On a cool spring morning in May, Rena Basch’s biceps are evident as she totes big boxes into the processing kitchen at the Washtenaw Food Hub. Rena may be tiny, but she’s mighty! She’s the driving force behind an innovative, and mostly organic, winter time Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business called Locavorious.
Locavorious CSA members pay upfront before the crops are even grown, in exchange for knowing that they’ll be eating the sweetest Michigan asparagus and peas in January and the most beautiful raspberries and peaches in March.
The pink-stemmed rhubarb in the boxes comes from farmer Wayne Havens, a “crazy character” who owns Green Bush Farm in Belleville, Michigan. He’s one of nearly 2 dozen farmers who supply Locavorious with the Michigan fruits and vegetables Rena’s team will be hand-processing and freezing for CSA and retail customers.
Perhaps even more important than driving business to the many farms she works with, Rena runs Locavorious as a “triple bottom line” enterprise.
It’s an approach she describes as “considering positive outcomes for people, planet and profit in all of your business decisions. Not just profit – sustainability for people, the planet and the business.”
For example, Rena’s ethos with the “people” aspect of her triple bottom line approach is to “pay higher than typical wages. Never try to squeeze growers on price. And create an inclusive and positive work environment.”
After the rhubarb, Rena’s staff will move on to asparagus, peas, strawberries, beans, corn, tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, peppers, raspberries, and finally winter squash.
From June through October, literal tons (annually 8,000-12,000 pounds) of seasonal produce is slowly squirreled away in the Locavorious freezer, saved for the dark winter day when it feels like all hope is lost. All the delicious seasons captured in a ziploc package, ready to eat.
Rena’s team of up to 8 part-time employees will wash, chop, and package up those tangy rhubarb stalks into clear plastic sleeves with the springy Locavorious logo emblazoned on the front.
Young people looking for work in the good food movement get their start learning kitchen skills to fill Locavorious packages, practicing food safety, knife skills, and production line processing. CHS Group, a group of physically and mentally challenged adults find a welcoming environment and paid work at Locavorious, handling tasks like labeling, weighing and sealing bags of frozen fruits and vegetables.
Rena says her ethos with the “people” aspect of her triple bottom line approach is to “pay higher than typical wages. Never try to squeeze growers on price. And create an inclusive and positive work environment.”
Soon it’s July and Rena’s hatchback is loaded with bushel baskets of ripe peaches, and that floral intoxicating smell. And that soft fuzz. Transporting the just-picked food from her farmer friends is a job Rena saves for herself. A lot of effort goes into it, but in a world where most frozen food goes to China and back for cheap processing, her transparent package, the names of the farms, and the heavenly flavor are things that make Locavorious unique.
As for the “profit” of her triple bottom line, she works to “balance the customer’s desire for organic with the reality of the grower’s challenges and the cost for organic certification, and consider sustainability in buying decisions.”
In August she buys organic sweet corn, not just in bushels but giant crates. The corn is organic with a small “o,”not USDA Certified Organic but the farmer uses all organic practices. The heavy green ears are shucked by hand, then steamed by hand, and the yellow kernels are cut by hand, in small batches. It’s so tender. The sweet corny flavor is summertime in a package. The piles of corn husks and cobs are sent to feed a farmer’s pigs, and what doesn’t go to the pigs goes to the worms in the vermi-composting system at the Food Hub.
Rena says that the “planet” aspect of her triple bottom line is to do “everything we can to minimize our carbon footprint. We buy as much Certified Organic, organic practice, or ‘naturally grown’ as feasible. And recycle everything that can be, and compost all food scraps.”
September brings tomatoes and peppers, and then things wind down at Locavorious with the winter squashes in October. Each season brings something new, and so does each year. Last year it was scaling up frozen fruit production with a pilot program with University of Michigan Dining. Locavorious supplied frozen Michigan blueberries to eight UM kitchens for yogurt bars and baking.
When I ask Rena why she wanted to be part of Taste the Local Difference, she responds “the sentence ‘you can taste the local difference’ is one I say often! I truly believe that local food tastes better, and is healthier for people and the planet. I love the TLD community approach to marketing, and I believe in working together to promote local food.” That’s part of the triple bottom line too.
There is still time to sign up for your own winter CSA with Locavorious. You can find more information at www.locavorious.com
Kim Bayer is the Local Food Coordinator for SE Michigan with Taste the Local Difference. This story was originally printed in the first edition of the TLD Guide to Local Food in SE Michigan. Contact her at [email protected]