Focus on the Producer(s)

Focus on the Producer(s)

by: Nate Furler, Marketing Specialist

It has been nearly three years since I tasted my first Waving Grains cinnamon roll.  It was a crisp day in April 2007 and we were in Decorah for an interview.  I knew there was a Co-op in Decorah, so I was happy to get to finally stop and experience it.  Being a baker, I was drawn to the fresh bakery case.  Among the offerings were cookies, something called a jammer, and cinnamon rolls dripping with maple frosting.  They looked heavenly, and they tasted even more remarkable.  I ate one there and went back and bought a second to take home.  It didn’t make it home.

Four months later, I found myself working for the Co-op and sharing a kitchen with the wonderful Waving Grains Bakery which is still owned by one of its founders – Jo (Berg) Iverson.  In its early days, circa 1992, Waving Grains Bakery paid a per-use fee to use the 4-H kitchen for baking goods.  They sold their products mainly at Farmer’s Markets in Decorah and at the occasional bake sale or Vesterheim event.  The remainder of product that was not sold at the Farmer’s Market was then taken to the Co-op for sale.  The business started small, composed primarily of 4 bakers and a market manager.  Everyone contributed to the collection of bowls, pans and utensils which were the primary tools for creating the many works of art offered by the bakery.  Recipes got their start in these people’s kitchens.  Some were from books, some were passed down and some were even given to them by businesses that were far enough out of the area that this local bakery would not affect their sales.

The majority of Waving Grains products are made with primarily organic ingredients.  Substitution of non-organic ingredients is sometimes necessary due to the high cost of organic ingredients.  Roughly eighty percent of all ingredients used by Waving Grains Bakery are purchased through the Co-op.  Recently, Waving Grains Bakery and Jim McCaffrey (McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita) have combined their buying power to purchase 2,000 pounds of unbleached flour once a month from Swany Flour out of Freeport, Minnesota.  In addition, Waving Grains has been purchasing local honey from Jim Stevens for nearly 20 years, local eggs from Ryan Wangsness, raisins from Tierra Farm, Organic Valley milk and butter, and you better believe there’s real maple syrup in the frosting of those delicious cinnamon rolls.  And get this, the sourdough starter they use to make their European Sourdough bread was originally started 14 years ago from a bunch of fermented organic grapes in a cheesecloth bag, flour and water.

As the business evolved and grew, it was necessary to step up operations and devote more time to the creation of baked goods.  This meant moving the bakery to a more stable location.  This turned out to be the upstairs of Jo (Berg) Iverson’s garage.  It required a bit of modification to meet health code, but once complete, hauling 50-pound bags of flour up the stairs to this second level bakery became routine.  They began with two large deck ovens, before upgrading to the double-stack convection ovens that are still in use in the bakery today.  In 2004 the bakery moved to its current location on the main level of the old Armory building in downtown Decorah.  Up until 2008, the Co-op shared this kitchen space with the bakery.  The bakery now solely occupies the space. Pastries, breads and desserts are sent down the street to the Co-op three times a day – Monday through Friday.  This is what LOCAL is all about.