Florence Vincent Wants You to Know What’s in Your Food

Florence Vincent Wants You to Know What’s in Your Food

florenceEvery October, Florence Vincent launches a personal campaign to label foods that contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Although the U.S. government and the state of Washington have yet to join the 64 countries around the world* that mandate labeling, including Vietnam, Jordan, Sri Lanka and most of the European Union, for one month in one small corner of Yelm you can find out exactly what’s in your food. That corner? The Yelm Food Co-op.

“I go around the store and I label everything. I look at all the packaging,” she says.  “Anything that is organic is automatically GMO-free, but with anything that doesn’t say so on the package or have a non-GMO verified label on it, I look up the company and find out what their policies are. I’ve been doing that for quite a few years.”  Fortunately, she says, “We have very, very little in the store that is not GMO-free.”

Florence’s passion for the subject arises out of her love of healthy, organic food. Back in her native England during the 1980’s, she helped a friend run the legendary Odette’s restaurant and eventually started her own – the first entirely organic establishment in the country, Elephants and Butterflies. “At the time there were vegetarian organic places, but none that also had organic meat,” she explains.  

After moving to America, she became involved with the Yelm Co-op just three months into its existence. “I just loved the concept,” she says. “I decided to volunteer to help. Because I’d had retail experience in my life, they jumped on it because nobody else had that.” Soon, she was asked to be manager and buyer, and for five years was the primary buyer for the store.

The experience taught her something about herself. “Managing was not my strength; buying was my strength,” she says. “I love buying. I have always loved looked at new things, and tasting.” These days, she and General Manager Barnaby Urich Rintz travel to trade shows to try new products and bring back the best for Co-op customers.

Throughout her years with the store, she’s noticed a common thread. “The customers make the co-op what it is. There is this core group, getting larger all the time, that will not let go of the co-op. They support it right the way through. The co-op just keeps going by the sheer will of its customers that want it to be there.”

As for the future?  “It’s been nice getting more involved with the community,” she says. “I hope that more and more people will take a look at what we’re doing and realize that eating good food is actually going to save them money in the long run.”

*To learn which countries mandate labeling GMO products, click here.

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Mari’s Farm: Fueling Yelm With Fresh Produce

Mari’s Farm: Fueling Yelm With Fresh Produce

maris farm 1The first things you’ll notice on Mari’s Farm are the rocks. They’re everywhere – huge, ponderous obstructions-turned fence posts and mini-mounds throughout the property. When Mari Mankamyer and her husband Tim Mann started the farm in Yelm’s Bald Hill region, “You couldn’t even get into the soil with a rototiller,” says Mari. “You’d break it.”

Once you understand that the lush, vibrant gardens you’re viewing were the original home of those rocks, you’ll view your hosts with newfound respect and even admiration. After three years of solid work, the farm provides a weekly supply of  fresh produce to the Yelm Co-op, Garden to Gourmet Restaurant, Ricardo’s Restaurant, The Yelm Farmers Market, and Local Flavors Market and Country Kitchen.

For Mari, the idea was born while she was working for her mother Susie Kyle at her kitchen in Centralia.  “I was helping her cut up kale, and it dawned on me that I could grow this,” she says.  “I know how to garden. As soon as I realized that, it wasn’t about selling it, it was just about how much we could produce.” From the beginning, the farm has been her full-time job, with Tim helping on weekends. “Now the farm is paying him for two days a week,” she says.

When they first started, the only thing standing on the property was an old telephone pole. Today, aside from the ever-expanding growing area and the couple’s home, the farm contains two greenhouses, one standard and one aquaponic, to help them grow year-round. “Everything out here is an experiment,” says Tim. “We’ve been testing different methods with making the greenhouses energy efficient and helping the plants grow.”

The aquaponic greenhouse includes three large fish tanks full of tilapia. “We feed the fish non-GMO food,” explains Mari. “Their waste in the water gets recycled through the grow trays, and that’s what feeds the lettuce.”

Despite the labor-intensive nature of their work, both Tim and Mari clearly love what they do. “What’s inspiring is that everyone loves my stuff,” she says. “I haven’t had one complaint about any one of my products because we’re always about quality, quality, quality. I try to pick and deliver in the same day so it’s as fresh as can be. People will have a bag of lettuce that sits in the back of their refrigerator for ten days or so and it’s still good. It holds up for a long time.”

“The other thing we both really like is watching things grow,” adds Tim. “That’s definitely a point of inspiration for us.”

