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Cultivating Cooperative Relationships

In trying times, when it feels like people are growing further and further apart, it is more important than ever to hold onto our cooperative roots and continue to build strong communities centered on community ownership and democratic control.

Towards the end of June, for the first time, Seward Coop will welcome Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC) board member and farmer Ben Burkett. Burkett will make the journey to Minnesota in a semi-truck, brimming with ripe, ready-to-eat red-seeded and seedless watermelons, to share with many local cooperative grocery stores including Seward, Eastside, River Market (Stillwater, Minn.), St. Peter (St. Peter, Minn.), and Hampden Park (St. Paul). A huge thank you is in order to Cooperative Partners Warehouse for handling local distribution. Register to attend the event here.

Seward Co-op and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives are both proud members of the Domestic Fair Trade Association. At this event, hear about efforts to build supply chains dedicated to fairness and equity.

FSC was founded in 1967, to assist in the economic development of Black farmers and the rural poor who had been discriminated against by the USDA and failed by the Farmers Home Administration (a program designed to improve the income of small farm owners but initially excluded Black farmers). In 1973, Bob Browne formally organized the Emergency Land Fund (ELF) out of concerns generated from the Black Economic Research Center around the pace at which land in the Black community was being lost and encroached upon. The peak of Black land ownership in the United States came in 1910, and there has been a steady decline ever since. Eventually, in 1985, the FSC merged with the ELF to become the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ Land Assistance Fund.

FSC’s education program supports reclaiming traditional and ancestral knowledge of growing and providing food for families and communities—skills many farmers were forced to abandon due to the shift to industrial agriculture and a U.S. trade policy that economically favored corporate agriculture. Today, many FSC farmers grow their produce using integrated pest management (IPM) practices in an effort to reduce the use of synthetic chemicals. Avoiding conventional practices maintains soil and water health and improves the nutritional quality. IPM products are grown within a system of agriculture that coordinates the use of pest and environmental information with pest-control methods to prevent pest damage in the most economical fashion with the fewest detriments to people, property and the environment. This approach primarily relies on nonchemical means, such as controlling climate, food sources and building entry points.

This new relationship that Seward Co-op has forged with FSC has been a long time coming, and it is in complete alignment with our Ends Statement. Through this partnership, we will be able to build stronger relationships with more Black farmers and further diversify the regions of the country from which we source our produce during the off-season. Buying from fellow cooperative producers and farmers allows us to support cooperative economic development and build commonwealth.

Photos courtesy of Monica White

Produce at its Peak: Suddenly Summer

Summer came all of a sudden, curtailing ramp season. I hope you got a taste while they were still around, but if you didn’t, there are still lots of interesting early season local products around.

For instance green garlic, which is simply the first shoot of the garlic plant, uprooted, cleaned and bundled together. As the year goes on, these shoots will develop a tough inner stem, form the familiar garlic bulbs and eventually end up in the far corner of the produce department on the root rack. But right now, they are tender enough to chop up like tender scallions.

One way that I have been using them lately is in a ramen soup of my own invention. The grocery department now carries three varieties of ramen style rice noodles from Lotus Organics. I like to use the black rice kind-while the noodles are boiling in about a cup and a half of water, I drop a spoonful of miso in a large cereal bowl and loosen it with a little water. When the noodles are a minute away from being done, I crack an egg into the water, add chopped garlic scallions and finely chopped cooking greens. When the noodles are done, the egg should be perfectly soft poached and the greens just tender. Pour the whole business on top of the miso slurry and stir gently a couple of times. This is a very versatile recipe and also quite soothing to the digestion. I have made it with chicken broth, added other proteins or vegetables, and tried more elaborate seasonings.

Another local item is rhubarb, which used to be known as pieplant since that was just about the only use that people had for it. In our modern era, when we seem bent on reinventing the flavors of just about everything, rhubarb can be found in chutneys, sodas, raw salads, you-name-it. But my favorite way to eat it will always be the way my grandparents served it to us, cooked with sugar into a sweet compote and then spread on buttered toast after dinner. It’s just like pie but easier and faster, and probably a little healthier. These days I might add a drop of orange flower water and use honey instead of sugar.

It was by chance that I discovered how delicious grapes and mint are when combined. It is finally grape season in California, and we have a display as wide as a small beach in the Produce Department. Red, green and black are all quite delicious. Rinse them, cut in have and toss with some finely chopped mint for a deeply cooling salad.

Watermelons are so crisp and delicious this year. This year we’ve decided to carry bins of seedless and seeded simultaneously. My preference is for seeded, both because I enjoy sitting on the porch and spitting the seeds into the yard and because I find the texture to be consistently better. However, seedless are generally just fine as well, and kids often prefer them. Our signage to indicates the variety but in general, seeded watermelons are elongated and the seedless are rounder and a bit smaller.

Prices and availability are subject to rapid change in the Produce Department. Please call ahead if you’re making a special trip for an item at Seward Co-op.