Wild Oats

Mahalakshmi Mahesh Iyer, 2, chooses fresh local produce on a recent trip to Wild Oats Market in Williamstown.

Wild Oats Market and Berkshire Food Co-op are teaming up for “Better Breakfast Month” to promote the benefits of the breakfast items they sell: Organic and GMO-free produce, dairy, poultry, pork and beef directly from neighboring farms, as well as their own house-made bakery options.

Wild Oats, in Williamstown, and Berkshire Food Co-op, in Great Barrington, are about 42 miles apart and are sister co-ops, which means they are owned by their customers/community. And they share the same vision, dedication and passion for locally sourced, healthy, organic, sustainable foods curated within 100 miles.

“No matter what it is, eating food from local farms and producers is all-around the best option — for the Earth, the local economy, the people who work hard to supply that food and your stomach,” said Devorah Sawyer, Berkshire Food Co-op marketing manager.

Supporting small, local businesses is an integral part of the co-op model, along with giving our customers fresher, healthier and more sustainable options than they can find elsewhere, Wild Oats Marketing & Owner Relations Manager Director Scott Menihinick said in agreement with Sawyer.

“Building these close relationships with local farmers and producers is a great way to accomplish this and it also allows us to know much more about how the food we sell is grown, crafted and even packaged,” Menihinick said. “It’s a big win for everyone because it continues to invest so much right here in our community.”

And September is the perfect time to promote the locally sourced better breakfast options — as children head back to school and parents look to create or maintain healthy breakfast habits.

“Bee-ing” healthy: From local hive to jars

This also happens to be the perfect time to sample the wildflower honey made at Rulison Honey Farms in Amsterdam, N.Y. on your favorite breakfast items, said beekeeper Matt Ruilson. Some of their products — which include eight honey varieties — are sold at both co-ops.

He admits that even though they may be a little partial, they believe the honey that comes from this part of the country is not only the best-tasting available, but it also has health benefits because it contains nectar and pollen from local floral sources. That can be beneficial to avoiding and alleviating allergies for those that suffer from them.

“The significance of local honey can not be undervalued,” Rulison said. “Beyond that, the best honey is the one that you are able to use and incorporate into your meal routine with ease.”

Rulison Honey Farms offers both liquid and spreadable products that are raw and local. Spreadable products tend to “stay put” better than liquid honey and work well on toast, English muffins and even as a partial sugar substitute. (But liquid honey works better in hot tea.)

The late summer and early autumn are major wildflower honey production months when there is an abundance of goldenrod, aster, and purple knapweed. The honey produced from these plants is darker and bolder in color and flavor and thus becomes the farm’s Wildflower Honey. The invasive species, Japanese knotweed, is an especially abundant late-season source of nectar for the bees, and it produces dark and flavorful, yet mildly delightful, honey, Ruilson said.

“First, because honey produced locally is much more likely to be a real and natural product without any adulteration,” he said. “It is very difficult to ensure that honey from out of the area is 100% pure, especially those products that come from outside of the U.S.

“Customers should understand that our products are raw and local, produced on a family farm by a handful of dedicated people who are concerned with the integrity of our product,” he said. “Our staff works together from start to finish to manage our bees, extract the honey produced, and pack it in a convenient form for the consumer.

“This whole process takes place ‘in-house’ as we like to say, ‘straight from the hive, to the honey jar.’ We appreciate what the co-ops do for us, we have a great relationship with great people within these businesses who work hard to source and promote great local products, including ours.”

Yogurt and oatmeal are popular breakfast choices. But have you tried stirring a scoop of locally sourced honeycomb into the breakfast treats? That’s just one way to enjoy it, Ruilson said. For more information on Rulison Honey Farms, go to www.rulisonhoney.farm or call (518) 843-1619.

From farm and coop to Co-op

When Narayani Mahesh Iyer of Williamstown plans breakfast for her family, she always heads straight to the dairy aisle at Wild Oats. That’s where she knows she will find a nice selection of local, organic and rich creamy yogurts and other dairy products from farms like the certified organic cow milk yogurt made at Berle Farm in Hoosick, N.Y. The yogurt is sold at both co-ops.

“We like the cow’s milk yogurt,” Iyer said recently as her 2-year-old daughter, Mahalakshmi, pushed a child-sized cart around the produce department. As if to differ, Mahalakshmi grabbed an apple from a bin containing Scott Farm apples in Dummerston, VT., and proclaimed “apple!” before gently placing the fruit in her basket and moving on to the next bin of produce.