For the future, rather than expanding the number of clients they serve, Mari prefers to focus on growing more of what her current clients need. Ricardo’s needs more spinach, she says, and Garden to Gourmet requires a great deal of beets. In the meantime, she’s grateful for the progress they’ve made. “It’s taken a community to get us here” she says. “If it were just me and Tim, we’d probably still be renting. It’s taken a lot of help from very dear friends and family to make all of this happen for us.” View Photos

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Yelm Crew Investigates Theo Chocolate Factory, With Delicious Results

Yelm Crew Investigates Theo Chocolate Factory, With Delicious Results

theo chocolateWe dare you: try not to think about Oompa Loompas while touring the Theo ChocolateFactory. It’s tougher than you think. Learning about the multiple chocolate waterfalls and large pipes the molten river flows through, it’s hard not to imagine that Augustus Gloop and company might be haunting the company’s Fremont premises. The Seattle-based organization makes the only certified organic, fair trade and non-GMO bean to bar chocolate in North America. On top of that, their products are absolutely delicious, as a contingent from Yelm found out last weekend during a field trip to the factory.

The group included Amy Honey and Jamie Honey of Yelm Bootcamp and a lively gang from New Leaf Hyperbarics. Everyone came away with a new level of respect for what it takes to create chocolate and an appreciation of the exceptional standards Theo Chocolate holds itself to. “All of the work that has to be done by hand before you even get the bean to make the chocolate, that was amazing to me,” says Amy.

Jamie was struck by the emphasis on fair trade. When Theo founder Joe Whinney became the first supplier of organic cocoa beans to the U.S. in 1994, he observed how farmers in Central America and Africa were being exploited, and determined to make a difference. After starting Theo in 2006, he teamed up with actor/director Ben Affleck to create the Eastern Congo Initiative, which provides support for more than 20,000 people living in East Congo. “I loved the fact that every single person along the line is paid well,” says Jamie.

It helps that the chocolate itself is incredible. The tour included samples, and it was hard to pick a favorite, but both Jamie and Amy commented on the milk chocolate with chai spices and the ganache with strawberry jalepeno.  They highly recommend the tour and plan to do it again. “It was joyful, educational, experiential and it tasted delicious,” says Jamie. “What more could you get in an hour?”

Theo Chocolate has its own rack at the Yelm Food Co-op. Try it today!

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Team Co-op Rocks Beer & Brats

Team Co-op Rocks Beer & Brats

beer & brats collageHealth inspectors are not famous for handing out compliments, so it was high praise indeed when Thurston County’s representative pulled Jenn Harshfield aside during the Co-op’s annual Beer & Brats celebration on June 26th. “You have one of the best teams I’ve seen,” he told her. “You’re doing it right. Congratulations.”

Harshfield organized this year’s event, along with 31 volunteers who braved blazing heat to serve over 350 brats to parade watchers and bring in more than $3,800 to support the Co-op. “We had super hero volunteers,” says Harshfield.  “Words cannot express how great they are and how hard-working. They take initiative.”

Glenadine O’Harra was in charge of the kitchen. Like Harshfield, she got involved at the request of Co-op board secretary Marilyn Reardon, and jumped right in despite the fact that the role was new for her. “It sounded like it would be challenging and a lot of fun,” she says.  Also like Harshfield, she can’t say enough about the team. “It went very, very well,” she says.  “Success was really the result a combined effort, with so many great people helping and supporting.”

In Reardon’s eyes, the group did more than just serve food, beer, and wine. “They created a really good time for our community,” she says. “Their good nature, absolute hard work and dedication to the co-op enlivened the whole parade route. We made a lot of people happy that day.”

Congratulations and thank you to the entire Co-op team! View photos of Beer & Brats

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Core Volunteer Moving On After Seven Years

Core Volunteer Moving On After Seven Years

thank-you-540x358Monday shoppers may find themselves searching for a familiar face in the coming weeks. After seven years, Robyn Hawk, one of the earliest supporters of the co-op and a regular volunteer at the cash register, is moving on. Co-op customers will miss her ready laugh and sense of fun, one she has shared with many other long-term volunteers.

Nothing in particular has triggered her departure, she says. “It wasn’t at all premeditated. I love working at the co-op. But one afternoon, it just jumped into my head.  It was so clear to me that it was time to move on.”  That doesn’t mean abandoning all ties, she says, and she doesn’t rule out volunteering ‘here and there’ in the future. Her regular volunteer days are done, however.

Robyn is grateful for her time at the store. “It was a growing period for me,” she says. “The gratitude from the people I worked with, just for having me there was empowering. I’d like to say ‘thank you’ for the many years there and the gratification of being part of it.”

Although she’ll no longer be a regular volunteer, she plans to continue participating in other ways.  “I support the Co-op wholeheartedly,” she says. “I continue to support it with buying.”

In the meantime, she’s seen hopeful signs that a new generation of volunteers is starting to step forward.  “There’s a whole new group of people coming in and I don’t even know half of them,” she says. “That’s great! Change is good.”

