July 2020

It’s Time to Vote!

The Co-op is bringing our Board election process into the 21st century!  Any day now, you’ll receive your Annual Report in the mail.  Aside from the usual updates on the state of your Co-op, Board of Directors Candidates, and plans for our Annual Meeting, you’ll find directions to help you cast your online votes for our Board of Directors (all of the candidates are actually incumbents this year, as we did not receive any new applications) and for proposed bylaws changes.  Don’t want to wait for the mail?  You can access the online version of our Annual Report right now!  The results of our election will be announced at our September 3rd Virtual Annual Meeting and afterward, in the store and online.

Are you ready to vote?  Starting August 1st, please follow the link below to get started.  You’ll need the first initial and last name of the co-op member-owner in your household, plus the last five digits of your member number (you can find this on the back of your paper Annual Report mailing label, or on the back of your co-op member card).  Your vote is completely anonymous, and after you participate in this year’s election, your name will be entered for a chance to win one of 50 $25 Co-op Gift Cards!  Happy Voting!


Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Online Board of Directors and By-Laws Vote

Spotlight on New Leaf Organics

We’re shining our Member Deals Spotlight on New Leaf Organics! This local, organic farm not only keeps our produce shelves stocked with an array of fresh seasonal veggies but also supplies us with an abundant array of veggie and herb seedlings each Spring. Perhaps you have a few of them growing in your garden? All of New Leaf Organics products are 20% off for Co-op member-owners from August 6th – 12th, so it’s a great time to stock up on the flavors of summer in Vermont. Read on to learn more about this female-powered farm and all that they have to offer:

Nestled in the rolling hills near the Bristol-Monkton town line is a sweet little farm called New Leaf Organics. Now in her 20th year in business, Farmer Jill Koppel leads her rockstar crew to produce some of the most beautiful and delicious flowers, fruits, and veggies you’ll find anywhere in Vermont. Their farm has evolved quite a bit over the years, but their core mission remains the same; growing high-quality organic produce, flowers, and plants that improve soil health and strengthen the community.

Their Mission

  • to grow high quality, deliciously fresh organic produce and flowers.
  • to maintain and build the health of our soil and water.
  • to keep this land open and in agricultural production.
  • to bring community together in appreciation of good food and eating with the seasons.
  • to help couples create a memorable wedding day brightened with our beautiful flowers
  • to be a healthy and joyous place for kids to roam and discover and help them learn where our food really comes from.
  • to provide a positive and meaningful place to work for our employees and ourselves.

New Leaf Organics grows 5 acres of vegetables, berries, and flowers which are all sold in Vermont. You can shop their online store and/or visit their farmstand. Their online store offers curbside pickup and delivery options. Farmstand hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 12 pm – 6 pm and they offer extended hours during planting season (May 2nd – June 14th) 10 am – 3pm. While visiting the farmstand, you’ll find  New Leaf’s fresh-picked veggies, berries, and flowers. You’ll also find a great selection of locally sourced products from around the Champlain Valley. New to the farmstand are delicious grab-and-go vegetarian meals from Blossom Kitchen and Catering in eco-friendly reusable containers you can keep or return for a deposit.

New Leaf Organics Farmstand

You can also sign up for their fruit & veggie CSA. Joining the CSA is a great way to eat the freshest, highest quality, locally grown, organic food without breaking the bank. They have many unique CSA options, so be sure to check out their web page to scan the offerings. 

Looking to send a local, organic bouquet to someone special? New Leaf Organics offers Home Sweet Blooms floral deliveries to homes and businesses in Hinesburg, Vergennes, Middlebury, & Bristol! They also offer a pick-your-own flowers option throughout the growing season. The flower fields are located across the street from the farm stand. 

Need flowers for an upcoming wedding or event? New Leaf Organics raises over 100 varieties of organic, specialty cut flowers and creates exquisite floral arrangements for weddings and events, from casual to formal. Their services, from full-service arrangements and delivery, to “pick-your-own,” to “weddings-in-a-bucket” are a great fit for all your events. Buying direct from the grower ensures the freshest, highest quality flowers at the best price. Buying organic ensures that agricultural chemicals aren’t endangering our environment or the farmworkers who handle the flowers. Click here to read more about why this matters.

According to Farmer Jill, “I’ve been lucky enough to find a dedicated crew of farming “geeks” who get equally as excited about discovering a great new variety to try or the thrill of our first seeds germinating in the Spring. Having a great crew keeps the farm dynamic and is better every season because of them. My kids, Ruby and Ada, and husband Skimmer make sure we don’t work the whole Summer away… Thanks for your interest in our farm! Supporting local farms like ours ensures that high-quality agricultural soils will be kept in farming for generations to come and proof that together we really can keep Vermont agriculture alive and thriving!”

