MONTICELLO, Wis. – Taking a new approach to local food production and distribution is the vision of the Community Kitchen Co-op. Based out of a building being remodeled in Monticello, team members will be making deliveries of locally produced food. They’ll prepare ready-made meals and distribute them to “eaters” as well as pick-up locations in southern Wisconsin.
The co-op was formed by a group of southern-Wisconsin farmers and kitchen professionals who also belong to the South Central Chapter of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. For years they had shared common concerns about the future for small-scale farmers and their rural communities. They also wanted to provide greater community access to nutritious food. What they heard from consumers was a desire for tasty and nutritious prepared meals, said FL Morris, who owns and operates Grassroots Farm LLC near Monticello.
Morris founded Community Kitchen Co-op with Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm near Brodhead, Danielle Matson of Monroe, Arlo Paust of Blanchardville, and Danielle Dockery of New Glarus, Wisconsin. Ends is a veteran of the organic-community-supported-agriculture community. Matson is a trained pastry chef. Paust is an expert in fermentation and a local historian. Dockery raises layers, meat birds and lamb. She also holds a culinary degree.
Ends is the co-op’s founding board president and Morris is the treasurer. They’re joined on the board by Matson as vice-president and Paust as secretary. Gail Carpenter provides administrative, food-preservation and bookkeeping support.
The board works with Kelly Maynard, a cooperative-development specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Center for Cooperatives. She helped the board with articles of incorporation and establishing bylaws. She recently helped draft a membership agreement and is helping the board plan the execution of the co-op’s first annual meeting.
Community Kitchen Co-op is using a community-supported-agriculture model where farmers, workers and customers will share costs. Customers will pay a month in advance; the program will begin with meal-share portions of four meals per week – two lunches and two dinners. Meal-share and add-on ingredients will be sourced from a minimum of 90 percent family farms within a 150-mile radius of the co-op’s base in Monticello.
“We’re excited about the co-op and its future, and have heard many of our non-farming friends share their excitement about it being a great initiative for our small community,” said Jacob Marty of Green Fire Farm near Monticello. “And we’re excited to be part of an initiative that will benefit the local community and strengthen the local food system while also working with our friends and community members.”
Marty will supply the cooperative with 100 percent grass-fed beef and lamb as well as organic eggs and pasture-raised organic-fed pork, chicken and turkey. He and his partner, Carly Epping, also plan to be patrons.
“We’re also planning on being members of the co-op by serving on the producer committee to help with farmer communication, pricing, support and buying arrangements for other producers,” he said. “We’ll also be on the kitchen and logistics committee as well as helping with meal planning and distribution.”
The prepared-meal model will provide consumers with convenience, and will help participating farmers and workers. A weekly-changing menu based on seasonal supply will help farmers from an inventory perspective. It also will showcase more products, and help customers expand their tastes and preferences, he said.
“It seems simple but it really shows how the Community Kitchen Co-op will work to support farmers and customers simultaneously,” he said.
Grace McLaughlin and Harry Pulliam of Piranga Plants and Produce, a chemical-pesticide-free farm near New Glarus, Wisconsin, will supply garlic to the co-op. They’ve already delivered about a half-dozen varieties of the 13 garlic varieties they grow, for the kitchen team to evaluate.
In addition to garlic – which is their main crop – McLaughlin and Pulliam grow more than 15 varieties of tomatoes and about a dozen other types of vegetables. A native of California, McLaughlin in the 1980s grew vegetables in California’s Humboldt County. She also was a member of the Arcata Cooperative, officially known as the North Coast Co-op.
“The whole idea of cooperatives is dear to our hearts,” she said.
Pulliam added, “The ethos behind the Community Kitchen Co-op is people growing good food without it costing an arm and a leg.”
Before deciding to launch the co-op, the founders conducted a six-week pilot program in November and December 2020.
“That helped us practice working with each other,” Morris said.
Maynard was a customer in the pilot program.
“As a working parent I appreciate prepared meals,” she said. “They’re about the best present I could get.”
Customer feedback indicated that prepared meals were desired so the board decided to offer prepared-meal shares. If customers want separate food items they can order add-ons. Community Kitchen Co-op states that “all meals are seasonal vegetable-heavy, omnivorous and optionally gluten-free.”
Ends said, “Chefs will need to adapt to what’s in season, with the caveat that things can change.”
The meals and add-ons will be available for home delivery or pick-up at the store in Monticello; other locations are still being determined.
Visit www.communitykitchen.coop for more information.
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.