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Posts by Aldia Bluewillow

Organic Month Vendor Spotlight: Organic Valley & Organic Prairie

What is your origin story? Who started the business and why?

It all started in 1988. We were a handful of Midwest family farmers fed up with the state of American agriculture. Family farms were going extinct. Our friends and neighbors were discarded by a bankrupt agricultural system, and we were told to “get big, or get out!” Industrial, chemical farming was the only existing option for survival; never mind its effects on our health, our animals, and our environment.

But we didn’t want to be industrial, chemical farmers, and we didn’t want to be at the mercy of corporate agriculture. We had to do something. So one farmer, George Siemon, put up posters calling us to band together, and we did. Family farmers filled the county courthouse (photo below) and we all agreed: there had to be a better way—a more sustainable way—to continue farming in a way that protects the land, animals, economy and people’s health. And that’s how our farmer-owned cooperative was born, with George as CEIEIO.

Before a year had passed, we started selling organic dairy, and people could tell the difference. Our local communities began choosing our premium, organic milk over other options, and we realized that we were certainly right about one thing—people wanted quality food.

Organic Prairie meats are produced by our independent cooperative of organic family farms. We are pioneers of the organic meat industry. We began producing our delicious meats—without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, or pesticides—back in 1996. We insisted on third-party organic meat certification long before federal organic standards were established. We were the first in the industry to ban animal by-products from our cattle’s diet, and we played a vital role in shaping federal organic meat certification standards—the strictest in the industry.

What makes your products unique? Why should someone buy them?

When you spend your milk money on Organic Valley, we give you fresh food you can trust. It all comes from the family farms of our cooperative. With your support, we make real changes in the world one small step—and farm—at a time.

At Organic Valley, we like to keep things honest and simple. Like dairy produced with no added hormones, antibiotics or toxic pesticides. Produce grown the organic way, with none of the toxins or synthetic fertilizers. And cheese made by farmers and artisans who care about the environment, the animals and you—our customers.

Organic Prairie farmers are committed to providing your family with the healthiest, most wholesome meat, raised humanely in accordance with organic principles and practices—respecting the dignity and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil and global life. We know that meat produced organically is the safest, best choice for our families, and we’re proud to make it available for yours to enjoy!

Why is organic better?

  • Organic farmers use sustainable methods of pest-control. Non-organic farms use toxic pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals are really harmful to wildlife and human health, contaminating our food, air, and water, and accumulating in our cells. Organic farming practices, however, strictly forbids the use of these chemicals—making bees happier and food more nutritious.
  • Research shows that organic foods are higher in antioxidants and other nutrients, like omega-3 and CLA essential fatty acids. And organic crops have been shown to contain significantly less concentrations of cadmium—a toxic metal on par with lead and mercury. Organic food really is better for you. And it tastes better too.
  • Synthetic hormones and antibiotics are frequently given to non-organic farm animals to change their reproductive cycles and speed up their growth. We believe cows are healthiest and happiest when they’re allowed to live without being pumped full of chemicals—it helps them produce the highest quality milk we pride ourselves on.
  • When non-organic farmers feed their animals antibiotics to keep them from getting sick, they kill many of the pathogens—but not all of them. The germs that survive go on to reproduce, leading to antibiotic-resistant infections that pose a real threat to animals and people alike. Instead of relying on antibiotics, our organic farmers use natural holistic measures to promote and maintain animal health—keeping everyone healthier in the process.
  • Genetically engineered crops are a relatively recent invention with potentially harmful impacts on the ecosystem and on human and animal health. We still don’t know a lot about them and organic standards forbid the use of genetically engineered seeds or animals—including clones.


What else would you like us to know?

