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. 

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