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Local Farmer of the Month: Buena Tierra Farm

Steve Kramer and Carey Burkett have been farming for 23 years. For 15 years they’ve been farming  100 acres of fertile, high-iron, red sandy loam near Fredonia, Texas about 107 miles west of Austin.

A jack-of-all-trades, Steve taught himself how to farm. He and Carey incorporate their Do-It-Yourself spirit and solid values into everything they do on their land. They take great pride in the quality of the produce they provide for the community and it shows.

  • In April Buena Tierra Farms will be bringing spring items such as
  • Lacinato and Green Curly Kale
  • Red and Green Leaf Lettuces
  • Zucchini and Yellow Squash
  • Bunched Basil

We are proud to share the fruits of their labor with Wheatsville shoppers. Buena Tierra Farm is our favorite example of what hard work, integrity, and honesty can do for the local food community. Wheatsville Produce Coordinator Elias Valerio appreciates that Buena Tierra will not ship unless the produce is superior quality.

Brand Manager, Raquel Dadomo, shares her favorite uses of Buena Tierra Basil:

I am a huge fan of basil in general, but the Buena Tierra Basil is really extraordinary. Fresh, local and organic, it is lovingly hand bunched and ready to make you and your favorite basil recipe extremely happy.

The classic combo of basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella is a personal favorite of mine. I love to make cute little appetizer stacks of tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella drizzled with a flavorful cold-pressed olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.

If I'm wanting something more substantial, I'll go with a grilled caprese sandwich on a fabulous Wheatsville Bakehouse Baguette. I lightly chop the basil and add some fresh garlic, olive oil and sea salt then just layer in with tomato and mozzarella slices and into the grilling pan. Both of these quick recipes are super easy, super delicious and super snazzy.

Be sure to check out the Buena Tierra Basil next time you stop by for a visit. Lift the lid on the Buena Tierra basil container and unleash an avalanche of deep rich basil aroma. It is the best. You and your stomach will be glad you did

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Meet the Managers

Rory at Guadalupe

Who are you and how long have you worked at Wheatsville?

Rory Alexander, and I have worked at the Guadalupe store for 5 1/2 years


What do you love about Wheatsville compared to other grocers you worked at?

I really enjoy the more personal aspect of WV. The previous company I worked for started small and grew to thousands which very much changed the company and culture. It is easy to connect to all staff which makes it more fun to work here!


Why should someone who hasn’t shopped your store in a while come on by?

The Guadalupe location has transformed through our recent refresh! New cases, new menus, new floors, new energy efficient LED lighting and yes we really do still sell cheese and coffee (in new locations)! Please let us show you their new home!

What’s your favorite deli or Bakehouse item?

I eat a cashew butter cookie every day!
I am also a huge fan of our Bakehouse Sourdough Sandwich bread! It makes awesome
sandwiches and TOAST!


What do you love about your crew?

The staff is what makes my job the most rewarding. Our crew works so hard and makes it fun with such amazing sense of humors and the generosity to be there for each other when life gets tough. I also very much enjoy helping staff learn and develop so they can grow their roles at Wheatsville.


Why do you and your team work so hard for our co-op?

It is easy to work hard when you enjoy what you do and believe in your efforts. Our staff show up every day to make our Co-op a better place to work, a preferred place to shop all while making our community a better place to live. Most of us are also owners of the Co-op too which means taking workplace “ownership” to a whole new level!

Sal at South Lamar

Who are you and how long have you worked at Wheatsville?

My name is Sal Mendivil and I am the Store Manager for WV Sola (South Lamar store) and I have been with WV 3 years.


What do you love about Wheatsville compared to the other grocers you worked at?

I really love that here at Wheatsville, leadership truly listens to what our employees are saying, and actually acts on making things better. While working here, hearing employees talk about not making enough money to live in Austin, WV Leadership took this concern and addressed it head on. Not only did WV Leadership address the issue BUT it made sure that ALL employees had an opportunity to be involved in finding a solution, together! The result was our Livable Wage & Benefits project that made such a tremendous positive affect on so many staff at the co-op.

Why should someone who hasn’t shopped your store in a while come on by?

