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Renaissance Farms Market Dinners



Group Brings Locally Grown, Prepared Frozen Food to Grocers

Wisconsin State Journal — 11/06/08

Renaissance Farm Market DinnersWhen Wisconsin farmers harvest a bumper crop of bell peppers or butternut squash, a new group of frozen-food producers stuffs the peppers with Wisconsin feta and wild rice and bathes squash-filled ravioli in Wisconsin dairy products. Their approach benefits the farmers, their own businesses and consumers hungry for locally produced foods with locally sourced ingredients and no additives.

UW-Extension's Agricultural Innovation Center and Thrive, a regional economic development group, started the pot boiling Sept. 24 with the idea for an ag business incubator.

Mark Olson, president of the Spring Green-based Renaissance Farm, and Peter Robertson, president of RP's Pasta Co. of Madison, provided state-licensed kitchens, and Olson's collaborator, Madison chef Joel Girard, created recipes using the seasonal bounty.

"We came together as a virtual incubator," said Anne Pfeiffer, manager of the innovation center.

Renaissance Farm Market DinnersThey shopped in the virtual marketplace, www.greenleafmarket.com, developed by Heather Hilleren of Madison to connect produce buyers and sellers in the same region, such as RP's Pasta and Fennimore Auction, which sells produce from Amish farmers.

"We just got 1,500 pounds of squash delivered this morning," Robertson said Wednesday.

Robertson is supplying the butternut squash ravioli for a dish Girard developed that includes a cream sauce featuring Montforte gorgonzola made in Montford.

That is one of four Renaissance Farm Market Dinners now available at Metcalfe's Sentry, 726 N. Midvale Blvd., where shoppers also will find lemon basil pesto ravioli with roasted garlic cream sauce and Wisconsin Parmesan, sweet bell peppers stuffed with wild rice and Carr Valley Feta, and acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, cranberries and Cedar Grove butterkase. Prices are $6 to $7 for a single serving in a container that goes from the freezer to the microwave or conventional oven.

Robertson also has his own line of frozen dinners, $6.19 for macaroni & cheese featuring Hook's 3-year-old Cheddar, four-cheese ravioli with roasted garlic alfredo or four-cheese tortelloni with basil & tomato sauce, each with buttered carrots from Tipi Produce of Evansville and available at the Hilldale Sentry store and the Williamson Street Grocery Co-op, 1221 Williamson St.

Olson expects the Renaissance Farm and RP's lines to change with the seasons and expand into other stores as distributors seek to satisfy demands of the consumers that Specialty Food Magazine calls "Lohasians" (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability shoppers). It describes them as "passionate about what they eat, focused on optimizing their health, hungry to know all the facts on food and nutrition, aware of the impact their purchasing choices have on others and on the planet, and not your typical consumers."

Photos by
Wisconsin State Journal