Monday, March 28, 2011

The Cost of the Co-operative

As a former member of the Nebraska Food Co-operative (NFC) Board of Directors, I am proud to sell our products through the Co-op.  Meg and I supported NFC as consumers before we signed up as producers to sell our baked goods.  While I was not involved in the years of planning for the NFC, I was the sixth person to join the co-op as a consumer-member, and first volunteered on the November delivery day in 2006 when another volunteer and I carried locally raised and freshly processed turkeys to new customers.  The co-op has grown since then.  The evening shift on delivery day now requires at least four or five volunteers to manage transactions, package orders, and hand them off with a smile to the waiting customers.  The morning shift, where items are sorted and distributed, also requires more volunteers than when the co-op began in 2006.  But with growth can sometimes come pain, or at least seams that gape and buttons that tug.

The co-op tried to deliver by bike, but a larger infrastructure is needed to meet the demand of the consumers and the supplies of the producers.  (Photos below taken on 03 July 2008.  Pictured are John Hazuka and James Hermsen)

The President of the NFC Board of Directors recently notified all co-op members, both consumers and producers, that a fee increase of 5% (from 10 to 15%) will be applied to all producers.  The 10% fee for consumer members will remain unchanged.  To provide a quick peek into the challenges of distributing local food, here is an excerpt from the President's email:

As we approach the opening of our next Order Cycle, I wanted to let you know about a change that may affect what you see when you begin putting together your order.  Although this change does not directly affect your fees, it will have an indirect effect as our producer/farmer members make decisions about what they charge for their products.
We have kept our fees low since beginning the NFC in 2006 as a measure of support for our farmers and producers.  So far our income has not been high enough to meet operating expenses over the long term, and we have depended on volunteer labor for our drivers, cashiers, sorters and administrative workers.

Over the next year, we are hoping to meet this challenge with many strategies.  Although we recognize the impact it will have on all of you, one of those strategies must be to increase the percentage that farmers and producers pay to the NFC.  This will help ensure the delivery service we all enjoy continues in spite of labor and equipment maintenance expenses and the rising cost of fuel.

The Board has voted to raise the NFC producer fee to 15% of their sales, before sales tax.  This change will go into effect for our next Order Cycle. . . Our producer/farmer members have been informed of this increase before now so they have had a chance to make changes to their product listings.  If your favorite product has gone up in price, please understand that it is most likely due this increase in NFC fees.

These two birds, along with many other producers, decided to changed prices to reflect the fee increase.  

The local food solution is multifaceted and complex.  Books have been written, dissertations  submitted, and organizations devoted to increasing the distribution of local food.  I could wax pedantic on local food for hours, but I just wanted to provide notification of the price change and encourage you to learn more about the issues and challenges that make eating locally difficult and expensive, as well as joyful and environmentally thoughtful.  

Luckily, if you are in the Omaha/Lincoln area, you can attend a free, four hour workshop on Local Food Systems on April 5.  Shannon Moncure, president of the NFC Board of Directors, will be the featured educator!  

~ Trilety

Monday, March 21, 2011

Take Time to Smell the Muffins

Can you conjure a scent from your past and make it tangible; turning it into a mouthful of memory?  Can you remember the smell of the back of the neck of the first person you loved?  Can you recall the sweet, fleshy scent of the first fresh fig that lingered under your nose as you brought it to your mouth?  Reshaping smells from our past by using olfactory mental imagery is a much more difficult exercise than visual or auditory mental imagery. 

Don't worry though, it just takes practice.

If you want to remember the suffocatingly sweet scent of a hyacinth in winter, or the smell of sex during a state of celibacy, then I suggest adhering to a strict routine of sniffing.  When someone embraces you, steal a sniff of their underarm.  Harvest the everyday smells of your surroundings; the smell of new rain on hot pavement, the smell of oils burned from the skin of a roasted coffee bean, the smell of shampoo that still clings to the lengths of hair that taunt you from the women walking by. 