  • We’re The Un-Corporation Our farmers own the company. Not the other way around. (That’s why they’re on the packaging!)
  • We’re a cooperative of more than 2,000 small family farms. Organic Valley isn’t a giant corporation. We’re a cooperative of farmers across the country who share the same commitment to growing food the right way. We’re not driven by profits; we’re driven by principles. To make sure we stayed true to our mission, we made our company a cooperative. That means 2,000+ small family farmers own the company, not a bunch of Wall Street suits. And our board is made up entirely of our farmers. One farm, one vote.
  • We used to be a bunch of idealists. And we still are today. We believe in the idea that, if consumers demand high-quality organic food, grown the right way, we could all change the way we treat our land, our animals and our bodies.
  • We’re proudly independent. And we’ll never sell. We’re a bunch of farmers. So, of course we take the long view. We never take short cuts for short-term profits. We’ve always done things our way. And we always will.

SOCIAL NETWORK
FaceBook  Number of Followers: 551k
Twitter Number of Followers:  80k
Instagram  Number of Followers:   41k

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Local Vendor Spotlight: Siete Family Foods

Many thanks to Siete Family Foods founder, Veronica Garza for answering  our questions about their business.


1. Why did you start Siete Family Foods?

Siete was formed when my family and I embarked on a health journey that included exercising together and adopting a low-inflammation, grain free diet, to help alleviate the autoimmune conditions I had been experiencing. As a Mexican-American, I grew up eating tortillas on a daily basis, and I have many wonderful memories of visiting my grandmother, always being welcomed with a batch of homemade flour tortillas. Eating gluten free and grain free meant that all tortillas were literally off the table for my family and me. While this may seem trivial, it wasn’t for us. In a way it felt like we were excluded from a part of our culture that we loved, being able to partake in delicious Mexican food. To fill this “tortilla void,” I experimented in the kitchen and developed a tortilla that we could eat. Over the next few years I modified the recipe numerous times, producing the first product we put to market, a grain free, gluten free, almond flour tortilla. I made them on weekends for many years, sharing them with my family and friends. In 2014 my family and I decided that we wanted to share our tortillas with more people outside of our circle of family and friends, so we found a buyer (Wheatsville!) for our products and started a business. 




2. What makes your chips and tortillas different from others on the market?

We make grain free Mexican-American food, utilizing nutrient dense, real food ingredients as much as possible. Our tortillas are currently made with ingredients such as almonds, coconut flour, cassava, chia seeds, coconut oil, and avocado oil. Our tortilla chips are made with cassava and coconut flour and cooked in avocado oil. All of our products have been created because they filled a void either in our own diets or for our core consumers. We sell products that we love to eat and hope that our customers feel the same way.


3. Are Siete Tortillas and Chips vegan? Non-GMO? paleo-friendly?

At Siete we try to make products that are as inclusive as possible. We’ve designed our products to allow people with a variety of diets, dietary restrictions, and backgrounds to gather around the table to enjoy Mexican-American foods. Currently, all of our products are gluten free, grain free, vegan-friendly, paleo-friendly and verified by the non-GMO Project.


 4. How do you choose your ingredients?

With all of our products, taste and quality are paramount. We care about what we put in our bodies and, because of that, we’ve gone to great lengths to scrutinize and carefully select every ingredient that goes into our products. I personally oversee all of our product development and spend the majority of my time testing the perfect combination of ingredients and finding the best partners to source ingredients from, all to offer our customers products we can be extremely proud of.

 5. Can you tell us the story about Siete getting started with Wheatsville?

After years of making an almond flour tortilla for friends and family out of my kitchen in Laredo, Texas, we decided to turn a recipe into a business. In 2014, I made a batch of tortillas, put them in a ziplock bag, and drive from Laredo to Austin to approach the buyer at Wheatsville Food Co-op. The grocery buyer loved them and asked how soon they could start selling them. We had no business, no brand name, and no idea how to start a food business. My mother, brother (Miguel), and I joined forces and within a couple of months had our first product on the shelves. We started off by renting space at a commercial kitchen in Austin, driving up from Laredo every weekend to make tortillas by hand and then deliver them to Wheatsville. Since then the rest of my family members have come onboard to help move Siete along on its mission to becoming a healthy Mexican American food brand.

 
6. What’s is your favorite thing about Wheatsville?

Before starting Siete Family Foods we had zero experience in the food industry. Wheatsville was instrumental in helping us get our start. Knowing we were just getting started as a business, the buyer provided guidance on many of the steps we had to take to get our products on the shelf. We love the warm, welcoming feel we get when walking into Wheatsville as customers and now as vendors/partners that have the privilege of selling our products to their customers.

