VITALITY: Local foods trend blooming
Whether you can hardly wait to plant your garden, or can't wait for the local farmers' market to start back up again, access to fresh food is on many people's minds these days.
Over the past decade, the "local food" movement has picked up steam as people think about their food and how far it's traveled to eventually arrive on the dinner table. It's estimated that the average meal in the U.S. has traveled 1,500 miles from farm to plate.
As awareness grows about the benefits of local foods (freshness, less fuel burned transporting it, positive impact on the local economy) more people have looked for ways to buy vegetables, fruit and meat closer to home.
The local food movement fits in well with New Richmond's Vitality Initiative, which encourages people to eat better and be more active.
New Richmond has been at the forefront of the local foods phenomenon for decades, thanks to the New Richmond Heritage Center's weekly Farmers Market that runs from the end of June through the end of October. The market is held on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. until the produce is sold out.
The local market started in 1978 and has been going strong ever since.
Right now, the market has 10 permanent spots and several daily spots - for locals who only want to sell when they have a surplus.
Among the locally produced items for sale include fruit, eggs, plants, baked goods, honey, maple syrup and fresh vegetables.
School and beyond
St. Croix County's "Healthier Together" project is working to heighten people's awareness about the importance of fresh vegetables and fruit in everyone's diet as a way to fight obesity.
Teresa Kvam, public health nutritionist with the county, said one of the newest local efforts is the "Farm to School" initiative that is helping to bring local produce into schools for their lunch programs. New Richmond schools are ramping up their effort right now.
The Public Health Department is also partnering with local farmers to provide more local foods for the successful backpack program, which sends food home with at-risk children on the weekends.
Area hospitals, such as Westfields Hospital in New Richmond, are pushing more local foods as well. The nutrition departments at those institutions are working with local farmers to buy more local produce that can be added to cafeteria and hospital kitchen menus.
"We really want to promote local, fresh food," she said, "but we're in the early stages."
For the past five years, Threshing Table Farm near Star Prairie has been providing fresh produce to area residents who pay a membership fee to participate in a 17-week vegetable season.
"It's real important to know where your food is coming from," farm co-owner Mike Lenz said. "There is a lot more awareness about local foods now. People know this food is local - it's not coming from Argentina or somewhere else."
Mike's wife, Jody Lenz, said some people avoid buying directly from farmers or purchasing vegetables and fruit from a farmers' market because it sometimes costs a little more than a grocery store.
"As a nation, we still want cheap food," she said.
Truth is, Jody said, many people don't realize that produce fresh from the farm lasts longer than much of the store vegetables and fruit because it's recently been picked. Some food fresh off the truck may have been picked many days or weeks ago, she said.
"People know that ours was picked just the day before," Jody said.
Threshing Table Farm's goal is to sell 75 memberships to people who want fresh food that is grown locally. Right now, about one quarter of their memberships are families from the New Richmond area, with a third coming from Somerset and Hudson. Another third of their members come from the Twin Cities.
Mike said they'd like to increase the number of local members in the future, providing everyone close by with the opportunity to have fresh and healthy produce for their diets.
Mike said there are many farmers market and fresh food opportunities for people living in the Twin Cities, but not so many in this part of the region.
"We deserve good food too," he said. "I'd like to have our whole membership coming from this side of the St. Croix River."
Mike and Jody Lenz encourage members to pick up their weekly shares (on Thursdays) right at the farm location, 2249 - 150th St., but some deliveries are made throughout the region also. The fresh vegetable season runs from the end of May through September.
Right now, the Lenzs are hard at work planning for the upcoming season. They opened their greenhouse in early March and already have hundreds of vegetable plants growing inside. The plants will eventually be transplanted in the garden once temperatures warm up.
As the season progresses, members will get a long list of vegetables on a weekly basis, including beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce cucumbers, onions, peas, peppers, tomatoes, squash, herbs and much more.
"If the only vegetables you eat are carrots and potatoes, this probably isn't for you," Jody said of CSA memberships. "But if you're looking for a variety, there's always something new in the box."
To help members best prepare their fresh produce for consumption, Jody said the farm provides a weekly newsletter that includes plenty of recipes that use the vegetables.
For more information about becoming a CSA member, call 715-248-7205.
The 2012 Farm Fresh Atlas features 120 farms, farmers' markets, and businesses in western Wisconsin. It includes food items such as cheese, meat, poultry, eggs, honey, fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers, pumpkins, maple syrup, U-Pick businesses, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) sites.
There is a nice Harvest Schedule of fruits and vegetables from the area and a map with the location of farms that supply this area. This resource is free to the public and can be picked up at any local library as well as the University of Wisconsin Extension Office in Baldwin.
Plots for rent
For those people who don't have room on their own property for a garden, but would like to have some fresh produce of their own, New Richmond has another option.
The St. Croix Valley Community Garden, located just north of New Richmond on Highway 65, is a Master Gardener-sponsored community garden which offers 20-by-20 foot plots available for rental to anyone and everyone. The plots are on good soil with a good history of growing vegetables and flowers.
Located on the Garden Expressions property 1.5 miles north of New Richmond, the site has water available for plot renters and parking on site. A 20-by-20 plot rental is $30 for the season.
Contact Carolyn Barrette at 715-549-6438 to arrange a spot, or stop in at Garden Expressions and talk to Jonna or Dick Klukas.