But the best way to improve your olfaction is to let the scents of our baked goods saturate your senses.  Let the sweet heat of the Curry of Kali and Sweet Bombay muffins weave their way through the hairs in your nose the way the water once slipped around what used to be the seven islands of Bombay.  Break apart an Early Grey muffin and remember the Sunday morning you spent in bed with tea, the paper, and a long-legged companion.  Sniff the surface of a Chai Love You cookie, careful not to snort a quick cloud of cinnamon and cardamom into your nose, and picture Christmas Eve in front of the fireplace that you were sure was Santa's portal.   And when you want to remember the heat of summer as you are cool in spring, then let the Ginger Blue muffin raise your temperature so your skin looks like it has just been kissed by hard lips.

Oh, and if you don't know the accepted method of smelling, follow Jason's lead:

~ Trilety

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Changes

Mmmmmm. Good weather makes us feel so happy. Fresh air and sunshine, blue skies and no coats. It's a happy 50 degree day. The weather is a sign of spring. With it comes the desire to be in it. Outdoor fairs and concerts, walks in the park, bike trails, laying in the grass, camping, swimming, and also... outdoor markets like the Omaha Farmers Market.

I have to say that even a few months ago I was excited and raring to go on the whole Farmers Market goal. I was ready to hit it! But now? Um... as the time gets close I am unsure; both of us are unsure. What would we be getting out of it? Would it be more effort than reward? Sure, it would be great to slap it on our resume per se, but what else? The more I think about these things the less I am certain that we should do this.

Well, actually at this point we are not unsure, we made a decision to cancel our Farmers Market aspirations this year. That being said, it's not as if we won't move forward. We are still learning the ins and outs. We are getting the hang of baking for customers other than our friends. We learning how to organize and juggle and are figuring out what will be best with both of our schedules. We are remembering that it's okay to take things slow, not rush, not get stressed or in over our heads. These are just a few of our thoughts.

That being said, we're going to focus on finding a commercial kitchen space in which to bake for customers outside of the Nebraska Food Co-op. That seems like a better step overall. An approved kitchen allows us to sell to anyone we please and allows us to follow our own schedule, rather than a pre-planned schedule like the Farmers Market or Co-op. It would also enable us to reach a wider range of people. We could do a lot more marketing.

So I'll put it out there... does anyone know of an approved commercial kitchen space in Omaha that could be rented by the day??

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Music to Bake to

While cruising Kanesville Kollectibles with a friend from Seattle, I thumbed a couple David Carroll Orchestra albums called Dance to Stay Young and Music Makes Me Want to Dance!  If music can keep us young and make us want to dance, I figured there is also music that makes me want to bake!

The right choice of music, like the right outfit, is crucial to producing tasty muffins and cookies.  I attended a party a year ago and met a girl who brought bread pudding.  She was dressed like the iconic, cocktail-party-hosting, 1950's housewife; low heels, a swelling skirt, fitted blouse, and hair that appeared to be comprised not of strands but of slick plastic.  As the glide of her arms entered the oven, I asked "Do you also wear those clothes when you bake?"

"Of course," she replied, "what you wear in the kitchen can affect the outcome of your dessert."

I admitted that I usually wore a wife-beater and boy-shorts, and she looked aghast and suggested I try wearing a dress.  (Now that I'm a Bird, I wear appropriate clothing and an apron while baking).

Music is the accessory to the perfect outfit.  It'd be appropriate if I listened to the bands Sugar and Archers of Loaf as I baked, but I haven't really settled into what type of music I listen to while stirring batter and dropping dough.  It must be upbeat.  It must make my hips spin like a whisk.  It must make me smile.  Some days find me baking to Erykah Badu, Etta James, Prince, King Khan & BBQ Show, or Galactic, but since my friend left his newly purchased, used albums here, I will be baking this week to . . . .

Maybe Meg will share her "Best to Bake to Hits," but until then, what do you bake to?

~ Trilety