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This Month’s Vendor Spotlight: Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate

Many thanks to Jessica Holten for answering our questions!

Who started Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates?

Jacques Holten and his daughter Jessica started Sjaak's Organic Chocolates in 2003, after discussing their passion for organic foods, they both felt like it was the right direction to go. They wanted to create a delicious chocolate that was also organic, thus being healthier for the consumer, farm workers and the earth.

How long has Sjaak’s been in business?

Jacques has been creating culinary confections since the age of 12, when he began trade school in his native country of Holland. We joke that he has been making chocolate forever, which is somewhat true. He has been in the confectionery and culinary industry most of his life; either working for himself in various businesses or for chocolate houses throughout Europe.

What is the meaning of your windmill and tulip logo?

The Sjaak’s logo is rooted deep in family history. Jacques, the owner and creator of Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates, was born in the Netherlands and grew up next door to the family grain mill. The original wind mill that is represented in the   Sjaak’s logo was named Antonius Mollen, a family name to this day. This mill was destroyed in World War II, but it was   replaced by a mechanical mill. The tulip in the forefront is iconic of Holland, the largest producers of tulips in the world.

What makes Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates different from other chocolates on the market?

Most importantly, what sets Sjaak's Organic Chocolates aside is taste.  We pride ourselves on creating incredibly delicious chocolates. Sjaak's is also completely organic, vegan, kosher and is a small family owned and operated business.

Does Sjaak’s use Fair Trade and non-GMO ingredients?

All of Sjaak's ingredients are organic, therefore non-GMO. We use Fair trade cocoa and sugar. Sjaak's Organic Chocolates aims to create the highest quality gourmet organic chocolates possible while simultaneously supporting a positive work environment, fair trade practices and encouraging sustainable agriculture through the use of organic, non-GMO ingredients. It is also the goal of Sjaak's Organic Chocolates to build a socially responsible, profitable business that can be carried on for generations to come.

Are your chocolates vegan and Kosher?

All of Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates are vegan products, including chocolate bars, gift boxes and Holiday treats. This means they contain no animal ingredients, such as milk, butter, eggs, and gelatin. We have created a vegan 'Melk' chocolate that that is completely dairy free and is delicious! Even the sugar that we use is non bone char.  Our products are certified Kosher by Earth Kosher.

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Local Vendor Spotlight: Big Swig Sparkling Water

Crisp & Clean Sparkling Water from Deep in the Heart of Austin,Texas

Big Swig balances thirst-quenching bubbles and fresh flavor for a crushable beverage enjoyed any time of day. The can is bold but the bubbles are refreshing, not overwhelming. It’s perfect for hydrating during a weekend at Zilker Park, a weekday lunch, a night out, and everything in between. Anywhere around Austin, Big Swig sparkling water brings a bubbly zip and burst of flavor, delivering Texas-Sized refreshment. Crack one open!

Big Swig Sparkling Water is available in 12-packs of 12oz can.

Original Sparkling Water — A timeless classic. Like a good pair of blue jeans, our Original Sparkling Water always feels right and goes with just about anything.

Key Lime — Sparkling water with a refreshing zip to get you up and running. Light, bubbly, and delicious without any calories, sugar, or worries.

Ruby Red Grapefruit — A sparkling citrus explosion, with a hint of sweetness. Made with no sweeteners, no calories, and no bull—but plenty of love and care.

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Local Vendor Spotlight: Cuvée Coffee

Who started Cuvée Coffee, when and why?

Mike McKim started roasting coffee as a hobby in 1998 and immediately knew
that it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.


What makes Cuvée Coffee different from other coffee on the market?

Cuvée Coffee pioneered the specialty coffee movement in Texas and is considered one of the best roasters in the country.

How has your business evolved?

The business has gone from a part time, garage enterprise to a coffee roastery, cold brewery and coffee bar. It has also become a place where passionate coffee people have an opportunity to build a career in the coffee industry.


Anything new being developed?

