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Step up your kimchi game with Korean kimchi pepper flakes, Korean red chile pepper (or chili pepper), Gochugaru, or simply Hot Pepper Powder — some of the many names you will encounter for the essential ingredient in amazing kimchi or Gochujang, a fermented pepper paste. First, let’s get to know what makes this pepper powder special.

In our book Fermented Vegetables, we suggest folks use standard red pepper flakes to spice their kimchi — our reasoning was that often the Korean powders contain added salt and sometimes sugar and it is difficult to navigate the packaging.

It is also difficult to figure out the source of the peppers; many are grown in China and it is often unclear where the pepper is from. However, the standard chile flakes available in market spice sections are generally much hotter than the traditional gochugaru pepper flakes. Because of the difference in the pepper flakes two things happen; one is that your kimchi will be hotter with a much smaller quantity of flakes used. (There is a about a 4- to 5-fold difference).

The other is that, unlike the standard chile flakes that often come from thin-walled cayenne peppers, the gochu peppers (the Korean chiles) have a thick wall like a pimento or paprika type pepper, which acts as a slight thickener in the kimchi as well as that crazy cool red color. Therefore they also add more than heat; they have a complex flavor and a nice sweetness.


It took me awhile to learn that the Gochugaru flakes have various heat levels. That is what I get for not being able to read Korean, and honestly, the English translations on the labels can be off or confusing. Some are quite sweet and mild, while other powders in your kimchi will make your head sweat.

If you are at an Asian market or on-line shopping for flakes maewoon gochugaru means very spicy hot pepper flakes and deolmaewoon gochugaru means milder. They also come in a flaked form and a powdered form, which is better Gochujang. However, translations can be off, and finely ground powder can come in packaging labeled coarse.


Confused yet?

Grow your own and make a powder that is beyond anything you can buy. (You know, like the difference between commercial canned tomatoes and home-grown—once you’ve tasted you can never go back.) Last year we grew our own for the first time, well, okay, I need to be honest — our farmer friend Mary of Whistling Duck Farm grew a row for us — she is cool like that. When I test a new garden veggie I grow two or three, she grows a row. I visited the plants regularly, though.

Now that we know the difference, I already have my seeds ready to go for the upcoming season. The most difficult part happens right now — finding the right seeds. There are a number of different seed companies that carry this pepper, or peppers that they are calling Korean Hot Pepper or Kimchi pepper, or Gochu (or Go chu) which is the Korean word for pepper. Sherwood Seeds has a variety that we have found to be the most authentic. Some of these are very small peppers, but the peppers you want grow to be about 6 to 8 inches long.

Kirsten K. Shockey is a co-author, with Christopher Shockey, on the book Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables & Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys. She maintains the Fermentista's Kitchen's website and is a regular contributor to Taproot Magazine. Read all of Kirsten’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


cheesy pepper sourdoughOnce again my sourdough starter has come out of the refrigerator, risen from the “dead,” and become a valued member of the family. Dark winter days seem to call out for bread, and while straight dough breads are lovely, nothing can compare to a tangy sourdough loaf.

I got back into the sourdough habit with a few tried and true recipes like my Best Ever Oatmeal Sourdough and Zaatar Bread. Then I was ready to start experimenting again. The cupboard was a little bare, but I did have some aged Havarti. Aged Havarti, unlike its creamy counterpart, has an intense flavor that complements the sourdough. Pepper of all sorts also enhances the cheesy flavor, so don’t be tempted to leave it out.

Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

It really isn’t difficult to make your own sourdough starter. You can use the method I prefer, found on my website Make Your Own Sourdough Starter. Or follow the methods found in earlier MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles, including Creating Homemade Sourdough Bread From a Starter Mix, and a previous blog post, A Beginner’s Guide to Sourdough.

For this particular recipe I used a rye starter. You can make your own rye starter too by following the steps in this post: How to Make a Specialty Starter.

