Fire on the Tallgrass Prairie

by Kathy Larson

photos by Kathy Larson and Joe Coffey

On March 16, I watched the eastern half of the Frontier prairie go up in flames.  This part of the prairie hadn’t been burned for seven or eight years and the plant litter was thick, so the fire burned hot and fast.

Fire has been important to maintaining the prairie that covers the Midwest since before the arrival of settlers.  Native prairie grasses and flowering plants carry the buds for next year’s growth underground where they are protected from fire.  The buds of trees are above ground where they’re easily damaged or killed by fire.  Young trees and seedlings are killed by fire.

Fire also helps rid the prairie of the build-up of heavy plant litter which can smother or shade other plants.  Burning opens up the land to sun and rains and returns nutrients back to the soil.

Our local fire department volunteers are our prairie burn heroes.  They take the opportunity to practice handling grass fires by conducting a controlled burn of our prairie.  For us, it’s assurance that the fire won’t get out of control.

The day was perfect for the burn: sunny, warm and breezy.  While we didn’t want a strong wind, the 10-mph wind out of the south was perfect to help hurry the flames along.

The burn began with a water truck driving around parts of the perimeter and wetting down trees and bushes that were close to the prairie.

The firefighters then started a back fire on the north side of the prairie using a small drip torch.

The back fire burned more slowly because it was burning into the wind.  It created a burned area that would corral the main fire.

The firefighters left an opening in the backburn to provide exits for wildlife. We saw pheasants, rabbits, snakes, mice and many red-winged blackbirds moving to the unburned section of prairie.  We always burn our prairie in alternate years to leave nesting sites for the prairie wildlife.

As the backburn started to die out, another was started on the lower east and west sides of the prairie.  The east burn came up over a small hill, and catching the wind, began to turn hot and strong with flames shooting up into the air.  It was our first sight of the strength and ferocity of a prairie fire.

The final phase of the burn came when the rest of the east side and the south sides were set on fire.

If all went well, the fire would burn the rest of the way across the prairie and end at the small pond.  I walked to the pond to watch the approach of the fire.  As it came over the ridge the sound was loud and a bit frightening.  Flames were 20 feet high and the fire was advancing very fast.  I looked up from my camera and it suddenly seemed that it would overwhelm me and my small pond area refuge.

Not to worry, though. Minutes later it was all but over and lingering smoke and the ashes of the dead foliage puffed across the blackened prairie.

Five days after the burn, the blackened prairie is already turning green.  Helped along by rain and warm temperatures, the benefits of fire can quickly be seen as newly exposed soil hastens the emergence of plants.

Next month we’ll look at what’s coming up — in both the burned and unburned portions of the prairie –and we’ll see how they compare.

Organic Madagascar Vanilla Beans

Our theme at Expo West in the Anaheim Convention Center March 9-11 is “We Dig It,” to promote our organic Madagascar vanilla beans, which are used in products across all three brands of the Frontier Co-op family.

Why “We Dig It” ? Through a $40,000 donation from the Simply Organic 1% fund, we dug 49 wells in 38 villages where our vanilla beans are grown and processed. This effort brought clean water to thousands of people. Previously, women and children fetched water from a stream, sometimes walking up to several hours a day.

Here’s a look at this joint effort! See if you can spot Tony Bedard, our CEO.

If you are attending Expo West, some of the info below will fill you in about what we’re up to in Anaheim.  If you aren’t – which includes most of our retail customers – the information below will still tell you a bit about what’s new and how we interact at this trade show.

We’d love to see you at the Frontier™ and Simply Organic® booth #3532. We have some exciting new products to show you, including new bulk spices, bottled ethnic seasoning blends and new Simply Organic spices, baking mixes and more.

If you order directly from us, stop by our Frontier Direct booth #3730 and meet some of the folks who specialize in ensuring that your orders are filled quickly and accurately. We’ll also have displays of new products on hand. It’s a great way for us to meet members and get feedback on how to better serve you.