Cuvée pioneered specialty coffee in Texas, was part of the Direct Trade coffee sourcing movement and introduced the world to nitro cold brew, so it’s safe to say that the company is constantly considering what’s next.


What is your favorite thing about Wheatsville?

That you carry Cuvée Coffee, of course :)

OUR PROCESS SEED TO CUP:


SEEKING OUT EXCELLENCE
Through diligent tasting, communication, and good old fashioned searching, Cuvée has sought out the very best in quality coffees. Beyond just the beans, we’re honored to have surrounded ourselves with grower-partners who see the same in us, and strive to be the very best.


CULTIVATING SUSTAINABILITY
Through open discussion, and mutually fair agreements, we ensure that the people behind our coffees are able to sustain themselves, their families, and grow their businesses. Allowing for their return year  after year, producing your favorite coffees!


BUSINESS THROUGH CONTINUED TRUST
With such amazing partners working alongside Cuvée, and the trust in our continued connection, growers have the confidence and assurance to improve, test, experiment, and evolve themselves to produce  unique coffees, which we proudly share unto you.

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Local Vendor Spotlight: Johnson’s Backyard Garden

As part of Wheatsville’s BIG Direction, we work to grow relationships with local farmers, creating good local jobs and providing more local, sustainably grown food for our shoppers with the end result a happier, healthier Austin. One of our key partners in this endeavor is Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Owner Brenton Johnson started this farm in his tiny Holly Street backyard back in 2004. Now the farm sits on 186 acres just east of downtown right along the Colorado River. JBG vegetables are 100% organic, meaning no toxic compounds for you or your family.   During the height of the growing season, literally dozens of vegetables from JBG are available at Wheatsville seven days a week: sweet carrots, deep green heads of broccoli, bundles of greens of all kinds, beautiful, glossy zucchini and mounds of root vegetables are a treat for the eye and the taste buds. You can even pickup your CSA share at either of the Wheatsville locations, making a one-stop shopping experience. 

1. Why did you decide to farm in Austin?

I didn’t really decide to farm in Austin... it kind of happened by accident! While working for the government in Wyoming, I came to Austin on a business trip and immediately feel in love with the culture. When I was looking for a place to move, Austin seemed like the great fit! I moved to Austin, and so naturally my hobby moved with me--gardening. When I moved into a house on Holly Street, I started a garden and slowly started bringing my produce to the Downtown Farmers’ market to make a few extra bucks. This hobby got a little out of control, and over the course of a few years, gardening turned into farming, and our CSA was born.


2. What new produce items are you growing or planning to grow?

We love to try and grow new varieties.. it helps keep things interesting around here! This year, we planted over 100 pecan trees at the farm, over 100 Asian persimmons, as well as a lot of pears, figs, and pomegranates.We also planted some Muscadines– a grape variety that is native to the Southern U.S. In the Southeast (where I’m from), Muscadines are used to make wine, preserves, and even fresh juice. Because they’re a native species, they are really resilient and pest resistant. This year we also planted lots of new pepper varieties. This past summer season, we also tried a lot of new tomato varieties (and planted over 50,000 plants!), many of which made their way onto the Wheatsville shelves as well as the deli. We had a lot of success with some of the new cherry and slicing tomato varieties we tried out, and they will make their way into our crop plans for years to come.


3. What is your favorite produce that is in season in October?

Some of my October favorites include sweet potatoes, collards, okra, hot peppers.. maybe you can see a theme? I really like all the produce that lends itself well to Southern cooking. Right now, I’m battling a hot pepper addiction. This year, we went a little crazy with peppers and planted a ton of new varieties, many of which are Arc of Taste varieties that Slow Food International is working to promote and preserve for future generations. Some of these include Hinklehatz, Cherry Bomb, Beaver Dam, Jimmy Nardello (Anaheim), Wenk’s Yellow Hot, Sheepnose Pimento, and Texas Bird’s Eye Pequin. 

4. What are your biggest crops?

Our biggest crops are kale and carrots.


