Did you know Wisconsin has over 600 co-operatively owned businesses? Did you know Minnesota has more than 1,000? When we heard about a new Wisconsin-based farmer’s co-op working to help distribute local produce in both states, we definitely wanted to get the scoop.I was able to reach Derek Maxwell, Coordinator for Hungry Turtle Farms Farmers Co-op, with a few questions.
What is Hungry Turtle Farmers Co-op? We are a group of small family farms who have come together to help increase the availability and impact of local foods in our region. As small growers we see a need to work together to grow the infrastructure for a sustainable local food system. Working together allows us to consistently deliver a wide range of quality products, and the ability to better respond to the needs of our customers.
Whose idea was this? How did the co-op come to be? The co-op was formed during community gatherings. The farmers have been coming together and sharing ideas and experiences for a long time. As we started to identify similar goals and needs, it made sense to find a way to start working together.
Why a Co-op? Farmers are independent folks but understand interdependence. They work with the land and with the market. The co-operative business model gives farmers a structure for working together, while at the same time allows them to retain their own independent and unique operation. This really adds great depth to the coop because it allows each member to bring something special to the table.
Do you have certain standards and growing practices you hold the produce to? We require that growers meet the same standards as our founding farmers. This is a group of farms who have been managing their land organically and working hard to be sustainable operations. Until recently none of the farms saw a need for outside certification, but this year 6 farms will be certified organic. Whether or not this becomes a rule in the coop is yet to be determined. But we hold all our growers to organic and quality standards.
What can you tell me about your member farms? We currently have 13 member farms and each is unique. Some common traits include CSA shares, and diverse crop and livestock production. Most important to each of our member farms is stewardship of land and community. It is the goal of all the producers to build a sustainable food system which supports the community it feeds.
What is your background? How did you become involved with farming? This is a long story, but here is the condensed version. While in college I became very concerned about the food system so naturally I switched to a vegan diet, began eating locally and organically. I moved to a really big city on the east coast where I started eating almost entirely local. Then I met folks like the Greenhorns and other young farmers. I realized I could participate in this changing food system at the source and found myself making some lovely friends who let me come live and work on their farm in WI. And here I am, still learning, still growing, but not still a vegan.
What can you tell me about the Hungry Turtle Learning Center? The learning center is a non-profit which focuses on education and events around sustainable local foods. We share a home with them in Amery, along with Farm Table restaurant in a new food hub which is being started this year. The learning center will be publishing a calendar soon with all sorts of great farm fun events and classes.
Favorite summer dish/recipe? This is a tough question for me. I am an improvisational chef. What I like best about summer eating is that I can just walk out to the field and grab a tomato, a cucumber, some onion and herbs, head back to the kitchen, slice it up and toss in a little olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and voilà! A tasty summer treat to enjoy on the porch.