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R.P.'s Pastas Frozen Dinner Debuts
at Metcalfe's Sentry

Isthmus — The Daily Page — 11/06/08

As the local food movement burgeons in Dane County, synergy has taken hold in a really good way. Creative and entrepreneurial advances seem to elicit even more enterprise. A new, locally sourced frozen dinner debuting Friday at Metcalfe's supermarket is Exhibit A in this connectivity. Let's count the connections.

Master pasta maker Peter Robertson, who's been selling his fresh RP's Pasta for 14 years and operating the Fork & Spoon Cafe for two years, is going into the frozen-meal business.

He's collaborating with Mark Olson of Renaissance Farm in Spring Green, the pesto-maker and herb-infused olive oil mainstay of the Saturday Dane County Farmer's Market. To start, under their own labels, they'll make seven frozen meals for $8 and under.

"Consumers are calling for it," says Olson. "Everywhere you look, local foods are making headlines. Consumers want to be able to trust where their food is coming from."

Hence the catch-phrase for marketing the frozen meals: "locally sourced ingredients, locally crafted meals."
Renaissance Farm's include lemon basil pesto ravioli with roasted garlic cream sauce, stuffed sweet bell peppers, butternut squash ravioli with cream sauce, and stuffed Wisconsin acorn squash with feta. Madison chef Joel Girard prepared the recipes.

RP Pasta's offerings feature macaroni and cheese, four-cheese tortellini with basil and tomato sauce with carrots, and four-cheese ravioli with roasted garlic Alfredo with carrots.

The ingredients are almost all local, including squash from Sutter's Ridge Farm in Mount Horeb; cheese from Montfort near Platteville, from the various Grande plants in Wisconsin plants, from Hook's in Mineral Point, from Cedar Grove in Plain and from Carr Valley in La Valle. Tipi Produce, in Evansville, provides the carrots.

The frozen dinners are now being rolled out in the freezer cases at Metcalfe's Sentry in Hilldale, the Williamson Street Grocery and various supermarkets. The official unveiling is Friday, November 7 at a Metcalfe's open house.

"Every part of this project feeds itself back into the region," notes Olson.

Metcalfe's has gone heavily into local and organic food as a way to distinguish itself in the highly competitive grocery business, according to president Tim Metcalfe. Almost 200 different local products, from cheese to bread to beef to wine to produce to beer now line its modernistic aisles.

Easing the logistics of handling so many small vendors (big box supermarkets, in contrast, rely on a centralized warehouse and only the biggest suppliers), Metcalfe has tapped into the Green Leaf Market. The online market site, still in beta testing mode, enables farmers and food vendors to electronically list their wares, prices and delivery dates, and for grocers to place orders directly with the providers.

Thrive, the regional-development group that has identified "artisanal, organic and local foods" as a key sector for future growth in the area economy, is helping Green Leaf founder Heather Hilleren launch the online market, just as it's helping midwife RP Pasta's and
Renaissance Farm's entry into the frozen food market.

Greg Lawless, of the UW Extension, is staffing Thrive's push for local farming. I heard him, for example, brief the Dane County Food Council on Thrive's efforts to promote a local food system. Metcalfe's role in advancing the agenda was highlighted.

The creativity of so many enterprises locking together in common effort will benefit consumers like yours truly. (The state Ag department and the Dairy Business Innovation Center are providing technical support as well.) Soon, instead of reaching into the freezer to pull out a frozen Amy's organic dinner, which is produced in Petaluma, Cal., I can grab a microwavable RP's Pasta or
Renaissance Farm meal and, in the process, support a whole bunch of local purveyors. You can do the same.

Special note should be made of Metcalfe's. Madisonians who normally shop on the east or north side of town may not realize how deeply committed the Sentry store is to sustainability and local food. I had my eyes opened in a recent tour.

The 65,000 square-foot store is entirely powered by MGE's geen-energy windmill program, and those almost 200 Wisconsin-based products brands the store as something special. Just about everything is there, including Cabibbo's Bakery from Stoughton, Harbor City beer from Port Washington, and Harmony Valley produce from Viroqua. The featured beef purveyor is Black Earth's Otter Creek Farm, which is owned by the 2008 organic farmers of the year, Gary Zimmer and family.

Tim Metcalfe owns Metcalfe's with his brother Kevin. They are fourth-generation grocers, the sons of Tom Metcalfe, the late Monona mayor and the man who put the store's Brat Fest charitable fundraiser on the map. (Even Wikipedia has a listing.)

But for all its history, Metcalfe's is rooted in the present and poised for the future. Tim Metcalfe see sustainability and local food as his store's calling card. "It all comes down to how you want to compete in the marketplace," he says. "This is what we think our customers expect from us."