And join us at the Aura Cacia booth #3633 to learn about new products, make your own personal mister, and enjoy the music provided by DJ Drez. You’re also invited to attend our FREE yoga class Friday, March 9th, from 7:00 to 8:30 a.m. in the ballroom at the Hilton Avalon.

A Visit With Nikki and David Goldbeck – and a book giveaway!

The Wall Street Journal called The Supermarket Handbook the “manifesto” for a food revolution “that may be in the wind” back in 1973. And Nikki and David Goldbeck’s 1973 best-seller did help revolutionize America’s diet. The Goldbecks were early proponents for a broader acceptance of healthful foods and better food labeling, now mainstream ideas.

Over 30 years and many books later, David and Nikki still believe experiencing the joys of real food is the best incentive for people to do something about what is happening to our food supply.

It’s a full circle moment when we can stop and compare notes with our fellow organic food pioneers. We’re lucky to have become acquainted with the Goldbecks in their current hometown of Woodstock, New York, where they agreed to chat with us.

Nikki and David Goldbeck. Photo courtesy Hudson Valley Life.

How does it make you feel to see that the mainstream has come around to your way of thinking about food? Did you think that would happen?

Of course, it feels great. At the same time it’s amusing and at times frustrating to hear people telling us about these “new” ideas. But this isn’t the first time we’ve been there ahead of the crowd. David’s book, The Smart Kitchen, pioneered green kitchen design. We wrote Choose to Reuse, a book on reuse in 1995, when reusable shopping bags were still a novelty, and we published Clean & Green, a book on nontoxic cleaning, before the stores were stocked with more benign cleaning products. We are glad to see all of our concepts are finally catching on.

How did you get started with eating a wholefoods cuisine? Can you take us back to the beginning? What led you down this path?

In the late 1960s, we were living in NYC, where David was practicing law in legal services and Nikki was working on Madison Ave. doing food PR and recipe development. Influenced by friends and the times, we became aware of how meat was “manufactured” and decided on New Year’s Eve to go vegetarian for a week. After a week, we never looked back. This “experiment” led us not only to experience the joys of meat-free cooking, but began an awareness about food additives, food processing, chemical farming and the like — that launched us on our way.

We have always advocated a diet focused on wholefoods, a term we coined in American Wholefoods Cuisine, and define as “fresh and unfragmented foods that are as close to nature as possible.” Our “Wholefoods Philosophy,” which expands on this concept and is explained in more depth in that book, has remained essentially unchanged since we began this journey some 40 years ago.

What’s the easiest way for people to change their eating habits, if they feel they should?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to eating. What is of utmost importance in staying with any diet is enjoyment. Whether you are one person or a family, hate to cook or love it, there are choices you can make that are simple, healthy and fun. One of the ways we think about food is to “dine each day as if you were in a different foreign country.” That way you get both variety and pleasure.

How can people use spices to make simple foods more interesting? Do you have a go-to spice that you find yourself using on lots of dishes?

Spices are the foundation of every good cuisine. Remember our advice to eat each day as if you were dining in a different foreign country? What distinguishes all of these cuisines is the way in which they take basic foodstuffs and flavor them to create the world’s great culinary delights. Oddly, the spice we turn to quite often is cumin – it seems to work with so many different cuisines … Arab, Israeli, South American, Indian, African, and more.

Let’s get back to your books. What was your first book? How did you write it? Did you test the recipes yourself?

The first book was Nikki’s cookbook, Cooking What Comes Naturally, A Month of Vegetarian Menus. Following the “trial” vegetarian week, and constant questions from family and friends about what we were eating, David began writing down what we had for dinner on a calendar. After 30 days, we realized we had eaten more interesting and varied meals than ever before.

As a result, Nikki began to refine the recipes, David served as the #1 food taster, and a book was born. As luck, or timing, would have it, Nikki made friends with a woman on the bus going to work who told her that Doubleday, where she worked, was considering a vegetarian cookbook. And as they say…the rest is history.

Did you go on a book tour then?

We went on a small tour. But what stands out is our appearance on the Donahue show, which was just ending its run in Dayton, Ohio and about to move into the big time in Chicago.