How to Revive a Dormant Sourdough Starter

If your sourdough starter has been hanging out in the back of the refrigerator for a while it may need a boost to get it going again. Sometimes you can just stir it up, feed it 1/2 cup of flour (rye flour works well here) and 1/4 cup filtered water, and let it sit on the counter overnight. If that doesn’t work it may need more intensive first-aid, like you can find in How to Revive a Dead Starter.

Cheesy Pepper Sourdough Bread Recipe


• 2 cups rye sourdough starter
• 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1-1/4 cups water
• 3/4 cup finely shredded aged Havarti cheese
• 1-1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper


1. In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl, combine the starter with all ingredients.

2. Knead until the dough is smooth and shiny.

3. Let dough rise in a greased, covered bowl 3 – 4 hours.

5. Shape into a round, cover and let rise on a parchment lined bakers peel for another 1 – 1-1/2 hours.

6. Preheat oven and baking stone to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Slash the top of the round and slide onto the hot stone.

8. Bake for 50 minutes or until the internal temperature is about 205 degrees. Move bread to a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing.

Uses for Cheesy Pepper Sourdough Bread

Like any other warm loaf of homemade bread, slices of Cheesy Pepper Sourdough bread lathered in butter are the perfect treat. But, if you can refrain from eating the loaf before dinner – difficult sometimes I know! – this bread is especially good served with homemade Lentil Soup or Healthy Potato Soup. Toasted slices make a nice base for bruschetta or a grown-up grilled cheese sandwich.

Renee Pottle is an author, Family and Consumer Scientist, and Master Food Preserver. She writes about canning, baking, and real food at Seed to Pantry. Read all of Renee's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Spicy Kohlrabi Kale Kimchi

Spicy Kohlrabi Kale Kimchi is delicious. Loaded with extra nutrition from kale and sweetness from kohlrabi, this kimchi has a great balance of spicy, tangy flavor. The key to great kimchi is two fold.

The first is using the right chilies. I tried kimchi with cayenne and was not happy. Cayenne didn't have that sharp, clean, upfront heat that I like in good kimchi. I've had trouble finding Korean chilies, but then I tried Tien Tsin Chinese chilies, the same ones used in the classic Kung Pao dish. They have 60,000 heat units (cayenne has 40,000) and a great, clean, snapping bite that really make the recipe taste authentic.

The second key is a bit of sugar, which was a revelation to me. The sugar slightly mellows the kimchi while kicking the fermentation instantly into overdrive. Within days this kimchi will started to taste good and tangy.

Spicy Kohlrabi-Kale Kimchi Recipe


• 2 lbs kohlrabi
• 1 lb dinosaur or other tender kale
• 1/2 head napa cabbage
• 2 tbsp kosher salt
• 1/3 cup raw sugar
• 3 tbsp fish sauce
• 8 cloves garlic
• 1 bunch scallions
• 1-inch piece ginger
• 1/4 cup finely crushed Tien Tsin chili peppers, or 1/2 cup crushed red cayenne pepper


1. Peel kohlrabi and grate. Strip the leaves from the stems of the kale and finely shred the kale and cabbage. 

2. Combine kohlrabi, kale, cabbage, salt, sugar and fish sauce in a large bowl and let rest for 30 minutes.

3. Finely slice white and light green parts of scallions.

4. Peel ginger and finely mince ginger and garlic.

5. Add scallions, ginger, garlic and Tien Tsin chili peppers to the daikon and cabbage mixture, tossing to combine.

6. Pack mixture and juice into a 2 quart or 4 pint glass jars. It should just fit with some juice above the vegetables.

7. Cover with an airlock-enabled lid or a barely tight canning lid. Let sit at room temperature for 4 days, releasing the pressure daily if using the canning lid. Press the mixture down if it rises above the liquid line.

After 4 days, stir the mixture, pack it down, and top with the canning lid. Store in the refrigerator for at least a week before eating. Kimchi will easily last six months in the refrigerator.