Thank you Robyn for all of your effort, humor, energy, love and attention toward the seedling that was and is the Yelm Co-op. It made a difference!

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At Olympia’s Alaffia, Fair Trade=Empowerment

At Olympia’s Alaffia, Fair Trade = Empowerment

alaffiaIt all started with a jar on a shelf. Olowo-n’djo Tchala was shopping at an American health food store when he noticed a bottle of shea butter retailing for $50.00.  Having grown up in the African nation of Togo collecting shea nuts with his mother, he knew how little of that money was making its way to the people who actually gathered the seeds, most of whom earned just pennies. Inspiration struck.

Today, Olowo-n’djo and his wife Rose Hyde own Alaffia, an Olympia-based company which offers over 200 fair trade skin products – most of which contain shea butter or coconut oil. The difference? All of Alaffia’s Togolese employees are members of a shea butter cooperative and paid fair wages. Profits are reinvested in the community through a variety of initiatives they call Empowerment Projects. In fact, Alaffia is currently the second biggest employer in the country aside from the government.

That degree of success might have seemed unlikely when Olowo-n’djo and Rose, whom he met while she was in the Peace Corps, started bottling shea butter in a trailer on Steamboat Island.  The first group of women they contacted in Togo were “very skeptical about the whole thing,” says Kelsey Mayer, Alaffia’s Communications Liaison, “but  eventually they began to trust him and they were able to start.”

From the beginning, the raw ingredients have been handcrafted in small batches and then sent to Washington. Rose, an ethnobotanist, experiments with different combinations to come up with the final products. The company’s first retailer was the Olympia Co-op. “Co-ops are definitely the heart of it all,” says Mayer. “That’s where we started. That’s what we value highly.”

Alaffia’s Empowerment Projects focus on maternal health and education. “One in 16 women will die every year during childbirth or due to complications during pregnancy,” says Mayer “Maternal health is a project that’s near and dear to our heart.” So far, Alaffia has funded the birth of 3,500 babies, many of whom Rose and Olowo-n’djo get to meet when they travel to Togo.

They also sponsor a project called Bicycles for Education. “Students are walking up to ten miles a day to school,” says Mayer. “Eventually it’s too time-consuming. Ninety-one percent of girls in rural areas drop out of school before reaching secondary school.” Alaffia collects bicycles in the U.S., then gives them to the students.  “It shortens their commute, gives them reliable transportation and 95 % of Bicycles for Education participants graduate from high school,” says Mayer.

Alaffia products are currently available at the Yelm Food Cooperative. Every item you purchase will contribute to a greater quality of life for a fellow cooperative member in Togo. If you’d like to learn more about the company’s empowerment projects, visit www.alaffia.com.

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Join Us for Beer & Brats 2015!

Join Us for Beer & Brats 2015!

Elaborately beer and brats1festooned horses, humorously decorated tractors, flipping and tumbling children – they’re all part of the annual Yelm Prairie Days Parade that kicks off the three day Prairie Days celebration. Now in its third year, the Yelm Co-op’s Beer & Brats event offers spectators a chance to enjoy the procession with bratwurst in hand while sampling local beers and carefully selected wines. It  will run from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.at the Yelm Co-op on Thursday, June 25th, with the parade starting at 7:00 p.m.

“We’re really excited about it,” says event manager Jenn Harshfield. “Unlike last year, it’s supposed to be 83 degrees and clear. We’re looking forward to serving a lot of folks.”

Beer & Brats is one of the Co-op’s largest annual events, with proceeds after cost going to support programs and priorities such as upgraded equipment. Volunteers have been meeting on a weekly basis to prepare. “The team is amazing,” says Harshfield. “Many of them have participated before, but some are new.” Harshfield, an advertising consultant with The Nisqually Valley News, became involved after board member Marilyn Reardon approached her last year. “I told Marilyn I’d be honored,” she says.

If Harshfield has her way, Beer & Brats will become as much a part of Prairie Days as flags and floats. “It’s just about having a good time,” she says. “We want everyone who visits us to come again next year.”

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Find Out What’s on the Co-op’s Wishlist

Find Out What’s on the Co-op’s Wishlist

child with dandelionIf you’ve ever wanted to play Santa in the summer, now’s your chance. It’s not Christmas yet, but the Yelm Food Co-op has a wishlist of items that will advance our ability to best serve our customers. We’re looking to upgrade and/or add equipment and features that will make shopping more convenient while adding new options (fresh ground almond butter, anyone?). All donations are tax deductible. Any amount will help!

Here’s how it works:

When you shop, you’ll have two ways to donate.

  1. Contribute a specific amount of your choosing toward a specific item.
  2. ‘Round up’ your purchases to the nearest dollar.