5. What are your favorite things about Wheatsville Co-op?

This is a hard one! We love Wheatsville for so many reasons, all stemming from the fact that you guys are one of our best customers. Your commitment to buying locally is like a huge hug from the Austin community—even in the hardest seasons, we know that you guys will be there to buy our produce and help get seasonal produce into hungry Austin mouths. We love that you guys are able to provide such a unique grocery-store experience on the store-front side (with amazing customer service), and then also provide such an enjoyable experience working with your produce buyers from the “back-end”. You are always willing to listen to our needs as farmers, and are always there as a reliable outlet for our produce--even helping us push produce that isn’t the most popular. We love that when we make deliveries or even stop in the store as customers, we always end up getting to sample fresh fruit. We also love that local agriculture makes the list of local causes you guys support (like your support of Farmshare Austin).. you truly put your money where your mouth is, and are constantly giving back to the Austin community. Last but certainly not least, we love that you guys host a CSA Pickup for us on Thursdays and Fridays.

Thanks to Ada Broussard, JBG’s CSA and Marketing Manager, who facilitated getting answers to our questions. Photos by David Scott Gordon.

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Local Vendor Spotlight: Kala’s Kuisine

Owner and founder Kala Uprety gives us the inner scoop about her delicious authentic Nepalese + Fusion vegetarian food!

1. How and why did Kala’s Kuisine get started?

In 1973, when I first came to the US as a student, I always dreamed of being in the food business. My grandparents had a brown sugar and molasses factory in Nepal, and I was always enjoyed seeing them turn raw ingredients into healthy, natural treats. 20 years later, while working as a computer programmer, I brainstormed ideas of what type of food I would want to sell. Then, while I was traveling abroad in Europe with my husband, I saw that there was packaged vegetarian food that was easy to grab and go. This made it very easy for me to eat abroad, whereas I had a difficult time finding interesting vegetarian options to eat at home. I saw an opportunity in the Austin market to create healthy vegetarian food that combined flavors from my home country of Nepal with the flavors native to Texas. I started with a few fresh products that were twists on traditional Nepalese dishes. By taking these traditional recipes and adding southwestern ingredients, I created a taste that was unique to Kala's Kuisine. Beyond fresh food, we have expanded our offering to include a variety of salsas, chutneys, pestos, hot sauces and fermented products. We started by supplying our fusion products to local grocery stores like Wheatsville co-op and other premier health food stores and now also operate booths at the 3 main Austin farmers markets every week.

2. Tell us a bit about the fusion flavors.

We sell a wide variety of products from fresh foods to fermented products, all with unique combinations of flavors that fuse influences from the East and West. For instance, our Roti Wraps and Saag Wraps combine a tortilla filled with curry-spiced vegetables making them both twists on the taco/burrito concept, but with eastern flavors.

Samosas, our most popular product, are filled with a potato and vegetable mixture that is seasoned to appeal to the western palate. The blend of spices is unique to Kala's Kuisine and offers a milder curry flavor than traditional Samosas.

Our Pasta Salads, Nepali Pasta Salad and Saag Pasta, take traditional dishes and mix them with pasta to create two brand new concepts, not available anywhere else. Saag Pasta, for example, has a nut-free spinach pesto base tossed with great northern beans and semolina rainbow noodles. This creates a tangy-spicy flavor in a cold noodle salad. Our Nepali Pasta Salad starts with a tomato-carrot based "spaghetti sauce" with eastern spices that make it unique to us. This sauce base is mixed with almonds and angel hair semolina noodles to create a milder spiced cold salad.

All of our salsas have a combination of eastern and western flavors that make them completely original. Our Curry-Chipotle and Mirchi Masala salsas, for example, combine Nepalese curry spices with the peppery flavors of the southwest to create flavor-filled hot sauces. Our newest addition, fermented products, are age old traditional Nepalese recipes that use western techniques to create crispy condiments that spice up any dish.