Tammy Kimbler is the blogger of One tomato, two tomato. A cultivator at heart, Tammy’s passions lie with food, preservation, gardening and connecting to her local community through blogging and urban agriculture. She eats well and love to feed others as often as possible. She currently resides with her family in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Read all of Tammy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


I have never viewed the making of cheese as a method of food preservation, but many cultures, especially in Europe, use the overabundance of milk produced during calving season in the spring and summer to produce cheese as an important part of their diet. Some of the cheeses are aged and eaten as a source of protein, fat and calcium during the long nights and lean days of those cold European winters, while others are eaten fresh as soon as they are made.

Over the next year, I will dive deep in to the making of cheese and hope that you will join me for the journey. I will start with some soft fresh cheeses (including mozzarella and ricotta in this post), and then move on to the pressed cheeses. To do so, I will need a cheese press — so in another post, I will build one from the parts and components I have in my garage. I hope to post something in the next 2-3 weeks.

Last year, I found a couple of organic dairies in the area that sell raw milk, full of cream that is not homogenized or pasteurized. If you do not have access to raw milk, you can absolutely use milk from your local grocery, but do not use ULTRA-pasteurized milk. During the ultra-pasteurization process, the protein structure is modified and the cheese will not turn out right.

I have made mozzarella with store-bought milk and, while it came out okay, it lacked the smoothness and texture I was looking for. Using the raw milk greatly improved the final product, making it better than anything we could get from the grocery store.

Basic Cheese Making Process

The basic process of making cheese is as follows:

• Form curd from the milk using heat and/or the enzyme rennet.

• Separate the semi-solid curd from the liquid whey.

• Process the curd according to the style of cheese you are making.

The recipe below is simple and requires only a couple of special ingredients. Making ricotta cheese came about after doing some reading and learning that ricotta (which translates to “recooked”) is traditionally made using the whey left over from cheese production. You make the mozzarella, save the whey, and use it to make ricotta. Therefore, you get two cheeses (about 1-1/2 pounds total) from 1 gallon of milk. Not too shabby… 

Let’s get started.

These recipes came from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll.

30-Minute Mozzarella Recipe

Yield: Approximately 12 ounces

Once the curd is made, it is heated and stretched until it is smooth and shiny, at which time it can be stored in cold water or whey.

Ingredients/Special Tools

• 1-1/2 tsp citric acid dissolved in ½ cup cool water
• 1 gallon milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
• 1/4 tsp liquid rennet
• Dairy or candy thermometer
• Rubber kitchen gloves


1. Remove the milk from the refrigerator, pour it in a pot on the counter and let it come to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Once it gets to 55 degrees, add the citric acid solution while stirring the milk constantly.

3. Heat the milk to 90 degrees, stirring constantly.

4. Remove from the heat, slowly add the rennet and stir using an up and down motion for 30 seconds. Cover the pot and let sit for 5 minutes. DO NOT DISTURB!

5. Check the curd. It should have started to solidify and look like custard with a separation or “break” from the side of the pot. If the curd is too soft, let it sit for a few more minutes. Once the curd is ready, using a knife that reaches the bottom of the pot, cut the curd in a cross-hatched pattern, making sure the knife reaches the bottom of the pot. 

6. Return the pot to the stove and carefully heat the mixture while slowly moving the curds with a slotted spoon until it reaches 105oF. Keep the heat low and be vigilant in monitoring the temperature.

7. Once the mixture reaches 105 degrees, immediately remove the pot from the heat and keep stirring gently for 5 minutes.

8. Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a 2 quart microwave safe bowl. The remaining liquid is the whey -- RESERVE THE WHEY TO MAKE RICOTTA. 

9. Put on the kitchen gloves and press the curd, collecting the excess whey in the bowl. Remove as much whey as possible then transfer the recovered whey back to the pot with the reserved whey.

10. Return the curds to the bowl and microwave them on high for 1 minute. Discard any whey in the bottom of the bowl, and then knead the curd to distribute the heat throughout, which makes it more stretchable. Eventually, the inside of the curd will reach approximately 145 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which it can be stretched. This is why you need to wear the gloves.