Tell us about your visits on Donahue. (For our younger readers, Phil Donahue’s show was the precursor to Oprah)

Over the next few decades we appeared three more times on Donahue, filling the entire hour talking about each of our subsequent books, starting with The Supermarket Handbook and then American Wholefoods Cuisine. He was a terrific host (even though he did wave around tofu and compare it to wallboard!) And it was quite a challenge, since there was no TV kitchen. We still laugh about the time we were holed up in the Drake Hotel in Chicago cooking on improvised equipment in preparation for the show where we introduced vegetarian wholefoods cooking to America.

Nikki & David cook with Phil Donahue.
Donahue turned over four one-hour shows
(c1974, 1977, 1979, 1983) to the Goldbecks to present their
approach to wholefoods shopping, cooking and nutrition.

You’ve also written a restaurant guide, Healthy Highways, to help people “avoid the fast-food lane” when dining away from home. Do you see this as a new direction in your work?

Healthy Highways is the next logical step in our food writing as we see it. We have written about how to shop for wholefoods, how to cook them, how to choose a healthy diet, and how to set up an environmentally-friendly kitchen.

But the missing piece was how to eat healthfully away from home. In Healthy Highways, we “travel” state-by-state, city-by-city, letting people know where they can find a natural foods store or restaurant that features vegetarian and vegan meals.

Our goal is three-fold: to help people eat well away from home; to bring customers to natural food stores and vegetarian and vegan restaurants; and, to encourage restaurants everywhere to pay more attention to people looking for meatless meals and healthier options. We are happy to say that there are more eateries around the country offering real (and creative) choices – not simply a plate of vegetables or salad.

Thanks so much, David and Nikki! It’s been great to connect with you and to see you’re still stirring things up in the food world.

Now in its second edition,  American Wholefoods Cuisine contains more than 1300 recipes and has been hailed as “the new Joy of Cooking.” Admired by M.F.K Fisher and nominated for the prestigious Tastemaker Award, this book is a culinary triumph of vegetarian cuisine and foreshadowed today’s emphasis on wholesome foods.

And the Goldbecks have given some of the delicious, practical and healthy recipes you’ll find in the book to our website.

Check out the simple goodness of such dishes as White Bean Paté, Potatoes Nicoise, Stuffed Clam Shells Areganata, Hot Open-Face Tempeh Sandwiches and African Bean Soup in our recipe collection.

We think this book belongs on every cook’s shelf. And Nikki and David want to give a copy of American Wholefoods Cuisine to a lucky fan on their Facebook page! Their page is a handy resource for recipes, tips and articles about a natural vegan diet.

Just visit their page, click “Like” and leave a comment telling them why you’d like a copy of the book, between now and March 6. 

 They’ll choose a winner at random after March 6 and send that lucky fan a copy of American Wholefoods Cuisine. 

REMEMBER — don’t leave your comment to win the book here, please leave it on the Goldbeck’s Facebook page – link above.

Our Tallgrass Prairie in Winter

by Kathy Larson

Iowa winter has been warmer and drier than normal. In fact, it wasn’t until nearly mid-January that we had our first real snowfall.

With a fluffy blanket of four inches of fresh snow covering the prairie, I grabbed tall boots and camera and headed out to take a look.

I expected to see a lot of tracks, but the winds were still blowing the light snow around, keeping the surface smooth except for a few small snow tunnels.

The tall grasses lean over, and, with the other prairie plants, form small caves that are havens for rabbits and rodents.

The abundance of seeds produced by the prairie’s grasses and forbs have mostly been harvested and stored as winter food. Viburnum berries still cling to the bushes edging part of the prairie.

Other than the biting wind, all was still. I could almost imagine myself wandering, lost on a winter prairie of the 1800s, when it was not uncommon for settlers to be caught in a snowstorm and not be able to make their way home.

As I made my way along the path, I played a little game to see how many of the plants I could still identify. Their dark shapes against the snowy whiteness was striking.

So Many Uses in One Little Bottle: Aura Cacia Eucalyptus Essential Oil

We’ve launched this ad campaign via Aura Cacia, our aromatherapy brand.

