Behind the Scenes: Produce Department
You shop for groceries at the Co-op. For lunch, you often stop at the Deli for a quick meal from the Hot Bar. You meet friends outside on the plaza, give each other long hugs, and catch up on life. After a long week, you swing by for the Friday beer and wine tastings at the Kiosk. But how well do you really know the Co-op?
Well, we’d like to tell you more about us and all the magic that happens behind the scenes. Welcome to our new blog series appropriately named… Behind the Scenes! Clever, right? Over the next few months, we’ll share facts, tidbits, and product picks from each department.
The Ashland Food Co-op Produce Department is arguably the most vibrant part of the store. Rows of green kale, colorful chard, red-golden apples, and perfectly yellow bananas greet you as soon as you enter. It’s a radiant fruit and vegetable oasis.
But this oasis is a lot of hard work. From beautiful displays, early morning deliveries, to ensuring the organic integrity of each product, the AFC Produce Department works hard day in and day out.
Did you know?
- In one local growing season the Produce Department purchases produce directly from over 30 local organic farmers.
- The primary source of produce throughout the year is Organically Grown Company, an employee and farmer owned Produce distributor based in Eugene. In 2014, OGC delivered over 87,000 cases of produce to our Co-op in “Clean Air” certified, biodiesel delivery trucks.
- For 9 months of the year the AFC Produce Department sells 3lb bags of Farm to School Fuji apples and donates 100% of the profits to Rogue Valley Farm to School. Since the program’s beginning in 2011, the Co-op has donated $30,613.44 to Rogue Valley Farm to School.
- At the Co-op, we choose to sell G.R.O.W. Bananas. G.R.O.W is an acronym for “Giving Resources and Opportunities to Workers” which is a type of Fair Trade program that provides dental and vision care as well as educational support and funding for less fortunate families in the communities where the bananas are grown. In the last year, we have sold 225,284 lbs of G.R.O.W. bananas which translates to over $3,000.00 in donations for those families in need.
There are few produce experts out there like Rachel Chastain. She has worked at the Co-op for 14 years, ten of those in Produce, and the last three as Assistant Manager. Rachel has a passion for fresh, quality products and helping YOU, the customer, learn more about the fruits and vegetables in your cart. She kindly answered a few questions for me.
We are Southern Oregon’s only Certified Organic Retailer, but what does this mean?
It means that the entire staff here at the store has been trained to uphold the organic standards set forth by the USDA and Oregon TILTH. When you buy organic produce here at the coop, it is the real deal!
The training ensures that cross contamination from conventional products does not happen throughout the receiving, storing or stocking process. Each year we are inspected to make sure we have all the current certifications for our growers and producers to ensure that their products continue to be organic from year to year.
Most stores carrying organic produce do not stay current with their certifications. Our certifications and inspections keep us accountable and let our shoppers know that they are truly getting the certified organic food they came to the Co-op for.
Any cool produce tips you can let us in on?
Ever wanted to know how to get your avocado ripe faster? Well, here is how. Take your avocado and put into a paper bag with a banana or three. Bananas give off lots of natural ripening gasses called Ethylene gas. When you trap the gasses around a fruit you want to ripen it helps it along.
If you could only eat one item from the Co-op for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
My one thing would be apples. I just love the multitude of textures, colors and flavors that apples have to offer.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take 3 items from the Produce department with you, what would they be and why?
I would bring all the wonderful people I see every day at the Co-op to keep me company. Avocados, for their delicious flavor and amazingly sustaining, nutrient rich make up. Coconuts, because who wants to be on a desert island without a good coconut?
What’s your favorite part about your job?
I love produce! It's all about the live organic foods and the wonderful and amazing people that I get to chat with every day.
Rachel’s right. Who doesn’t love fresh, organic fruits and vegetables? I know I do. But sometimes, the world of produce can be hard to navigate. For example, what is a persimmon and how do I eat it? And celeriac, how do I even cook that? Well never fear, our knowledgeable staff is here. When in doubt, just ask. They are always eager to help and share their knowledge.
Staff Pick from Geoffrey Stewart
Kolo Kai Farms White/Yellow Ginger and Turmeric
Grown and packed on the island of Kauai, Kolo Kai Farms are producing some of the biggest, juiciest ginger and turmeric available. Our orders are harvested and shipped within 24 hours directly to the Co-op. Kolo Kai begins their season with White Ginger, a less spicy but full flavored variety that does not store as long as its yellow counterpart. Turmeric follows close behind and is shipped through the winter months.
Staff Pick from Mahlea Rasmussen
Watermelon Daikon Radish
The watermelon daikon radish is one of my favorite items in produce. Unopened it closely resembles a turnip, but sliced a vibrant almost neon center is revealed. It has a light flavor and lovely crunch, making it a great addition to any salad. I think it goes great with arugula, chevre cheese and blood oranges. I like to slice open, and carefully peel around the flat end in a circular motion. This makes ribbons I can easily shape in to little watermelon radish flowers, which can be used as a garnish.