11. Microwave the kneaded curd for 35 seconds and knead again. Then repeat the process for another 35 seconds. This third time, add a teaspoon of kosher salt, if you like, to the whey before you knead it.

12. The curd should be at 145 degrees by the third heating, so knead and stretch it quickly while it is hot until it is smooth and stretchy. You want the curd to stretch like taffy -- if it tears, it is too cool and needs to be reheated in the microwave.

13. Once it is smooth and shiny, the mozzarella cheese you have made can be cut and rolled into small balls or left as one large piece. Enjoy it warm or cool it down rapidly in ice water and store in the refrigerator. Even if you are storing it to use later, try a little while it is warm. It is really pretty amazing and even better, you made it. Good job!

Using the leftover whey from making the mozzarella and a recipe from the same book, Home Cheese Making, we will make the ricotta cheese. The whey should not sit longer than 2-3 hours. The longer it sits, the more of an acidic taste it will have. I like to use it right away.

Ricotta From Heaven

Yield: Approximately 8 ounces


Fresh whey from making cheese


1. Heat the whey on the stove over medium low heat until it starts to foam and coagulate. You will see the small curds start to form. Do not let it boil. If it boils, it will taste burnt. 

2. Remove from the heat and let it stand for 5-10 minutes.

3. Gently remove the whey and transfer it to a butter muslin-lined colander. Let drain for 15-20 minutes.

4. Collect the ricotta from the muslin and store in the refrigerator. It will be good for about a week.

This is a great way to maximize the yield by getting two different cheeses from one gallon of milk, but you can also make ricotta starting with whole milk, rather than leftover whey. It will be creamier, the curds will be larger, and your yield will be higher. The process is very similar and will be covered in another post.

Cheese making can be an odd mixture of hurry up and wait. For all of them, you go through a process similar to this, but afterwards, things change. The aged cheeses are watched over and nurtured. Time and an attention to detail become the two most important factors as we start making the more complex cheeses. As you can tell, I am no expert, but I am looking forward to learning more, doing some reading and research and a lot of experimentation. Feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions you may have. What worked for you? What failed? Tips, things to avoid, and how well did your cheese turn out? I look forward to hearing from you.

Photos by Jennifer Hudson 

Ed Hudson is a biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of Food Preservation Projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. You can read more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts from Ed here and contact him via emailHe is always looking for comments, new ideas and suggestions.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


cast iron skillet

Home cooks and chefs alike rave about using cast iron in the kitchen. The sturdy, durable skillets are an ideal way to cook a wide variety of meals. A skillet in the kitchen will quickly become integral to your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Why is cast iron so desirable? It is naturally non-stick when seasoned correctly, it can withstand even the hottest oven temperatures, it's durable, and much more. Cast iron can be used in an oven with temperatures up to 500 degrees, making it a great way to cook casseroles and roasts. This also means you can use the skillet as a stove-top grill or do any kind of frying. The iron of the skillet not only will get burning hot, ideal for searing, but it will maintain that heat throughout the cooking process and distribute the warmth evenly across the pan.

A versatile dish, cast iron can fry eggs or toast, cook a steak, or sear up a stir fry. You can often find quality cast iron at a yard sale or antique shop, and because of it's sturdy material it will last you a lifetime.

Not only does cooking with cast iron have all of the above benefits, but it is also going to save you from buying soap. Cast iron is seasoned with oil, so using soap can actually be detrimental to the skillet. While it is a myth that using soap on your cast iron will ruin the pan, it is both easy and efficient to clean your cast iron without soap.

