Go into any supermarket these days and one of the most popular sections is the area where shoppers can get their organic food items. One Howell farmer has started a way to help local residents get that same high quality food without having to brave the crowds and complexities of the bigger markets.
Elaine Taylor said her Shangri La Organic Produce Co-op, which she runs out of her farm bearing the same name, has been a success through its first two months. "My whole concept with this thing is to make it so that it's affordable organic food," she said. "Because it's a coop I'm trying to build communities around food. People want to eat well and they want organic."
While she looks to make the coop an every week endeavor, Taylor said for $25 those who take part get a half share while a full share is $45. There is also an $8 annual fee to be a member of the coop. For that fee members get a bounty of organic items including fruits, vegetables, herbs, milk and cheese.
Depending on the items in the basket for that delivery Taylor said she will also include some extras and a recipe for something special for the members to enjoy. "I figure people can make a soup or they can go in a lot of directions with that," she said.
The idea of the organic coop came around this summer when Taylor started a diet that she realized could help other people lose weight like she did. "The food is prevalent in the summer. It's just everywhere," she said.
With organic food, Taylor said there are no chemicals or herbicides or pesticides used on the various items. On her farm, Taylor said she uses "regenerative methods," which includes composting and other natural ways to treat the soil.
Especially during the winter, Taylor said this program can offer members some food items they might not otherwise have gotten. "Now is the time to get citrus and they have specials so we try to buy things that are in season," she said.
When the distributor brings her the food on Thursday, Taylor said she then divides the items up so each member gets their fair share. Especially in these first few weeks she said the members are excited to pick up their baskets and see what awaits them for the next two weeks. "Sometimes people are just excited to see what's in the box," she said.
In addition to looking to make the program available every week, Taylor said she also has loftier goals as it grows. That includes offering homemade items like pies and pastas to make the baskets even more bountiful. Even without that, she said members are happy with what they are receiving. "Depending on the size of your family it goes a long way," she said.
Working on ways to show what farming can do to help a community is nothing new for Taylor. She currently serves as the secretary of the Southard Grange all of which keeps her very busy and involved. "Teaching is so important," she said. "I think everyone should know how to grow things," she said.
Looking at the greenhouses she has on her property, Taylor said she wishes everyone would have that to help them eat healthy. "They'll eat greens all winter and it's not heated and they're all cold hearty greens," she said.
Since not everybody can grow their own food, Taylor said she is glad to be able to provide what she can. "I think people like the experience of going to a farm and knowing where their food grows," she said.
Through the first three deliveries, Taylor said her initial efforts have been a success and rewarding for her as well. "I want people to eat well and I want to eat well," she said. "I want to feel confident about it and in this economy it's extremely important to me that people be able to afford to buy food."
In the early stages of the program, Taylor said she has done much of the work with her significant other Rick Pier and a select group of other volunteers. "We're working at it and I have interns that come," she said. "We've been blessed with people, friends and neighbors and everybody gets on board and helps out."
In the future she said she would like to see more people get involved in any way they can. "There's always something to do around here," she said.