Olden Organics growing the local food movement by growing cultivation kitchen

Ann Goldthwaite


Ripon's Olden Produce workers are shown with a bin of carrots.

RIPON - Olden Produce (DBA Olden Organics) began 12 years ago on a 100-acre, fourth-generation farm that has been in the family for 105 years. It began as a diversified community-supported agriculture and farm market farm producing vegetables, and eggs from chickens and ducks. The first year it had 18 CSA members and attended one farmer's market.

Olden Produce grew to a 250-member CSA and sells its produce at four farmer's markets. Five years ago, it became Certified Natural Grown, which helped with direct marketing sales. It then shifted toward wholesale markets, first to restaurants and some independent grocers. As this area of the business grew, it became necessary to become Certified Organic two years ago.

This certification has allowed Olden Produce to grow its wholesale business enough so that it is no longer offering a CSA share program this coming year. Olden Produce now is at the Oshkosh, Appleton, Madison and Milwaukee farmer's markets and has expanded its wholesale offerings to include fresh processed vegetables. It also sells produce and value-added products wholesale to a number of local grocery stores in De Pere, Appleton, Fond du Lac, Madison and Milwaukee. Many different crops are grown, but the primary focus is on beets, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce and squash (both summer and winter).

Olden Produce is in the running for a national grant through Cultivating Change is a local farm grant program offered by Greener Fields Together. It aims to fund projects and pursuits that will help local farmers do what they’re best at: farming. Qualified growers and aggregators are able to win up to $30,000 annually through an online voting platform and peer review panel. Voting will run until the end of January. Individuals are able to vote for multiple farms each day.

Any funds that Olden Produce might receive from this grant will go toward the expansion of its processing kitchen. It was always the goal that this processing facility would not only help the business grow but allow other local farms and food businesses to prosper, as well. Olden Produce knew for the business to survive it needed to become a more focused farm. This was due in part to the looming implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Centralizing all of the washing, processing and cold storage into one building was critical for long-term success.

With this proposed addition Olden Produce will gain dry storage space so that nothing is stored in the kitchen area and add the cooler/freezer combo directly adjacent to the kitchen. This will allow other businesses to begin renting the kitchen and give workers additional storage making its production more efficient. There currently is interest by an apple orchard for making caramel apples, a personal chef/caterer for prepping and another farm that has a mobile food truck for prepping. This will not only help the local food movement, but part of the original plan to pay for this building was the rental fees which will help contribute to yearly operating costs and payments for the facility.

Being able to make this addition happen this coming year will allow for other local food business growth in the area. There are only two other incubator kitchens in the area and both are often full, with people waiting, and this location is in the middle and more convenient for some users. In addition, it would allow Olden Produce to grow faster. This will lead to the need for more produce than it can grow. Being able to offer growing contracts to other farms nearby is another goal in creating long-term success and sustainability of the local farming community.