Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of traveling out to Pigeon, Michigan to meet up with the folks from Triscuit and The Cooperative Elevator Company. The premise of the trip was to celebrate the wheat harvest among the fields where the wheat for the crackers is sourced.
Triscuit has been around for over 100 years. Their original crackers start with three simple ingredients — 100 percent whole-grain wheat, oil, and salt. Deliciousness doesn't have to be complicated nor require a slew of ingredients. For Triscuit, "delicious doesn't come down to more things, it comes down to the right things."
Our first event was an informal meet-and-greet reception with Scott Gordon, CEO of Cooperative Elevator Company. "We have a great story to tell," he told us, "but we just haven't had the chance to tell it." The wheat that is weaved into each Triscuit cracker is sourced from farming suppliers who strive to adopt farming best practices and work toward continuous improvement.
Kailey Clark, senior brand manager for Triscuit North America, told us: “Triscuit Crackers have sourced the majority of our whole grain wheat from the Cooperative Elevator Co., a group of local farmers in the Thumb of Michigan, for over 10 years. Their hard work and passion for growing quality, delicious ingredients is just one of the many reasons we’re proud to call them part of the Triscuit family.”
We headed on over to the Cooperative Elevator Company site in Pigeon. There we were given a tour and educated on how the company — which its members and employees often refer to as “the Co-op” — functions. The company was formed more than 100 years ago and is owned and run jointly by its members; more than 1,000 farmers hold ownership in the company today.
The Co-op believes there’s strength in unity; they help out when a farmer is stuck out in the field and needs fuel or help with equipment, and they work as a team to get the job done.
The program that Triscuit and the Cooperative Elevator Company have created allows them to track their efforts to grow wheat in a way that helps conserve water, cares for the soil and improves farming practices. The companies are huge advocates for sustainability, and these mindful practices not only improve the conditions for the wheat that is harvested for each delicious Triscuit cracker but also ensure a better yield and outcome for the farmers.
As we toured the facility one thing that the company’s vice president of agronomy, Dan Armbruster, had said really stuck with me. “This is just what we do. We take it for granted because we grew up here. It gives us a sense of responsibility to not only the growers but also the person eating the Triscuits. We want to do our very best to provide the very best.” I couldn't help but smile and feel assured that every single box of Triscuit I had eaten or would eat was made with care and conscience.
Vidushi Bhargava, senior associate brand manager for Triscuit North America, gave a presentation on “The Life of a Triscuit.” They start with wheat berries from the very farms I was standing in earlier that morning. The berries are then boiled and shredded. The wheat shreddings are then woven together, cut, formed, salted, and baked to perfection. Non-GMO canola oil is added and then they are packed up for shipment.
Later that evening we headed to a farm-to-table dinner at the Kretzschmer Family Farm prepared by James Beard Award-nominated chef James Rigato of Mabel Gray.
What I loved about all the foods we were treated to was that each dish had at least one locally sourced ingredient.
When dinner was all done and we were all letting our full bellies rest, I got the chance to talk with Rigato for a bit. I've met a lot of great chefs in my life and Chef James is one of the coolest and nicest I’ve encountered. I can't wait to head back out to Michigan just to eat at his restaurant and catch up with him again!
For dessert, Mabel Gray’s pastry chef, Kristina Conger, delivered these crazy brownies that seriously made me want to grab the tray and run for the fields with them just so I wouldn't have to share them!
Quickly the sun started to set and the bonfire was lit. As we gathered around the bonfire, the karaoke started and non-stop laughter began. You have not lived, folks, until you've karaoked out under a million stars in the middle of a farm in Michigan! These people seriously know how to have one heck of a good time!
As the sun rose on our day of departure I woke up to a sense of peace and comfort. I had learned about more than just how crackers are made — I learned about the people behind the brand and how those real people make a difference in what we snack on by ensuring that the best practices are in place.
This was my first trip to the beautiful town of Pigeon, Michigan, and it most definitely will not be my last. You can't help but swell with American pride as you ride past the crystal blue lakes and the fields of golden wheat swaying rhythmically in the wind. There's just something honest, simple, and genuine there.
Travel and accomodations were provided by Triscuit, opinions are my own.