Live well on what you eat

Keweenaw Co-op promotes good health with fresh, local produce

Danielle Drake/For the Gazette The fresh produce section at the Keweenaw Co-op features a wide array of fruits and vegetables that are provided by local farmers in season.

The Keweenaw Co-op, located on Ethel Avenue in Hancock, is a convenient place to find fresh, local produce as it is currently partnered with five local farms that supply a majority of their fruits and vegetables through the months of late May to September.

Farms in the Keweenaw such as Osma Acres Farm of Houghton, the Gagnons in Atlantic Mine, Jaehnig Gardens in Houghton, Gary Hughes in Calumet and Bylers Farm all contribute to the produce section of the Keweenaw Co-op, supplying everything from fresh kale and salad mixes to culinary herbs and peppers.

Curt Webb, the co-op’s general manager, explained its mission, saying that while they do work to provide the community with fresh produce, they also hope to educate consumers about what they are eating and how to stay healthy.

“Just being a place where local farmers can aggregate their product and providing a one-stop shop for customers as opposed to going to numerous farm stands, we make some efforts on the education side of things and try to provide recipes or other nutritional information,” Webb said. “I would say part of our mission is to help build a resilient food system. … I think, too, it’s an education opportunity for the community to know where their food is coming from, get to know who’s growing their food, kind of understand a little more about that system.”

In using local suppliers, the Keweenaw Co-op cuts back on transportation costs while also providing a broader array of fresh produce and keeping the profits in the local economy.

Research also shows that the fresher the produce is, the more rich in nutrients it is. According to Kelsae Fitzpatrick, a research dietician at the Upper Peninsula Health System, buying local fruits and vegetables is exactly what we should be doing.

“Fresh produce is definitely something that most people don’t eat enough of, pretty obvious here in America,” said Fitzpatrick, “I recommend at least five to seven servings a day. Most people get less than one, which is pretty surprising. … The really nice thing about eating locally — and seasonally — is that you are getting it right when it was picked, so therefore there’s more nutrients in it.”

Taking advantage of eating locally grown foods during this summer season is specifically beneficial to your health as freshly picked fruits and vegetables are low in calories, high in fiber and high in minerals and vitamins. Additionally, sticking to a diet of fresh produce can help with weight management and reduce your risk of diseases.

“Whole fresh fruits and vegetables are a really great source of fiber which can therefore lower your risk for cardiovascular disease,” Fitzpatrick explained, “Fruits and vegetables also have phitochemicals, which can act as an antioxidant (which is) so super-important for your health.”

Also according to Fitzpatrick, there are a number of easy ways to increase your fruit and vegetable intake. She recommends to try and make half of each of your meals fruits and vegetables, whether it’s by adding vegetables to your wrap, topping your cereal with fruit or choosing fruit for desert.

To encourage kids to become more health conscious when choosing what to eat, the Keweenaw Co-op has implemented a Co-op Explorer’s Program for children 12 and younger. Through this program, kids can sign up, regardless of whether or not their parent is a member of the co-op, and they will receive a little passport book with which they can get a free piece of fruit monthly. Currently there are over 300 local children participating in the program.

“It gets them engaged in the idea of fresh fruit and vegetables,” Webb said. “We really feel like starting them young is the thing to do and getting them interested and excited by that.”

Unlike a grocery store, a cooperative is set up so shoppers can also be members and own stock in the store. For $200 anyone can become a member of the Keweenaw Co-op. With their membership they are allowed to vote and serve on the board of directors, participate in quarterly owner appreciation discounts and earn a share of profit return.

“Beyond just the being a part of an alternative business and being a part owner of a grocery store, there are some economic benefits that people see as well,” Webb said.

Webb also commented on the harvesting season in the Keweenaw, saying that in recent years he has been impressed with local farmers’ innovative ways to extend their growing season. Some farmers have installed green houses, while others have focused on storage crops, sometimes allowing them to keep crops going into late November and early December.

“One thing that I was impressed with last fall is that local farmers are managing to extend the season a little bit more with some greenhouses, and also there are more people focusing on storage crops. … I feel like that’s progress,” Webb said. “Our season is longer than it used to be.”

Other places that provide an abundance of fresh produce along with the Keweenaw Co-op include the many local farmers markets and roadside summer stands. While they may not be open daily, farmers markets are a great way for the community to engage with local farmers and directly see where their produce is coming from. There is a farmers market located by the Portage District Library in Houghton every Tuesday, the Tori Market in Hancock sets up every Tuesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a farmers market on Main Street in Calumet happens every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and another farmers market recently opened in Lake Linden Park and will take place every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.