Two reasons, our products and our people. We carry some of the best natural and organic products you will ever find in this town at a very reasonable and affordable price– and they taste AMAZING! Our people truly deliver exceptional customer service. When our employees speak about our products, about their particular favorite item, it’s because they truly mean it and have a passion for food and to serve the Austin community. I love to hear customers say “this person went above and beyond in helping me today.” The thing is we will always go above and beyond with our customer service because that’s what we do, all day, everyday!


What’s your favorite deli or Bakehouse item?

Wow, tough question, so many cool and delicious items!! OK, our Bakehouse Rustic Olive Loaf. It’s so good! I usually spread some triple cream brie on it. I’ve finished an entire loaf in one sitting! Deli, I love our Buffalo Popcorn Tofu. I’ll make sandwiches out of it, put it on salads, or just eat it out of the container...so yummy!


What do you love about your crew?

I love the passion for food and service that my crew at S. Lamar have. I love the tenacity and drive my crew has to grow our coop economy and I really love the compassion, kindness, and love that my crew has for one another and for our customers.


Why do you and your team work so hard for our co-op?

Because we love what we do and we love the people we work with. WV is unique in that it’s not just another grocery store, it’s a place where friends meet and enjoy each other’s company over some awesome food from our Deli. It’s a place where families come to support local farmers and vendors. In doing so, it makes their families stronger and healthier and in turn makes the local Austin economy stronger and healthier as well. It’s a place where people come to learn about cool new products, taste new items, and grow their knowledge about healthy, natural, organic foods that are affordable! Working for WV we truly are making a positive difference in people lives. I feel extremely lucky to be able to make such a positive impact and doing it with people that share the same values and beliefs for making our communities stronger.

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MACARONI AND CHEESE!

At my house, our favorite go-to easy dinner on a busy night is always boxed macaroni & cheese.  Wheatsville has something for EVERYONE!

  • Daiya Cheezy Mac is free from dairy and gluten.  This deluxe style is the easiest to prepare, the cheese sauce is in the pouch, just add to cooked pasta.  We have Deluxe Cheddar and White Cheddar with Veggies!
  • Earth Balance mac & cheeses are the closest vegan versions of that classic dinner.  Available in Cheddar, White Cheddar and Gluten Free Cheddar.
  • So Delicious is the newest player of vegan boxed mac & cheese. They're now making Cheddar and Pizza flavors!
  • For dairy lovers, we have new Field Day mac and cheese in White Cheddar and Mild Cheddar.
  • Back to Nature makes a darn good mac & cheese with fun shapes like Alphabets and Crazy Bugs.  This is my school aged daughter's absolute favorite!
  • Of course we couldn't leave our beloved Annie's Homegrown Mac & Cheese with dozens of varieties.

...I think my water is boiling, time for a mac & cheese dinner.  Time to heat up the veggies and get that macaroni cheesy!

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Wage Task Force: Open Letter 8/20/15

The Wage Task Force was formed by open enrollment of any staff who was interested in joining, and is comprised of a broad cross-section from many departments and tenures. We have decided to present an open letter of progress to the Staff of Wheatsville and the greater public. While we have offered our meeting notes to the staff, we understand it can be difficult to interpret these. We hope to offer a clear vision of what we have accomplished so far, and what we hope to accomplish in the near future.

During the first meeting, we all came with varied opinions about the state of wages at Wheatsville. It was about the freedom for everyone to air their concerns and state their expectations and goals. We had approximately 27 people attend.

At the second meeting, we began by reporting feedback from our co-workers. This is a tradition we have upheld since, with the understanding that we are ambassadors for the entire staff. During this meeting, we talked specifically about ways to raise wages. Opening a second store is a hard thing for a co-op to do and it takes time to recover. For more info, you can look at last year's annual report at http://wheatsville.coop/images/uploads/pdfs/13-14Annual_Report.pdf. Since we don't have a large pool of money to draw from, we need to be creative in our efforts. However, it is the priority of Wheatsville to deal with the wage issues before pursuing a third store. We have explored many avenues and have taken time to consider which, if any, benefits we might adjust. We had approximately 24 people attend.