Before you start cleaning or cooking in your skillet, you need to make sure it is properly seasoned. Most new cast iron will come seasoned, but many older pans will need some love before being put in your kitchen and even seasoning new pans is recommended

To season your cast iron, you will actually be using dish soap. You'll also need your oven, a dry cloth, some vegetable oil (flaxseed is best), and a sponge. Heat up your oven to 325 degrees and wash the skillet thoroughly out with dish soap and a sponge. Rinse and dry the pan, and then apply a thick coat of vegetable oil. Place the skillet upside down in your oven and heat the pan up for an hour. After an hour, turn the heat in the oven off and allow the pan to cool naturally before removing it. Depending on the condition of your pan, you may have to repeat this process a few times. The result you're looking for is a smooth, almost shiny semi-matte finish on the pan.

Now that your skillet's been seasoned, you can start cooking in it! There are a few guidelines for maintaining a cast iron skillet. Because it's iron, your skillet can rust and shouldn't be soaked or left with food remains for a long period of time. The general rule is to wash your cast iron pans immediately after dinner, while they are still warm. You can remove food remains with a clean sponge or by using some kosher salt and a dish towel. Use hot water, but no soap.

Once you've removed the food from your skillet, a few quick steps take the place of other dish's scrub down and soapy rinse. Dry your skillet off with a dish towel or paper towels, and take extra care to make sure it is completely dry. Even a little moisture can lead to rust issues down the road. To open the pores in the cast iron and keep it well seasoned, set the pan on your cook stove at a low temperature for a few minutes, until it is heated through. To re-season it, use a paper towel to evenly spread a layer of vegetable oil (again, flaxseed oil is the most commonly recommended) over the pan's surface. Use a dry corner of the towel to remove excess oil, and make sure to always store your cast iron in a dry location.

It might seem like a lot of work to maintain cast iron, but after the initial seasoning it is simply a matter of maintaining a cleaning regime. If you think about it, the quick oiling process to keep a skillet in good season takes only a few seconds more than soaping and the pan's ready to go again.

You'll be amazed how often you turn to your cast iron skillet, for every meal of the day. This little pan will last you a lifetime, and be an a key ingredient in many of your recipes. 

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen currently farms 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Recently she has begun work restoring an old barn and 100 acres of overgrown fields in hopes of farming full time in the future. Find her online at Days Ferry Organics Blog, and read all of Kirsten's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Sourdough Loaf 

This is my go-to recipe for making our weekly bread. It provides consistent, crusty results, uses only three (ish) ingredients, and takes about 40 minutes of active time. It’s also 100 percent whole-wheat/whole grain, which is the rule for bread in our house. Don’t be put off by the 7 hours of time required — most of that is passive time while you wait for your bread to rise. 


 • 5-8 oz of sourdough starter (see note below if you don’t have a starter culture yet)
• 1.5 teaspoons sea salt
• 11 oz filtered water (plus more water for kneading)
• 3-3.5 cups of whole-wheat flour
• Oil for greasing bread pan

Time required: About 40 minutes active, 6 hours passive

Yield: One loaf of delicious, crusty whole-wheat bread

Note: If you think you need to order a starter from the Internet, boil a potato, or use commercial yeast to get a solid sourdough starter, think again! It’s possible to capture the wild yeast from the very air inside your home and coach it into a dependable starter culture. All you need is filtered water, whole-wheat flour, and some time. Of course, if you have a starter already, you’re all set.


1. In a large bowl, measure out the sourdough starter and mix with the 11 ounces of filtered water. Fiv ounces can work if that’s what you’ve got, but I usually use around 8 ounces of starter. With a clean hand, mix until blended.

2. Add 1.5 teaspoons of salt and 3 cups of the whole-wheat flour, mixing with your hand.  If the dough seems really soft (usually if it is a hot, humid day) add the extra half-cup of flour. The dough should look pretty dry and seem like its barely holding together.

3. Pour some extra filtered water in a small bowl and roll up your sleeves. Rather than using flour to knead, you’re going to use water. This crucial step will hydrate the whole-wheat flour and develop gluten strands, both keys to delicious whole-wheat bread. A dough-hook might be too rough on this dough, so I really recommend getting your hands dirty!