For the latest info and insight into how the season is sprouting, blooming, and unfurling, follow them on Instagram @organicsnewleaf and Facebook @newleaforganics

The Year of Clear Vision

Every New Year, I learn a new slogan for the upcoming year. As the year 2020 approached, I began to see ‘the year of clear vision’ trending.

Seven months in, I see the truth in that slogan. This year has brought to light institutional racism in a way that has captured our countries attention.  This form of racism is embedded as a normal practice in our society. It has led to discrimination in the sphere of employment, housing, and education to name a few.  Throughout the year, I have had to be honest with myself, reflect on my experiences, reflect on the way I chose to raise my two black identified children, and reflect on the way I engage with my community.  My reflection has reaffirmed my desire to be a part of my community. I choose to do this by sharing my perspective gathered from my experiences as a young black woman, a mother, and a full-time professional – a perspective that is unique in our predominantly white population.

I am Esther Thomas, your newly appointed board member. My children and I moved to Middlebury a year ago and have fallen in love with this town and the Co-op.

Last year, I started a nationwide job search and on my list of non-negotiables, I had to find a market that would help support my whole food plant-based diet. After an initial Skype interview, I was invited to come to an on-campus interview at Middlebury College. During my stay in Middlebury, I visited the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. As I walked every aisle, I noticed my household staples such as liquid amino, nutritional yeast, vegan ice cream, and the greatest wheat-free vegan cake – I knew if offered the position I could comfortably accept.

And, here I am.  Several months after becoming a Co-op member, I learned of the opportunity to possibly run to become a board member and I was thrilled.  I believed it was a great way to be apart of my community and share my perspective. When a position opened mid-year I was happy to accept the invitation to join the board.  As a new board member, I am still learning the ropes. I listen more than I speak but chime in when I deem necessary. It has been my pleasure and honor to serve you. I look forward to continuing my contribution.

Esther Thomas is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

 

Compostable Conundrum

The secret is out:  Americans have a serious waste problem. Since the onset of the first publicly-funded recycling pick-up programs in the late 1960s, we’ve been trained to dutifully separate our paper, plastic, and glass from the waste stream. Billions of dollars have been spent on educational programs and infrastructure to support these initiatives and, in the decades since, we’ve packed cargo ships with countless tons of our recyclables destined for China where they’re made into goods such as shoes, bags, and new plastic products. An awareness of this cycle allowed us to feel a little less guilty about our increasingly disposable culture.

For much of the last half-century, Americans have had little incentive to consume less. It’s relatively inexpensive to buy products, and it’s even cheaper to dispose of them at the end of their short lives. We gave very little thought to where these products went after being discarded. In the summer of 2017, however, this convenient denial of our flawed relationship with consumption and waste came screeching to a halt when China announced that they were no longer interested in receiving our recyclables. Since January of 2018, China has banned imports of various types of plastic and paper and tightened contamination standards for materials it does accept. Thus, without a willing market, much of America’s carefully sorted recycling is simply ending up in the trash.

The Promise of Compostables

Amid mounting backlash against single-use plastics, many looked to the promise of compostable packaging to meet our perceived need for convenience. We were quickly sold on the notion that these products, made from renewable materials rather than petroleum, were gentler on the environment and capable of reducing waste by breaking down naturally like the banana peels in our compost heap. What we failed to realize was that many compostable products are made from chemically-intensive monocultures of genetically modified corn and that they wouldn’t actually break down on their own. Their breakdown would require high heat and moisture, conditions found mainly in special industrial facilities that don’t exist in most communities, including here in Addison County. The Addison County Solid Waste Management District (ACSWMD) is unable to accept and process compostable containers or bags. Our infrastructure hasn’t been able to keep pace with innovation and, as such,  many of these products end up being burned or sent to landfills, where—deprived of oxygen and microorganisms—they don’t degrade.

They also cause serious contamination issues in recycling facilities, according to the experts at the ACSWMD. The issue of contamination causes problems for waste management facilities in both recycling and compost systems. Compostable products often look identical to their recyclable counterparts and inadvertently create more waste when mixed with recyclables on a large scale. During the processing of recyclables at solid waste facilities, compostables can degrade, contaminating the plastic, and rendering entire batches of plastic recycling too contaminated to meet market standards.  Alternatively, when recyclable plastic containers find their way into the bin with compostables and are delivered to the limited number of existing high-heat composting facilities, the quality of the compost is severely compromised.

As our Co-op staff learned of these challenges, we tried to balance increasing consumer demand for more compostable packaging with the stark reality that offering these products might simply amount to greenwashing. Determined to find a solution, we continued to work with experts at the Addison County Solid Waste Management District, Casella Waste Systems, and Vermont Natural Ag Products to explore ideas. In 2018, we hatched a pilot program that involved setting up systems for collecting our compostable deli to-go containers and Casella’s agreed to transport them to Vermont Natural Ag’s compost heaps at Foster Brothers Farm where they would, ideally, turn into compost.