That’s a wrap on the Produce Department. Next up, we’ll dive deep into the world of meatloaf, breakfast burritos, and smoothies.
More Co-op News
To further our sustainability efforts and to serve you better, we began offering Electronic Owner Coupons in January 2017 at the register.
No more forgetting to bring your owner coupons. No more waiting for your newsletter to arrive. Cashiers simply ask if you want to use your owner coupons when you check out.
As we enter our second year of Electronic Coupons we wanted to share a couple of friendly reminders and the 2018 month by month schedule.
By Annie Hoy, Marketing Manager
We often refer to cooperatives as “democratic enterprises.” But what does that really mean? The Ashland Food Co-op, like all other co-ops in most economic sectors, is owned and controlled by the people who use its services.
The funding cycle for the 2018 Co-op Community Grants for nonprofit organizations begins in February.
Every spring, for more than 20 years, we’ve been donating to area nonprofits through our Community Grant program. We are committed to creating healthy, sustainable communities and this program helps us fulfill that commitment by supporting the amazing work of local nonprofits. The Community Grant program is also the highlight of Cooperative Principle 7, Concern for Community, and is something we take to heart.
By Emile Amarotico
As we commence our lap around the sun in 2018, I wish to recognize the longstanding contributions of an amazing group of professionals. We are blessed with the dedication of eleven department managers expertly coordinating the daily flow of people, products and services that breath life into our Co-op!
Lynne (35+ years’ tenure) our Grocery Manager oversees keeping the aisles abundant with shelf stable products and coolers full of fresh perishables.
By Gwyneth Bowman, Vice President
After serving on the AFC Board for fourteen years my passion for the Co-op model has strengthened my commitment to the Cooperative Principles and Values. Of special importance is how we work together as a governing body with one voice. We are the ultimate decision-makers of our Co-op and hold a trusteeship for the benefit of our owners and community.
Like it or not, the cool weather has arrived. Whether you are heading out for a hike or enjoying a good book by the fire, the Co-op Deli has what you need to fuel your favorite fall activity. Stay warm with these comfort food recommendations from the Co-op Deli.
By Emile Amarotico
A recent visitor commented that our parking is totally inadequate to our business volume. What’s true is that we cannot create more parking due to space and municipal code constraints. Thus, the value of each available space is increasing over time. Assuming only half of Co-op shoppers use automobile parking, each space supports at least $200,000 in annual sales.
When not working on Board of Director efforts, my profession is an Interior and Building Designer. I own the Ashland Design Studio, located in the Historic Railroad District, and have a design services studio there - JulieO Design. I have been in the architectural design business my whole life; from crawling around my father's architectural studio to traveling around the world working on buildings large and small to now having created my own niche in the local building community. I took a few years off this path to own and run Tease Restaurant here in Ashland.
October is National Co-op Month, so what’s the big deal? Being a co-op is special. Yes, we know we are biased, but being a cooperative enterprise means we do business differently. We don’t have a single owner living on their private island drinking margaritas all day without a care in the world. We are owned and governed by you, our 10,000 members. We share the burden in hard times and share the benefits in the good times. We put people, the planet and our principles before profit.
By Emile Armarotico
This spring, National Co-op Grocers recognized Ashland Food Co-op as a Co+efficient Sustainability Star for our excellent sustainability efforts.
Our Sustainability Vision aims at being carbon neutral by 2030. We’ve taken a great stride toward this by installing a 39 kilowatt solar electric system on our rooftop with the capacity to generate approximately 7% of our electricity usage. The cost was partially offset by a $27,000 REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) Grant.
When we say local, we mean local. We source our local goods from within 200 miles of the store. By purchasing goods from local producers, we aim to create and maintain a healthy local economy and support family farms. What could be better than helping your community by buying local goods?
With all the local products that we offer, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But that’s exactly what we asked our staff to do. Here are some of their go-to local eats.
How often can you browse the shelf at your neighborhood grocery store, see a bottle of hand crafted, local cider and say, “Hey, I help make that!” Well, at the Co-op you can.
Many of us wait all year for this moment. We spend the winter months dreaming of a certain fuzzy stone fruit, its sweet juices dripping from our face and the buttery golden pie crust those yellow-orange slices will inhabit.
Good news! The wait is over. That local, sweet orb of sunshine has finally arrived. That’s right. Rolling Hills peaches are here!
Deep in our hearts we've always known we were sustainability stars, but now we have an award to prove it.
We recently received a Co+efficient Sustainability Star award from National Co-op Grocers (NCG) recognizing our positive environmental and community impacts.
Co+efficient, NCG’s sustainability program, measures social, environmental and local economic impacts from participating food co-ops across the country.