Berkshire Food Co-op and Wild Oats Market offer more than 1,000 locally made products.

The co-ops’ dedication means a lot to farmers like Beatrice Berle of Berle Farm, which also produces cheese, organic whole milk and grass-fed beef from certified organic cows. She recommends Berle Farm Cow’s Milk yogurt as an option for a better breakfast. The jars are returnable and sent back to Berle Farm, where they are washed and sanitized with solar-boiled hot water and refilled. There’s also their Berleberg cheese, a certified organic cheese, that has a buttery taste when heated and goes great in breakfast omelets.

“Buying local dairy products contributes to global health,” Berle said. “We are happy for the help and glad to be part of a growing and responsible food community. We would like to applaud the fact that it is working and thank our customers. They are creating a quality based food hub by the shopping choices they make and we are helping them have a better breakfast.”

For more information on Berle Farm go to www.BerleFarm.com or email BerleFarm@gmail.com.

Farmers Michael Gallagher and wife, Ashley Amsden, own Square Roots Farm in Lanesborough, where they produce pasture-raised pork and poultry. Square Roots eggs are sold at both Wild Oats Market and Berkshire Food Co-op.

Their eggs make a better breakfast option in part because they simply “taste better,” Gallagher said. “People are able to know where their food comes from and how their animals are treated. There are also plenty of nutritional benefits from eating pasture-raised eggs and meats, including more omega-3s.”

Gallagher said it’s important for people to understand what they mean when they say their animals are raised on pasture.

“Pasture means green, growing grass and legumes, and the only way we can achieve that is through movement,” he said. “We move our meat chickens every day to fresh grass, and our laying hens two to three times a week. Any chicken in stationary housing will destroy whatever ‘pasture’ it has access to, so terms like free-range and free-running don’t mean what you think. And since “pasture-raised” isn’t a regulated term, the only way to really know what kind of life your chickens have is to know your farmer.”

He has a tip for a better breakfast using Square Root eggs: Stir an egg into your pot of oatmeal when it’s almost done. He said it’s a wonderful way to improve breakfast as mornings begin to get cooler. For more information on Square Roots, go to www.squarerootsfarm.com

But if you’re looking for a different, more savory way to cook your eggs, Schuyler Gail, who is farmer/co-owner of Climbing Tree Farm in New Lebanon, N.Y., says to keep your drippings because the best fried eggs are cooked in pork fat.

Gail should know. She raises heritage breed, milk-fed pigs, which she said is better for you.

“The animals grown on small farms like ours live high-quality lives, and produce healthier, better-tasting meat,” Gail said. “Supporting local farms helps keep land in agricultural use, provides jobs in rural communities, and can increase the health of the land.

“Our heritage breed pigs are raised on pasture and woodland, with constant access to sunshine and forage year round. They are also fed locally grown, non-GMO grain and locally produced milk. We’re a small family farm, just a couple with two kids. Our pigs have been featured in some of the top restaurants in the world, but providing high quality ingredients to our local community is a priority for us.” For more information go to climbingtree.com or email info@climbingtree.com.

More Co-op breakfast options

If you’re a coffee drinker, both co-ops offer multiple locally roasted coffee options like Tunnel City Coffee in North Adams. The espresso blend, Number 50, is inspired by the role of the Hoosac Tunnel train in creating small business opportunities in the late 1800s, according to the website. The coffee roaster is located in the renovated and historic Norad Mill of North Adams. For more information, go to tunnelcitycoffee.com or call 413-398-5244.

So, you don’t eat dairy, you don’t eat meat and gluten is not your friend. Both Wild Oats and Berkshire Food Co-op offer locally sourced vegan and gluten-free options.

In addition to the house-made bakery items that are vegan and gluten-free, both co-ops sell the widely popular BOLA Granola — which is made in a factory at the foot of Monument Mountain in Great Barrington. The stores also sell items from Gluten Free Bakery in Chatham, N.Y.

“All of our granolas rely on oats, almonds and pumpkin seeds for hearty, high protein nutrition and fresh, nutty flavor,” said Michelle Miller, owner/founder of BOLA Granola. “Each serving of BOLA Granola is packed with these three ingredients supported by other organic grains, a little sweet, a little salt and excellent vanilla. Nothing else. We mix it all together and toast it to a perfect crunch… 36 pounds at a time.”

Contributing editor: Erik Deckers