You had me at coop. Did you know there are 3 million cooperatives in the world and they employ 10% of the world's population? According to the International Cooperative Alliance, a cooperative is defined as "a people-centred enterprises owned, controlled and run by and for their members to realise their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations." The National Cooperative Business Association defines a cooperative as "A cooperative, or co-op, buys and sells products or services just like any other business. The difference is a co-op is owned and governed by its members, the people who use it, rather than by stockholders. And, profits are reinvested in the co-op or distributed to its members."
Michigan has a long history growing celery and has done so in a cooperative structure for decades. The Michigan Celery Cooperative was founded in 1951 by farm families utilizing the unique organic rich muck soils of the west side of the state. Michigan is second in celery production to California. The coop produces 65% of the celery sold in Michigan through both retail and food service channels. Additionally, the cooperative invested in primary manufacturing facilities to support sales of celery as a buyer specified ingredient for large food processors.
“The ancient Greeks and Romans harvested seeds from wild celery, also called smallage (Apium graveolens L. var. secalinum). It grew best in temperate climates and in moist soils. The plant stalk and leaves had curative properties and seeds had a strong flavor and scent when dried and when processed into essential oil. Europeans included celery seed into tincture recipes in pharmacopeia and cultivated the crop in gardens by the mid-1600s. Over centuries plant-breeders created celery varieties with taller tastier stalks. Thus, celery shifted from a landrace (a plant evolving in a location over time) to a market garden crop by the mid-19th century. Celery growers in the Grand Rapids area helped make it an international commodity.”
This author reached out to the celery coop as a result of one of our members showing marked improvement of an illness attributing it to their daily regiment of celery-based smoothies. It was evident to those of us observing to acknowledge marked improvement. That made us curious about celery's capacity to heal.
Gary Wruble, General Manager of the Michigan Celery Cooperative confirmed that there is existing and expanding research on the healing capacity of celery. It is known that celery provides the flavonoid Apigenin. Flavonoids are types of phytochemicals in plants that make them resistant to pathogens and radiation from the sunlight. The science is bearing out that those same characteristics, when consumed, also offer protection in very similar ways.
In 2021, Dr. Andrea Doseff of Michigan State University's, Department of Physiology reached out to Gary to share their research on the compounds found in celery. Dr. Doseff's research is focused on the molecular compounds within foods and their application to modulating the immune system. Her team had discovered an increased level of concentration of these compounds in the celery leaves, often a waste product sold in non-traditional food channels. By virtue of their land grant status as a University, she reached out to those in Michigan that may be interested in the results of her research.
Dr. Doseff explained, "many of the chronic diseases we see today all share a common denominator of abnormal response to stimuli. Our work concentrates on identifying natural compounds that would restore immune systems to normal."
Her 2013 published study is a good example of her work and the protections that foods can offer to stave off disease. Full Pub Med Article Link The last line of the abstract is telling. "Collectively, these findings indicate that the dietary compound apigenin stabilizes mitochondrial function during inflammation preventing endothelial cell damage and thus provide new translational opportunities for the use of dietary components in the prevention and treatment of inflammatory diseases." Dr. Doseff's research is attempting to determine the compounds and amounts that support a balanced immune system. "Ultimately, I am trying to establish how we can actually deliver what is enough to control immune system through foods", says Dr. Doseff.
As far as celery, it has the properties to change cancer cells to behave as normal cells. In 2013, we found molecules regulate function in cancer cells. We now understand that leaves have higher concentration of these compounds and has led us to an approved trial in collaboration with Ohio State University. The trial uses celery leaves in breast cancer patients and while interrupted in its start due to the pandemic, it is anticipated to start soon and be completed by 2023.
"Celery looks like your bones. Celery the most alkaline vegetable actually supports your bones with vitamin K for calcium levels." (minute 23:10)
What this means to the Michigan Celery Cooperative is two-fold. First, it increases the utilization of their product approaching 100% utilization. and reducing food waste. Secondly, it offers consumers a shelf-stable, scientifically tested, nutrient dense, food that may be used by various food channels as a juicing product or ingredient. Beyond that, the trials being conducted may realize an even more significant value in the modulating of the immune system to prevent, slow or reverse disease.
The new dried leaf product of the Michigan Celery Cooperative is being tailored to the market as a powder and is GMP certified and Non-GMO.
How would the Michigan Celery Cooperative like to collaborate with the integrated health and food supply chain?
"We're looking forward to demonstrate that farmers are key to producing products that heal.", says Gary Wruble, General Manager of the Michigan Celery Cooperative." We welcome new farmers who may be interested in joining the cooperative and realizing new markets and collaborative products."