Look what showed up in my Twitter feed today. I don’t generally act on organizations’ suggestions that I give them a bit of my attention, but I had already planned to mention the new Eat Wisconsin Fish campaign today, and I figured there was no need for this bit of outreach to derail me.
So, what’s the scoop? As Aaron Conklin describes,
More than 90 percent of the seafood eaten by Americans is imported from other countries. That’s a puzzling statistic for those of us in Wisconsin, where a proximity to two of the five Great Lakes and a fleet of fish farms gives us access to a wealth of delicious Wisconsin fish.
That’s one of the reasons why the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute is using the month of March to launch its Eat Wisconsin Fish campaign, an effort designed to educate consumers about the benefits of eating local fish.
The Institute has complied a wealth of information online. There’s a good dose of boosterism in the campaign, so you’ll have to dig a little deeper if you want the full story. For example, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch rates Lake Trout from Lake Michigan as a fish to “avoid.” As the UW Sea Grant Institute’s website describes,
Historically, lake trout, along with whitefish, sturgeon and herring, were one of the “big four” species of Great Lakes commercial fishing. As early as the 1880s, lake trout numbers began declining, probably due to overfishing and pollution of their spawning areas. However, it was the invasive sea lamprey that nearly wiped out lake trout when the lamprey entered the Upper Great Lakes in the 1930s. Today, Lake Superior supports the only remaining naturally sustaining population of lake trout in the Great Lakes.
Lake trout are a favorite target of sea lamprey, eel-shaped parasitic fish that have no natural predators in the Great Lakes. Sea lamprey have been managed since 1960 by using the selective chemical TFM that kills young lamprey in streams and rivers. This keeps lamprey numbers low, but without continuous treatment the lamprey population would explode again. After TFM treatments lowered the numbers of lamprey, fisheries biologists began restocking the Great Lakes with lake trout. Some remnant wild lake trout populations in Lake Superior remained, and they eventually fully recovered. However, wild lake trout were completely eliminated from Lake Michigan. The lake trout rehabilitation program in Lake Michigan, coordinated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, began in 1965. Since then, 2-3 million yearling lake trout have been stocked each year, funded by the federal government. The fish grew well to adult size, but they failed to reproduce. Finally, in 2013, the Green Bay office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the discovery of a significant number of young and wild lake trout in several areas of Lake Michigan. It appears that lake trout are finally reproducing again in Lake Michigan. While it will still take significant effort to completely restore the population, this is an important step forward.
If you’re a fish eater, do consider local fish. But, like all aspects of the modern food system, it’s worth being curious and getting informed. Consider the pros and cons of wild versus farmed, the problems and strengths of different catch methods, concerns regarding specific species, and more.
Thanks to HuffPost, I recently read Tony Posnanski’s essay titled, “You Can Breastfeed in My Restaurant Anytime.” An assistant restaurant manager, he describes a recent Valentine’s Day dinner rush when a customer complained about bad service, bad drinks, and bad food, and then went one step further: He complained about a breastfeeding patron nearby, who had the audacity not to hide her feeding child under a blanket. As Posnanski describes,
let’s forget the fact that breastfeeding (or feeding a child for that matter) is important for the development of a child. Let’s forget the fact that Florida has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in America. Let’s forget the fact that it is a law that mothers can breastfeed their children in any public location in Florida without any ridicule, covered or not…
Do you think I would ask a mom to go to her car or somewhere away from her family because a man or woman is offended by a breast and nipple? A nipple and breast designed for feeding a child, not for pornography or the satisfaction of admiring them?
I would never make a scene about it nor would I ever allow anyone I work with to do so…. A mom has every right to feed her child anywhere public in Florida. Most people do not know that. Everyone should. It is a law. Moms should know that as well.
I was reminded of a similar story here in Madison that caused a bit of an uproar last summer when a well-meaning-but-in-the-wrong staff member at a just-opened restaurant didn’t respond in the quite the same way. As Jessica Vanegeren reported for The Capital Times,
A breastfeeding mother dining at a new pizzeria in one of Madison’s most progressive neighborhoods was asked to leave her table and move to an area free of customers [after another patron complained], setting off a backlash against the owners that continues to spread on social media….
According to 2009 Wisconsin Act 148, or the right to breast-feed law that took effect in March 2010:
“A mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be. In such a location, no person may prohibit a mother from breast-feeding her child, direct a mother to move to a different location to breast-feed her child, direct a mother to cover her child or breast while breast-feeding, or otherwise restrict a mother from breast-feeding her child as provided in this section.”
In other words, the restaurant patron who is uncomfortable should be asked to move, not the mother and child.
The Madison incident is detailed in full here, the owners’ apology here, and photos of their “free pizza for moms and kids” peace offering here. (For the record, the Grampa’s Pizza is apparently well-worth a visit, despite the early law-breaking.)
The report, published by the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, summarizes 23 studies conducted by researchers in the university’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) in partnership with farmers across the state. The scientists are evaluating production practices for many of the state’s main agricultural products — dairy forages and pasture, soybeans, potatoes, vegetables and fruits, among others — as well as farm management and marketing.