Winter is definitely the season for bringing the potent energy of eucalyptus oil into your life. We’d love to hear your favorite use for this energizing essential oil!

Our Segment from the Whole Foods Market® Whole Story Blog

As Marc Hamel and Ha Lam wrote in their recent blog post on the Whole Foods Market® Whole Story blog, “Frontier knows the quality of spices can make or break a recipe — just a dash of spice can make a world of difference. Frontier focuses on sourcing the best to ensure that home cooks and home bakers can perfect flavors in recipes when using spices.”

We do, indeed.

Here’s what happened when they paid us a visit, with our CEO Tony Bedard giving Martha Stewart a run for her money.


And here’s that recipe for the Sugar-Coated Gingerbread Twists.

The Whole Story blog gives you a fun behind-the-scenes look at some of Whole Foods’ suppliers, vendors and producers.

Please visit the Whole Story blog for more of our story.

Organic Argan Oil, Sustainably Sourced from Morocco

Maybe you’ve noticed lots of press lately about argan oil. If you’ve not discovered it yet, here’s an introduction.

Argan oil contains high levels of skin rejuvenating essential fatty acids and is great for moisturizing and nourishing the skin. Argan is sustainably sourced from the nuts of a native desert tree in Morocco and is valued for the protection it offers from the dry desert atmosphere of North Africa.

Frontier’s aromatherapy brand Aura Cacia® is proud to be sourcing their quality organic argan oil from women’s cooperatives in Morocco. Through their purchasing efforts they are able to make an impact in the lives of these women and their families.

The Atlas mountain range, home of the mountain of Toubkal, is so populated with argan trees that it is commonly referred to as “Argana.” Aura Cacia® team members Tim Blakley, Jennifer Ferring and Jane Merten traveled to this region in May 2011 to meet some of the producers of their organic argan oil.

Take a look:

On this trip, they met Fatima, the leader and co-founder of one particular co-op. She lost her husband years ago, leaving her with two young sons and significant debt. She came across a woman named H’Maidouch trying to sell her argan oil in the market. Fatima bought the oil from H’Maidouch so that she could use it to exchange for kitchen staples such as flour and bread. This experience gave Fatima the idea to start the co-op. With some help from government grants the two women were able to open Afoulki-Amskroud Cooperative in 2004.

Here are some quick facts about the Afoulki-Amskroud Cooperative.

  • The cooperative produces around 10 tons of argan oil each year.
  • Their yield is around 1 kg of argan oil from 2.5 kg of seeds.
  • The cooperative employs 80 women, and each of them produce around 3 kg of argan seeds each day. Many choose to work part-time. The women share in the profits based on the amounts they produce.
  • Afoulki-Amskroud is one of 11 women’s co-ops in the “Argana” area, and one of the 600 across all of Morocco.

More on Aura Cacia’s organic Moroccan argan oil.

Do you use argan oil? Tell us how.

An Adventure in California

Some of our marketers had quite the adventure on their way to product development meetings in San Francisco last week.

Follow along with them as they’re treated to some very special hospitality by one of the pioneering local/organic chefs in the Bay Area, restaurateur and cookbook author Jesse Ziff Cool. Jesse has traveled the world meeting farmers, chefs, shop keepers and families, seeking and enjoying local and sustainable foods and traditions along the way.

We met Jesse at an Expo event, and have maintained a friendship and mutual admiration ever since. We’re also fans of her cookbook, Simply Organic.

She invited our group of marketers — Kory, Brian, Clint and Brett, to visit her at her beautiful home and one of her restaurants while they were in the area.

First stop was Jesse’s beautiful home. Kory and Brian posed for a photo in front of the house. Note the CoolEatz license plate – the name of Jesse’s restaurant and catering company.

Inside, Jesse graciously treated the group to some delicious appetizers featuring our herbs and spices.

Jesse has served a colorful array of guests in her home. Her neighbors include some of the most famous names in Silicon Valley. Here, Clint and Brett decide to reenact Steve Jobs and Bill Gates’ visit to Jesse’s house, since they were sitting at the same table.