Former Cafe Refuse Station Included a Bin for Compostables

We knew from the onset that this was to be an experiment, as we still needed to answer some big questions: Would their processing equipment be hindered by our containers? Would the chemistry of their compost heaps handle such a significant addition of carbon?  Would our staff and our customers be able to sort effectively enough to minimize contamination? In the end, the third question created the most significant hurdle to the program’s success.

Around the time that our pilot project began, a group of Middlebury College students partnered with us to collect data on the rate of contamination. They determined, through daily bouts of messy sorting and counting over the course of two weeks, that our contamination rate hovered around 30%. Upon hearing this news, we doubled-down on our efforts but, despite putting considerable energy toward sorting education and generating clear signage at the receptacles for the compostable containers, our contamination rate ultimately proved too high for the program to continue.

Compostable Containers Must Go in the Trash. Addison County Solid Waste Management District Does Not Currently Have the Infrastructure to Process These Items.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We’re still collecting clean, compostable food scraps both for pickup by area farmers and for collection by Casella’s, but we’re no longer permitted to add compostable containers to the mix. This means that all of our deli to-go containers must, unfortunately, be deposited as trash. It also means that we cannot in good conscience switch to compostable bags in our Produce Department, despite significant customer demand. Until we’re certain that these compostable bags can be received and effectively processed by our local waste management facility, it simply doesn’t make sense to use them. Thankfully, there are other options!* If you’re dining in, we encourage you to choose our reusable plates and bowls. If you’re on the go, we offer a reusable to-go container that may be purchased for a $5 deposit and filled with hot bar and salad bar items, excluding soup. When you’re ready to return it, give it a rinse and drop it back off with any cashier to reclaim your deposit or swap it for a new, clean reusable to-go container. In order to remain compliant with State Health Department regulations, we cannot allow customers to bring their own containers for use at the hot bar or salad bar but we do encourage you to continue bringing your own containers when shopping for bulk items throughout the store.*

Given that selling our recyclables to China is no longer an option and compostables don’t deliver on their promise, it’s incumbent upon us to find our own solutions. One suggestion involves the adoption of a fourth “r” beyond “reduce, reuse, and recycle”— we must learn to refuse. Becoming more discerning consumers and learning to say no to items we don’t need is an important step. Refusing disposable straws, plastic cutlery, and other single-use plastics, and saying no to compostable packaging ultimately destined for the landfill provides us with another way to vote with our hard-earned money for the kinds of changes we’d like to see in the world. When there’s no longer a market for products packaged in plastic, manufacturers will seek alternatives and we’ll all move a little closer to a zero-waste culture.

 

*Note – This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 edition of the Co-op’s Under the Sun Newsletter. Due to the impacts of COVID 19, we are currently unable to offer our hot bar or salad bar, nor are we able to offer dine-in options. Thus, the information in this article regarding our reusable dishes, reusable to-go containers, and bringing containers from home for Bulk purchasing is not currently relevant. We look forward to being able to resume these practices once it’s safe to do so. We’ll keep you posted. Thank you for your understanding!

Open Farm Week 2020!

Dig In VT is celebrating 6 years of Vermont Open Farm Week – August 10th – 16th, 2020! 

Cabbages at Old Road Farm in Granville, VT

 

Do you love local food and farms?

Want to get to know your farmer better — and to get a behind-the-scenes look into Vermont’s vibrant working agricultural landscape?

During the 2020 Vermont Open Farm Week, you can meet (virtually, or in-person) the farmers, plants, and animals that bring your favorite high-quality Vermont products to your plate.

The Open Farm Week Committee has been navigating the current health crisis carefully and thoughtfully and is thinking creatively about how to deliver this week of events in a way that’s safe and responsible.

This year’s offerings will focus on events appropriate for the current pandemic-related guidelines: tours, picnics, farm trails, virtual/online events (workshops, guided tastings, etc.), social media posts/stories, and perhaps some other creative ideas.

Ripening organic tomatoes are Singing Cedars Farmstead

 

What’s the greatest part about Open Farm Week?

Every farm is unique! Find up-to-date lists of participating farms and search by location or product at DigInVT.com, your portal to Vermont’s agriculture and culinary experiences.

 

Goats at Squier Family Farm in Tinmouth, VT

What can you do at the farms?

The activities will vary from farm to farm. Some farms might have demonstrations and tours. Others may have pick-your-own crops, produce for purchase, or animals that you can meet. As mentioned above, this year’s events will focus on those that fit the current pandemic-related social distancing guidelines. Be sure to check each farm’s individual listing to find out the details! Click here to view the latest COVID-19 related guidelines on healthvermont.gov.

Are you a farmer interested in participating in Open Farm Week? Email vtopenfarm@vermontfresh.net to register your event!