The Wishlist

Item: New Deli Scale. This is used to pre-weigh bulk items that are repacked, like dried mangos, raisins, frozen meat and fish from local vendors. etc. The scale tells the customer exactly what the item weighs, the cost per pound, and the exact cost of the item.  It will also tell the customer the ingredients of the item like Euphoria Chocolates.
Purpose: We hope to be able to sell sandwiches made in-house next year, which will require an ingredients list.
Cost: Approximately $1,200.

Item: 2 New Freezers, each 2-door:
Purpose: We want to expand our frozen offerings to include frozen desserts and prepared meals, including frozen pizzas.  With this expansion we hope to offer frozen peas and corn in bulk as well
Cost: $10,000

Item: Bulk Department Upgrades
Purpose: We want to replace old worn out bulk bins, expand our selection and include bulk liquids, nut grinders, etc.
Cost:   $4,000

Item: 2 touch screen monitors for the Point of Sale (POS) upgrade.
Purpose: 2 computers with Win 7 Prof were donated and we need to upgrade the POS registers.  To finish this out we need 2 touch screen monitors of approximately 12″.
Cost: Approximately $600 each.

Item: Store Signs
Cost: $2000-$6000

Item: Aisle Signs
Cost:  Approximately $700
Item: Finish the Wine Cellar wood shelving.
Purpose: Finishing the wood build out for the displays in the Wine Cellar.
Cost: $8,000
A bid for this will be in the Aug/Sept newsletter.

All donations will be specific to each item unless you’d like to make a general contribution, which will be applied to one of the items on this list. The best way to support this effort is financially. Please do not purchase an item and drop it off unless it is specific to our needs and has been pre-approved by staff.

Starting with the Aug/Sept newsletter updates on these items and the money collected to date will be posted. Thank you for your support!

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Yelm Cooperative June Board meeting rescheduled

Due to several Board members being unavailable for the normally scheduled June 11 meeting, it has been rescheduled for June 18th.

We meet at Rosemont Retirement and Assisted Living at 6:00 p.m. There is always a few minutes of public comment time at the beginning of each meeting. If you’d like to address the Board, please email yfcstrategy@gmail.com to set this up.


The Yelm Cooperative Board of Directors

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Business After Hours a Sweet Success

Business After Hours a Sweet Success

bah signSome guests of the Yelm Co-op’s Business After Hours woke up with truffles on the brain. That’s not surprising, given the culinary tour de force put on by local chef Dawn Young, who created a variety of simple but unique appetizers for approximately 20 visitors from the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday night.

“We are so amazed by the generosity of the Co-op and the support their members provide,” says Chamber Administrative Assistant Line Critchfield. “It’s impressive to see an event like this go off so smoothly and have such great turnout.”

Board President Bill Wyman was also happy with the event. “Everybody who was there had a really good time,” he says. “It’s great to be able to show how far we’ve come in such a short time. It’s been just eight years since we were in the parking lot in the Worm Farm.”

All of the appetizers were created using food from the Co-op’s shelves, and Dawn noticed a common reaction. “A lot of people were surprised to find out how easy and healthy things were, especially the desserts,” she says.*

Events like the Business After Hours are important for increasing awareness, says Bill. “Although a lot of the community knows us, a lot of local businesses don’t. We’ve grown consistently every single year since we started.”  

Guests went away with Co-op bags filled with a sampling of goodies the store carries – and a lingering memory. In the words of one wistful visitor, “Those truffles would have made a great breakfast.”

*Note: Recipes are still available through the Co-op.

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Yelm Co-op to Host Business After Hours

Yelm Co-op to Host Business After Hours

avocado trufflesAttention Yelm Chamber of Commerce members! The Yelm Food Cooperative is hosting a Business After Hours event this Thursday, May 21st. Grab this opportunity to explore Yelm’s only natural foods market, learn about the Yelm Farmers Market, and sample some delicious appetizers prepared by Dawn Young, formerly of Early Dawn’s Eatery.
When: Thursday, May 21st from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Where: The Yelm Food Cooperative, 308 E. Yelm Avenue
“It’s a chance to enjoy catered food, become a member of the Co-op, sample wines from The Wine Cellar, or become a donor,” says board member Terry Kaminski. “It’s a forum where everything is available.” Farmers Market Manager Karen Rae will also be on hand to answer questions and explain sponsorship opportunities.
“All of the appetizers will be created using products that come directly off the Co-op shelves and we’ll be providing little recipe cards if people want to go home and replicate them,” says Dawn. “Everything that we’re serving will have no cooking involved, just preparation, which makes them perfect for quick and easy summer serving, especially with graduations and all of the summer holidays coming up.” Note: these will include avocado truffles with cocoa and Himalayan salt, pictured above.
Terry adds that the event will also include several door prizes. Most importantly, she says, “This event is about expanding awareness. We want people to know what the Co-op has to offer.”  

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