By the third meeting, there were a few ideas that seemed liked realistic options to the majority.

  • Increasing Sales Per Labor Hour will provide us with more money.
  • Start brainstorming what it would look like to pay more to less employees. This does not mean pushing people out. But as people leave naturally, examining the work there is to be done and deciding if we need to fill the position with someone new, or if there are ways to absorb the responsibilities with our current staff.
  • Focusing on efficiency by challenging the systems we have in place and searching for better ways to work.
  • We also discussed our health benefits, since this is potentially an area where we can recover a great sum of money. The general consensus throughout the staff is that we do not want to lose our health benefits. However, we discussed exploring a tiered benefits package, which would provide more benefits for people who need more, and less for people who are looking for an inexpensive alternative. We are also experimenting with restructuring our breaks. These are topics we are still researching. This meeting had approximately 15 attendees. It's important to mention that our attendance is based upon availability, and therefore fluctuates.

The future goals of the Wage Task Force are to

  • Define what living wage means to Wheatsville.
  • Address wage compression. More specifically, dealing with fairness regarding new employees vs. tenured ones.
  • Come up with a timeline for completion.

We feel that we have made great progress towards wage satisfaction for Wheatsville employees. We encourage the staff of Wheatsville to keep coming to us with their ideas and concerns, and we will keep striving to work out problems and come up with solutions. Your help and feedback is greatly appreciated and needed.

It is a difficult task that we have set out to accomplish, but all of us together are working to achieve a compensation rate that is not only satisfactory, but will make Wheatsville a wage leader in our community.

Sincerely,
The Wheatsville Wage Task Force

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UPDATE: Staff Wage Task Force

One June 18th our group of 30+ voluntarily self-elected staff members met for the first of several Wage Task Force Meetings. There was  21 days to 16 years worth of tenure in the room representing staff members from all departments and job levels.

The meeting, led by Chief Executive Grocery, Dan Gillotte, included:

  • Introductions
  • Review of 5/28 Staff Wage Presentation information
  • Look at Financial Plan
  • Discussion and Q&A

On Thursday, June 25, the same group got together for a second meeting and discussed  the co-op's financial picture, sales per labor hour, and different aspects of overall compensation.

The group will meet again in July and August in order to reach consensus for staff recommendations regarding Wheatsville’s overall compensation package.

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Chief Executive Grocer Compensation

As a result of recent conversations surrounding Wheatsville Food Co-op’s Staff Wage & Compensation issue, there has been a lot of speculation and interest regarding the compensation that the Board of Directors authorizes for their Chief Executive Grocer (CEG), Dan Gillotte.  The Board has decided to release details on Dan’s compensation for FYE 2014 and will provide details about the process in setting the CEG’s compensation each year.

Salary and Benefits

In FYE 2014, Dan Gillotte earned $128,131 in salary and benefits.

Compensation Process

The CEG is the sole employee of the Wheatsville Food Co-op Board of Directors.  Each year, the Board conducts a CEG evaluation in collaboration with the CEG to set the CEG compensation for the upcoming year. The Board takes many factors into consideration including CEG performance, financial position of the cooperative, inflation, cost of living, alignment with Wheatsville’s policies, and replacement cost.

In the course of expanding from a single store to multi-store operation, Dan’s responsibilities have grown exponentially over the past 2 years, but his salary increases have been modest.  This is largely due to Dan’s reluctance to allow his salary to be an excessive drain on the organization.  In addition, Dan chooses to participate in the same bonus pool offered to all Wheatsville employees; thus Dan only receives a bonus during quarters where bonus is paid out to all employees.

Context

Although it is difficult to make an equal comparison of Wheatsville’s CEG salary to like businesses in the Austin area market, there is some data to put the current CEG salary level in context.  One way to do this is to compare the ratio of lowest paid employee to highest paid employee.  This ratio for Wheatsville is currently around 1:6.  In comparison, Whole Foods Market has a ratio of 1:19 and many other businesses have ratios much higher than this (see this Huffington post article:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/18/walter-robb-salary_n_3459029.html). Available data suggests that Wheatsville’s CEG compensation is just at or below the national median for cooperatives with sales over $16 million.