Sourdough First Knead 

4. Dipping a hand in the water, start kneading the dough in the bowl. Re-dip your hand as often as seems necessary to pick up all the dry flour in the bowl. After 5 minutes, the dough should be combined and make a rather firm, grainy-looking ball. Cover with a towel and let sit for 5 minutes.

5. Wet your hands again and knead the dough for another 5 minutes. The dough should start smoothing out. Cover with the towel and let sit for another 5 minutes.

Sourdough Second Knead 

6. Wet your hands again and knead the dough for 5 more minutes (last time, I promise!). The dough should now be more pliable and smooth. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 3 hours. Go do something fun in the meantime.

Sourdough Final Knead 

7. After 3 hours, turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Flatten it into a rectangular shape, and then fold each end of the rectangle toward the middle, like an informational pamphlet. At the narrow end of the rectangle that results, slowly and carefully roll up the dough, pressing it together as you go. Place this roll into a greased bread pan, seam side down. Cover with a lightweight towel, then allow to rise in a warm place for 3 more hours.

8. After this second rise, use a serrated knife to cut some slashes in the top of the risen loaf. This will allow the bread to expand evenly while baking. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill an oven-proof container with water (at least 2 cups) and put in the bottom of the oven to create steam (this is what will create your nice crispy crust).  NOTE: Keep a careful eye on this water container. If it runs out of water during the baking process, it can shatter or warp.

9. Bake your loaf for 15 minutes at 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, reduce the heat to 425 degrees and bake another 20 minutes. Finally, take the loaf out of the pan and bake directly on the rack for 5 last minutes to ensure evenly-baked crust.

10. Now, at this point, I’m supposed to tell you to remove the loaf, allow it to cool completely, and then slice. I’m supposed to tell you something about it finishing its internal steaming process. This is what a responsible breadsmith does. But by this point, I’ve been smelling bread for more than 6 hours and I’m not feeling like a responsible breadsmith. No one will judge you if you gingerly slice the searing hot loaf, spread butter and preserves on it immediately and enjoy the fruits of your labor! It will only be hot and crusty like this once, so don’t waste the opportunity.

11. Once it is cool, you can wrap or bag the bread and keep it in a cool, dark place. It will keep for about 3-4 days (if it lasts that long), but because there are no preservatives, it will mold faster than store-bought bread.

Andrew and Michelle Shall run The Redeemed Workshop, a handcrafted soap, art, and recycled good business out of their home in Akron, Ohio. Find them online at Simple Life Homestead.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Maine Farm and Sea Bio 

Local food has gone mainstream and these days each meal poses a question about the source and sustainability of what’s on our plates. Farm-to-table has become a household phrase, emblazoned on restaurant menus and grocery aisle signs alike. These changes feel authentic, rustic, even artisanal, and intentionally small.

Regional purveyors in Maine, though, have combined forces to move local foods beyond their current niche and into underserved institutional settings. Their statewide initiative, the Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative, unites farmers and fishers with distributors and service workers, chefs and consumers. They are gearing up for their first foray into the market, competing head-to-head with some of the largest food industry players in a bid for the University of Maine System food service management contract.

In Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Ron Adams stands in a farm field, a setting that is the picture of agrarian Maine, to introduce the new venture in which he’s playing a directing role as a board member. As the former director of Portland Schools Food Programs, he knows the ropes of institutional purchasing and feeding thousands of mouths every day.

Nearby are the many local producers and providers who, as part of this multi-stakeholder cooperative, will also jointly own and manage the operation. “With increasing demand for locally grown food by consumers and students alike, we felt the time was right to bring local foods to an institutional level,” he relates.

The organizers behind Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative recognize that while markets are filling up with locally sourced consumer goods, institutions lag behind in this trend and opportunity beckons to reach these larger markets.

The other cooperative members by Ron’s side are practitioners who know well what it would mean to scale up local food production. They are ordinary Mainers, low- and median-income producers as well as consumers, who bend to weed around kale and cabbage as they discuss the new venture’s potential impact.