3. What are your favorite accompaniments to your food?

The great thing about all of our products is their versatility. I could name over twenty ways you could use each of our salsas, hot sauces and fermented products to create unique and interesting dishes. Here are a few of my favorite combinations:
Our Samosas pair perfectly with our Mango Chutney making an appetizer combination of salty, spicy and sweet that is impossible to resist. If you want to create a new take on a TexMex dinner, take our Mirchi Masala salsa, add some sour cream and pour over your favorite enchiladas for a Nepalese twist. For a flavorful breakfast with some extra kick, try adding our Curry-Chipotle salsa to some scrambled eggs. Then add some cheese and your favorite sautéed vegetables and you have a spicy breakfast taco.

You can also get creative with our condiment products by using them in surprising ways to add additional flavor to a variety of dishes. Our Pestos are great for tossing with pasta, spreading over naan or mixing with brown rice and vegetables for a healthy lunch bowl. Fermented products have a ton of unique uses apart from being great garnishes. Kimchi radishes are a great addition to salads or rice to add texture and tang. Carrot and Ruby krout are both tasty condiments that spice up any simple sandwich. For a unique salad dressing, combine our Lemon Preserve with Italian herbs and olive oil and pour over your choice of mixed greens.

4. How long have you been selling your food at Wheatsville?

Over 20 years. We started with fresh foods, expanded with our salsas and hot sauces, and have recently added our fermented products to our assortment. Striving to provide unique and interesting flavor combinations in every product, we have been working closely with Wheatsville to curate a collection that appeals to their clientele.

5. What is your favorite thing about Wheatsville?

Our favorite thing about Wheatsville is the environment. It is absolutely a joy to work with such friendly people who have supported Kala's Kuisine from the very beginning. They always provide us with great shelf space and they are inviting to local vendors like us as opposed to other grocery stores that ignore local vendors and focus on mass market brands.

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Local Vendor Spotlight: Pie Jacked

Bukki Sittler of Pie Jacked, filled us in on this excellent local company!

1. How and why did Pie Jacked get started?

One of Mama Joyce's grandsons was diagnosed with Autism when he was very little. After a lot of research, we found that eliminating food allergens has shown to help with some of the symptoms of Autism, including digestion and even some of the "brain fog" aspects. We had him tested for food allergies and the results were overwhelming. Mama Joyce especially reworked basic recipes to help his mother with meals. Once the problem foods were removed from his diet, his entire aspect changed. His digestion improved, he started speaking in full sentences, and his entire face would light up when he smiled instead of just a crinkle at the corners of his mouth. As holidays came around, she knew she had to come up with something for pies - Grandma Buck, Bukki's namesake, had taught Mama Joyce when the family art of pie making when she was a child and it was too important to lose that legacy. With her decades of experience, and experimenting over three years, she finally came up with a crust that matched the flavor and texture of the original pies created 2 generations before her. That little man is Jack, so we named the company Pie Jacked.


2. What allergens are avoided in your pies?


We are top-8 allergen-free. This includes wheat (and all gluten), soy, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish. As if this is not limiting enough, we also avoid corn and GMO ingredients. Our pies are allergen-friendly and vegan. This extends to our entire product line, including our coffee cakes, Mud Pie Crusties, and some other goodies we are still developing!

3. Tell us a bit about the taste and flavors of your pies.

Our pie crust is what people rave over - it is tender and flakey as a pie crust should be. That has been the biggest hurdle to overcome, as so often gluten-free crusts can feel crumble or powdery. They have a light flavor that complements the sweet of fruit pies or even savory pies. Our fruit is based off of the original family recipe. We use evaporated cane juice that enhances the natural flavor and sweetness of our fruits rather than overpowering them. We let the fruits speak for themselves - just the right amount of tartness with our cherry, a light warmth to our apple, a freshness to our peach, and simple sweetness to our blueberry. We use traditional depth pie pans for all of our sizes so that we don't skimp on the fruit filling. We find they create the best balance of crust and fruit to complement each other.

4. What are your favorite accompaniments to your pie?

Either a full holiday meal with all the trimmings ;), or Sweet Ritual Salted Carmel frozen dessert on the apple and cherry pies. Their vanilla is great with all of our flavors.

5. What is your favorite thing about Wheatsville?

I love coming into the store and seeing the seasonal displays that are featured. I love finding new brands, especially new local brands, that way.

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