Jesse spontaneously showed off the contents of her spice drawer. Very impressive!

She then hosted a tour of the grounds, including her garden and chicken coop.

The group then moved on to one of Jesse’s restaurants, the Flea Street Café in Menlo Park. From left, Brett, Clint, Jesse and Kory.

The Flea Street Café menu features fresh organic local and seasonal foods. Menu items range from superb salads to elegant entrees.

The crab cakes – beautiful presentation and delicious, by all accounts.

Jesse truly believes that sustainable cuisine links together people, ingredients, respect for the environment and culinary traditions.

Our group certainly enjoyed her demonstration of living these principles on a daily basis.

Thanks again, Jesse!

Winter Approaches on the Prairie

by Kathy Larson

It’s sunny and the winds are finally down the day after our first major frost here in Eastern Iowa – a perfect day to visit the prairie. So much has changed over the last few weeks. The eastern half of our prairie still has some purple aster and yellow goldenrod flowers scattered about while the western half has no flowers left of any kind.

Most of the butterflies that were so numerous just a few weeks ago are gone now. Those that remain are clustered around the areas where there are still some flower blossoms.

In a protected corner, a nice stand of Maximillan sunflowers still hold their own — with numerous sunny yellow flowers climbing the tall thick stems. It’s the only stand left, with just a few scattered stragglers elsewhere to remind us of the flowers that dominated most of the prairie for nearly a month.

Grasshoppers are prevalent on the mowed paths where they graze on the grass.

Prairie paths are mowed monthly to make it easy to see all parts of the prairie without having to hike through thick, tangled vegetation.

Even though most of the prairie flowers are gone, replaced by the seeds that will drop to the ground or drift to new areas in hopes of finding a suitable place to put down roots, the walk is as enjoyable as ever.

No open soil is available on our soon-to-be 20-year-old prairie, so most of the seeds that don’t manage to migrate elsewhere will feed migrating and over-wintering birds, mice, shrews, quail and pheasants.

The prairie floor seems to be a solid mass of vegetation, but a closer look shows small tunnels everywhere through the grasses – places for creatures to nest, run and hide. And as I walk, I hear little rustlings here and there.

I notice something unusual in a section dense with goldenrods — numerous swellings on the stems of many of the goldenrods. The swellings are called galls, and are made by a parasitic insect called a goldenrod gall fly.

The female lays her eggs inside the stem. The larva, when it hatches, eats stem tissue, causing the stem to grow abnormally and produce a gall. The larva stays inside the gall, eating and growing until winter when it creates an anti-freeze like substance that keeps it alive during the winter. In the spring, it will exit the stem as an adult fly.

While the prairie is ending its abundance of colorful blooms, the many interesting textures and shapes of the foliage and seed heads keep the prairie beautiful and interesting.

And animal life goes on — the prairie will provide food and shelter even through our long, cold Iowa winters.

We’ll check back to see how that wildlife is faring as the days turn cold and snowy.

Gumbo File Seasoning

A signature ingredient in gumbo and other Creole dishes, file powder, or Gumbo File, is used for its delicate but distinct flavor and thickening characteristics.

File was introduced by the Choctaw Nation in Louisiana. File is a sassafras leaf — we added thyme to give it our own deep, distinctive flavor.


Gumbo is one of the great comfort foods to come out of Louisiana. This spicy, rich concoction is actually more of a stew than a soup, but it is really in a class by itself. The word “gumbo” means “okra,” and there is plenty of it in this recipe. The amount of rice served with the gumbo should be dictated by personal preference. File powder is made from ground sassafras leaves.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1  large onion, diced
1  medium-size green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable stock or water
1 can (14.5-ounce) diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh or frozen okra
1  small zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon file powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco sauce
2 to 3 cups hot cooked long grain rice
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic, cover, and cook, stirring a few times, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the stock, tomatoes, okra, zucchini, thyme, file powder, salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste. Simmer, partially covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes. Taste to adjust the seasonings.To serve, spoon about 1/2 cup of the cooked rice into each soup bowl and ladle the hot gumbo over the top.