I love to use several varieties for different dishes and baking. My current favorite is Vietnamese because it has a great kick!
  • Ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves: key for making my son’s favorite, molasses ginger cookies. I recently tried mace because I love to experiment and try to concoct the perfect match to make a great taste.
  • Garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes are needed to make my daughter’s most requested dish, Gramma’s spaghetti sauce with pork.
  • Cumin, cayenne, and paprika for chili, pulled pork and ribs.

Wow, that’s an array. You really know your way around your spice cabinet. And we don’t mind that you grouped them, we do that often in our web features. It really helps when you’re learning about flavors and uses.

So where did you get your love of cooking?

My mom is an incredible cook; even at 85 she experiments with new recipes. I owe my love for everything in the kitchen to her. She encouraged me, and I had a chemist for a father, so I’m still hooked solving the science of cooking and baking.

But interestingly, my mother used very few spices. Honestly, even today when I cook at her house I have to bring my own. So my love for spices is something that came about when I started cooking for friends and family.

Here’s that recipe I mentioned earlier that my daughter loves.

Gramma’s Pork Spaghetti Sauce (serves 6)

2 tablespoons butter

3 pork chops

1 chicken breast

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes, preferably with basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Heat butter in a large pot or skillet over medium heat.

Add pork and chicken and simmer until browned.

Remove to plate to cool.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat in the skillet.

Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add tomatoes with puree, oregano, and crushed red pepper scraping bottom bits into sauce.

Simmer sauce over medium-low heat until thickened, breaking up tomatoes with spoon, season with salt and pepper.

As soon as you can handle the meat, remove it from the bone and add it along with any juices back in the sauce.

Cook until meat falls apart.

Serve over spaghetti, and top with cheese.

++++++++

Do you buy spices in bulk? If so, which ones? And go ahead; give a shout-out to your favorite co-op.

We joined a co-op in 1995 to get fresh organic produce and bulk spices right away when we moved to this community.

My first choice is always bulk for spices, because I buy just what I need, and that way it stays fresh. There are so many varieties of paprika and cinnamon to explore and bulk allows me to do that. My next adventure is to enhance fresh berries using flavored tea in baking.

I’m very fortunate to have River Market Coop in Stillwater, MN, less than 1 mile away and they have a large assortment of tea and spices.

Thanks so much, Gina. We expect a report on the intriguing-sounding fresh berries baked with tea!  See you in the spice aisle.

And now, readers, we’d love to hear what spices you use most often in your kitchen.

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