“In addition to providing locally sourced food on an institutional level, Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative will provide farmers and fishermen with consistent demand for their products at predictable and fair prices, enhancing Maine’s rural economies and creating jobs,” notes Marada Cook, who heads up Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative and is a board member of Maine Farm & Sea.

The new cooperative aims to increase community engagement with the university system, and beyond that, to leverage the purchasing power of institutions such as UMaine for maximal economic impact.

Maine Farm and Sea Supporter 

Taking Local Food — and Jobs — to Scale

This goal figures prominently in their discussion and it is part of their strategic plan to provide dining services to hospitals, local businesses, and schools regardless of the outcome of the UMaine System decision. The Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative is thinking big and thinking ahead, and this despite being a start-up formed last year. They are fully equipped to supply a range of major products and will be staffed by talented, experienced food service workers, chefs, and managers.

Six campuses totaling more than 10,000 students are part of the UMaine System contract, and Maine Farm & Sea is ready to provide daily meal service as well as event catering and other requirements of the UMaine contract — all with a hefty portion of local, sustainably-produced ingredients.

Maine Farm & Sea owes its deft positioning to its convener, Jonah Fertig, a developer at Cooperative Development Institute (CDI). He first endeavored to find out how feasible a local, cooperative food system in Maine would be, drawing from other similar experiences in CDI’s portfolio.

The five-year UMaine System contract mandates that 20 percent of food purchased be locally sourced by 2020, a requirement won by an earlier grassroots advocacy effort and one that the Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative recognized would provide them with an advantage over their competitors. Believers in this new venture recognize that Aramark, who currently holds the UMaine System contract, is a tough incumbent.

Maine Farm & Sea submitted their proposal to decision-makers at UMaine on November 4th and was selected as a finalist alongside Aramark and another corporate food provider, Sodexo. They’re awaiting a mid-January decision and are confident that their competitors can’t offer a similar value proposition—and when prices are competitive, that difference can sway decisions.

A Different Model

In the end, it’s this that sets Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative apart. Backed by contributors who are committed and business-savvy, the cooperative boasts a membership comprised of the same producers and consumers whose lives are affected by institutional purchasing decisions. It matters a great deal to their bid — and to their overall mission — that the cooperative is both owned and run by everyday folks. Maine’s institutions can choose to spend locally or they can deny the state’s economy a much needed support system, they explain.

Both Ron and Marada are experts in the impact local food systems can have on Maine’s economy. Under Ron’s supervision, the Portland Public School Food Services Program expanded its capacity, increased healthy food options for students, and added a local foods manager, all of which contributed to the city’s considerable local purchasing. Portland now spends 35% of its food budget on local foods with a goal of 50 percent by 2016. Maine Farm & Sea just issued a report for the city that sets out a plan for providing local foods to local institutions.

Marada grew up picking potatoes on the family farm in Aroostook County, and along with her father and sister turned their family business, Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative, into the largest distributor of local foods in the state. Crown O’Maine is worker-owned and operated, and one piece of a growing movement to keep local jobs and invest in communities.

Unlike traditional companies that generate profits for far-away shareholders, cooperatives such as Maine Farm & Sea reinvest in local economies by returning profits to their members: the workers and consumers who use the co-op. Those same people control decision-making in the co-op, and their concern for their community is a motivating factor to make decisions that keep Maine’s economy healthy.

In a few short months they’ve swelled to over 125 member-owners. The organizers of the new cooperative emphasize this difference. Buying local is important, they argue, and Maine’s institutional buyers will have larger impact by sourcing their local foods from a business such as Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative.

Photos by Nathan Broaddus

The Cooperative Development Institute was founded in 1994 with the explicit mission to foster an inter-dependent dense network of enterprises and institutions that allow us to meet our needs through principled democratic ownership, and that care for community, combat injustice and inequity, and promote conscious self-governance. The cooperative economy is embedded within and helps create a cooperative society aware of its place in a cooperative ecology. Go to the CDI website to learn more.

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