The report also takes a more in-depth look at how some of the organic research projects have benefited the state’s farmers.
The study summaries make for pretty interesting reading. For example, Mitchell highlights efforts to develop an organic, no-till system that’s been 8 years in the making. Another that caught my eye in the report is an ongoing USDA-funded program to develop better organic carrots; as its summary explains,
Significant progress has been made in carrot breeding for conventional production systems, such as breeding for nutritionally superior varieties across multiple color classes including orange, red, purple and yellow. While these high-value carrot varieties are in demand, much of this germplasm has not been improved for organic systems. Organic producers need varieties that germinate rapidly with good seedling vigor, compete with weeds, resist pests, take up nutrients efficiently and are broadly adapted to organic growing conditions.
Last month André Darlington of Isthmus wrote about a mini-boom in alternative beverages here in the Madison, Wisconsin area. His piece mentions Wisco Pop‘s successful Kickstarter campaign to begin bottling their all-natural sodas (which I posted about when the campaign was still ongoing). He also notes NessAlla Kombucha‘s continued expansion, including into the Chicago market.
But as a lover of all things tart, tangy, and sour, what most intrigued me was the arrival of a locally made drinking vinegar. As Darlington describes,
Mad Maiden Shrub is the newest beverage to hit the Madison market. Janet Chen started making a “shrub,” or drinking vinegar, focusing on its health aspects. Chen sources apples for her base vinegar from Turkey Ridge Organic Orchard in Gays Mills and buys honey from Gentle Breeze in Mount Horeb.
Shrubs have been linked to the national cocktail boom. A syrupy mixture of macerated fruit and vinegar, shrubs were a kind of precursor to modern-day sodas and were popular in colonial times. Just add spirits and carbonated water, and you had a fine cocktail….
The most famous drinking vinegar in the U.S. is Som, produced by chef Andy Ricker of Portland’s Pok Pok restaurant, who was inspired by these Asian digestives. [Check out my earlier post when I tried ginger Som in Portland.]
Chen currently makes a potent honey ginger version.
As I’ve mentioned on numerous previous occasions, I fell in love with sour beers several years ago. Thankfully, I’m not the only one, as output and sales are growing across the country and here in Wisconsin.
As we get further into 2014, we’ll be seeing the arrival of new sours from Wisconsin’s craft brewers. Last week Isthmus beer columnist Robin Shepard took a look at the exciting happenings at O’so Brewing and reviewed their Winds of Change, a sour APA. And last month, Shepard’s Isthmus colleague Kyle Nabilcy encouraged readers to “savor the sour.” He offers a brief primer on sour beers and their recent history in the US, and then takes a look at Wisconsin’s near future:
Both New Glarus and O’so of Plover have brand-new coolships, and both brewers are, unsurprisingly, planning on expanding their sour programs.
O’so brewmaster Marc Buttera has plans to open a new brewing facility, and the path to that goal is lined with 750mL bottles of wild and sour beer. “I would love nothing more than doing all funky beers,” he says. “That’s actually the direction our brewery is going to take.”
Buttera has teamed up with Levi “Funk Factory” Funk, an aspiring gueuze purveyor, to release four new beers on Jan. 24 at the O’so brewery. Three are sours of limited quantity, hewing to the traditional lambic process “as close as you’re going to get here, in this state.”…
2014 stands to be a strong year for sour beer production in Wisconsin. Beyond the O’so releases, there should be a collaboration on a wild ale from Grumpy Troll and Sweet Mullets, and both lambic-style beers and beers fermented with the wild yeast Brettanomyces from Madison’s own Vintage Brewing.
Linda Falkenstein recently profiled an interesting business operating here in the Madison area. As she describes,
Let’s say you’re coming home from work and you’re frazzled — it’s late and although you have plenty of food in the fridge, you have no energy to cook. So you pop a frozen pizza in the oven or stop at the local take-out joint, and your vows to eat more vegetables and whole grains, and to support local farmers, are down the drain for the day. Sound familiar?
Enter 608 Community Supported Kitchen, a meal-delivery service. Subscribers have two freshly-made meals a week delivered to their door with instructions for re-heating. Food is sourced from local farms and markets; meat primarily from Black Earth Meats.
Chef Benjamin Lubchansky and his wife Kate run the business out of their home in Mazomanie, which includes a certified kitchen. For the full story, including links, head here.
I’ve long been a fan of Black Earth Meats, and I still am, given their commitment to promoting and distributing sustainably and humanely raised and processed meat. (Madisonians should check out their new shop, the Conscious Carnivore.) That said, Falkenstein deftly details some of the complexities of operating a slaughterhouse in a residential area. She opens her article this way:
Mary Mickelson lives two houses away from Black Earth Meats, a butcher shop and slaughterhouse right in the center of the town that gives it its name. She’s lived in her home for 40 years, during which time the building has always been a butcher shop and meat market.