In Dan Gillotte’s tenure, Wheatsville has become a nationally recognized top tier retail grocery co-op and has taken a leadership role in the development and growth of other co-ops.  If the Board were to be in the position of having to replace Dan, the compensation requirements for a candidate qualified to effectively run an organization the size of Wheatsville would likely be much higher than Dan’s current compensation package.

Moving Forward

The Board is committed to our cooperative values that include honesty and openness and takes the responsibility to the cooperative very seriously. The Board will continue to exercise due diligence in the decision making on behalf of Wheatsville’s owners, staff and customers. They vow to keep Wheatsville’s best interest in mind; part of that procedure will include development of a clear process that owners, staff and customers can follow for future requests for financial information, including CEG compensation.

Wheatsville Food Co-op’s Board of Directors would like to thank all of the owners, staff members and customers who have engaged with them on this issue.

In cooperation,
Wheatsville Food Co-op Board of Directors

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Texas Berry Season

With Spring rapidly approaching, I am getting really excited about my favorite season of the year, baseball season! But since that would make for a most peculiar produce article, I’ll go with the next best season of the year, Texas berry season of course! After struggling through our Texas winter, sweet fresh Texas berries help erase the memory of all those recent cold nights. I most often just rinse and eat them right out of the package. But berries lend themselves to a wide array of quick recipes and are always welcome as a sweet salad compliment to a tangy vinaigrette.

Texas strawberries arrive first and are always much anticipated. The season runs from late February into early May. We’ll be getting our strawberries from Poteet, Texas, the strawberry capital of the Texas. If you’ve never been to The Poteet Strawberry Festival, make this the year to do it. It will be held April 10 -12 and is a great time for the family and a great place to soak up some Texas history as well as enjoy some amazing strawberry delights. Poteet is just south of San Antonio about 2 hours from Austin.

Blackberries and blueberries then round out the Texas berry season. Blackberries generally arrive first in May followed by blueberries in June. The blackberries we most often have for y’all are also from Poteet and are always delicate and delicious. They are my personal favorite berry and also have the shortest season here in Texas of just over a month. So snap them up when you see them because they don’t stay around for long. Blueberries hail from East Texas and bring with them another fun Texas festival, The Texas Blueberry Festival on June 13 in downtown Nacogdoches. This year marks the festival’s 25th anniversary celebrating the annual blueberry harvest. Stop by for a fun-filled day if your travels take you near Nacogdoches in June.

Though berry season doesn’t last long, jams or preserves are a fabulous way to make it last much longer, or at least as long as your willpower will allow you to resist that fresh jar of homemade preserves. I love to turn Texas blueberries into a Blueberry and Basil Jam. All you need are blueberries, sugar, basil, pectin, lemon juice and water. Try a quick internet search and you’ll find many quick and easy recipe variations. And if you are not into canning, just refrigerate your blueberry basil jam and use it within three weeks. It is fabulous! Happy Texas Berry Season!

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Not the Same Old Grind!

There’s no doubt about it, Texan’s love their beef including ground beef.  Here at Wheatsville, we feel it’s important to know that all ground beef is not created equal.  We take great pride in offering a variety of high-quality, Niman Ranch All-Natural, Certified Humanely Raised, Antibiotic and Hormone free grinds that consistently exceeds the flavor and quality of what is offered in other markets.

To begin, all of our ground beef is freshly produced on-site in small batches throughout the day and NEVER pre-ground somewhere at a processing plant.  In addition, our ground beef is USDA Choice or higher whole muscle Angus Beef!  What this means to you is quality and flavor guaranteed.

Our Ground Beef is a combination of whole muscles and trim, including the brisket, making it a perfect pick for most recipes and burgers.

For those wanting a leaner but flavorful ground beef to fit their dietary expectations and needs, our Ground Sirloin and Ground Round are produced from only selected cuts of sirloin and round. 

Our Ground Chuck is produced from the chuck portion, which is full of flavor and not as lean as the Round or Sirloin. 

If you are looking for the ultimate ground beef experience, try our Premium Ground Beef which is made from selected loin cuts including the tenderloin that equates to steak-like flavor and texture in every bite.


 - Howard Miller

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