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Purple Cow Organics doing its part to enrich the earth

Sandy Syburg, president of Purple Cow Organics, sees the trend in local, sustainable food production continuing.

Sandy Syburg, president of Purple Cow Organics, sees the trend in local, sustainable food production continuing.

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When Madison’s long-delayed Central Park officially opened to the public recently, folks may have paused to notice the lush grass roof topping its restroom pavilion. For visitors from the farthest reaches of the Badger State (i.e., anywhere but the “surrounded 77 square miles”), such a feature may have seemed at best an eccentricity and at worst a hippie flashback or fever dream. But for longtime Madisonians, who can’t walk a mile in their comfortable shoes without running into a community garden or a farmers’ market, such unselfconscious nods to sustainability are old hat.

So it’s no surprise, then, that the kinds of companies that feed locals’ hunger for organic and sustainable produce are thriving in an era when consumers’ awareness of where their food comes from is growing faster than spring kale.

“There are studies out there ... that show that broccoli, for instance, in this country 50 years ago had almost twice as much calcium in it as it does now.” — Sandy Syburg, president, Purple Cow Organics

And in an age when the word “recycling” trips effortlessly off every tongue from Superior to Beloit, the world’s oldest recycling program is seeing a surge as well. Even New York City — no pristine island paradise — is getting in on the action, with a program designed to turn its famously hard-bitten residents into earthy eco-warriors.

So while it may not enjoy the high profile of some sustainability initiatives, composting is increasingly on the radar of local gardeners, farmers’ market fans, and farm-to-table restaurateurs alike.

The “closed loop” that goes from grower to grocer to composter can be seen at numerous points along the food supply chain, and it’s being celebrated not just on Earth Day but year-round. (See this video, for example, which demonstrates how growers such as Vitruvian Farms in McFarland ship their produce to vendors such as the Willy Street Co-op, which send their food waste to composters like Middleton’s Purple Cow Organics, which in turn sends its compost back to Vitruvian to start the cycle all over again.)

But a new focus on local, sustainable food production — spurred on by popular books, blogs, and websites like Locavores.com — bodes well for businesses like Purple Cow.

“I absolutely see the trend continuing,” said Sandy Syburg, president and co-founder of Purple Cow Organics. “As little as 10 years ago, there were maybe only a couple thousand farmers’ markets in the country, and I know now there’s over 7,000 of them. So farmers’ markets, knowing your farmer, local food, is certainly increasing.”

Along with a desire for more local fare also comes an awareness of what goes into one’s food, said Syburg.

“I think that local growers, whether it’s farmers, CSAs [community-supported agriculture], or homeowners are reading labels a bit more and they are learning about where those inputs into those gardens are coming from,” said Syburg. “It isn’t completely possible, probably, to do it without shipping your needed inputs some distance. The biggest piece of it is the process of feeding the soil, and actually treating the soil as a living organism. Having the soil feed the plant is a millennia-old process, which was lost in the advent of commercial fertilizers, and we began using those commercial fertilizers to directly feed the plant.”

(Continued)

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