But in the early days slaughter was one day a week, and the meat was all sold in the store in front, says Mickelson. “It was a mom-and-pop butcher shop.”
“The problems started about three and a half years ago,” Mickelson says, when Black Earth Meats’ business started to take off. Volume increased, says Mickelson. Problems she cites include noise from animals waiting for long periods in trucks, before being led into the slaughterhouse; animal parts remaining after slaughter or being poured into trucks; remnant pieces falling in the street; blood dripping from trucks or bins; and odors, especially in warm weather.
Falkenstein notes other occasional problems that have cropped up in the last 5+ years, but points out that
[Black Earth Meats owner Bartlett] Durand took over in 2008 and emphasized antibiotic- and hormone-free organic and grass-fed meats. The facility is considered suitable to slaughter animals from Wisconsin’s two farms certified by the Animal Welfare Approved program.
The area is currently zoned for grocery-retail, but the slaughtering operation has been allowed, as long as the physical footprint of the business does not grow.
The Village is trying to get the slaughter operation moved out of town. As Falkenstein details, Durand responded with a claim for damages against the Village, alleging that “‘frequent…and unsupportable complaints’ were made ‘with the stated intent of harassing BE Meats and impeding its business activities'; and that the village board directed deputies ‘to engage in selective and harassing enforcement actions with respect to any violation of Village Ordinances.'”
The full article warrants a read, so check it out here. I’m hoping that the parties can find a way to reach a fair and reasonable solution. As factory farms explode and meat processing operations continue to consolidate into enormous, dangerous, and cruel conveyor-belt operations, our food systems desperately need small-scale, local companies like Black Earth Meats and they farms that they work with.
Marigold doesn’t have the capacity to process and store enough tomatoes in-house, but Marigold Director of Operations Sam Mack hoped there might be a farmer nearby who could provide [tomato juice] for them. After a bit of research, [REAP’s Buy Fresh Buy Local Program Manager] Theresa [Feiner] successfully connected Marigold with Happy Valley Farms in Black Earth, 20 miles west of Madison.
Last fall, Happy Valley owner Kevin Lucey had an abundance of Mountain Fresh Plus tomato seconds – not quite good enough for retail, but perfect for processing or cooking. With this in mind, Kevin approached the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen, a shared commercial kitchen located in Mineral Point. Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen worked with Happy Valley Farms to prepare, process, and package the tomato seconds into vibrant, flavorful, ready-to-sell tomato juice. When REAP made the connection between Happy Valley and Marigold, it was win-win solution for the grower and the restaurant. Marigold Kitchen is proud to feature Happy Valley’s tomato juice in their bloody marys and hopes to continue this relationship.
You can find the full article and other locavore news from South-Central Wisconsin in the current REAP newsletter [PDF].
Dave Swanson doesn’t call himself a chef. He refers to himself as a cook. Yet his vision extends far beyond the plate.
More than 20 years in the making, Braise Restaurant, 1101 S. 2nd St., is the conversation Swanson wants with his community. It includes more than 400 farmers from southeastern Wisconsin, a culinary school and getting fresh foods on more tables. It also means storing more than 10,000 pounds of carrots each season.
Swanson put in the time and elbow grease to create his 80-seat Walker’s Point restaurant. Much of the space is his own vision, though he enlisted an architect to ensure ideas would work. He hand-stained pieces himself. Barn wood throughout the building comes from a farm in Burlington. The building’s original bowling alley floors got new life on the bar, and tables were created from recycled materials.
The interview that follows Kierzek’s introduction is fascinating, so check it out here. For more, watch this installment of Wisconsin Foodie that features Swanson and his Braise Restaurant, and check out this profile in the Chicago Tribune.
The name Sugar Bee might make you think of a familiar sweet, golden, oozy substance, but the choice crop at Sugar Bee Farm is spongy, delicate oyster mushrooms. Sarah Wisniewski and Dave Grow own and operate this year-round farm – the only devoted mushroom farm in Milwaukee – producing eight varieties. They plan to add bees and honey to their repertoire next.
With the help of a USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) micro loan, Wisniewski and Grow moved into a warehouse space on July 1 and within five weeks had their first harvest. Sugar Bee is the latest addition to Milwaukee’s Green Corridor running along 6th Street from Howard to College Avenue on Milwaukee’s Southside….
Sugar Bee is delivering 50 pounds a week to three restaurant customers right now, although Wisniewski and Grow are hoping to produce a few hundred pounds a week to be fully financially sustainable. “The ability and capacity is there, but we’re still working out the kinks,” says Grow. There is currently room for 800 bags and another untapped room has space for 600 more….
Sugar Bee has its sights set on the Garden District Farmer’s Market, located right across the street, that operates Saturday afternoons from mid-June through mid-October. With significant support from 13th District Alderman Terry Witkowski, the Garden District Neighborhood Association and Simon Landscape Company, there are plans in the works for an urban orchard, a year-round food market and more – which is what originally drew Wisniewski and Grow to the space.
Check out the full story, plus photos by Rob Gustafson, here.