Celebrating Our Community and Our Co-ops

Providing natural, fresh, organic and local foods has been at the core of Mississippi Market Co-op’s offering since they opened their first store in 1979. This past weekend, the market celebrated their 30th anniversary and an official grand opening at their newly opened West 7th Street store in St. Paul. It was also Annual Meeting time for the market’s 9,000-plus cooperative owners and the event brought together members, a distinguished speaker panel, and the co-op leadership to talk about the future of co-ops and how Mississippi Market can lead the way. Throw in awesome food donated by local purveyors, live music, a generous raffle, delicious Peace Coffee and some cold beer from Summit Brewery, you have a pretty great party on your hands!

The event was a great learning opportunity too. The speaker panel included Greg Reynolds from Riverbend Farm, Barth Anderson of Fair Food Fight and Meg Moynihan of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Each spoke about the challenges facing cooperative grocery retailers such as Mississippi Market, and how co-ops and members fit into the future of agriculture and food movements. Each speaker brought his or her own thoughts and passion to the table. Barth Anderson talked about co-ops leveraging the internet, social media, and technology to spread awareness and enable quick changes. Greg Reynolds advocated consumers to be aware of and involved in government programs at the federal, state and local levels. And Meg Moynihan celebrated the leadership of Minnesota’s organic farmers who have increased the number of organic farms in Minnesota by 94% in just 4 years - incredible.

Overall, we know that the market is tightening up; every major food producer, grocery store, and mass merchandising retailer has taken advantage of the strides that co-ops have made over the years. Fresh, natural food is becoming de rigueur for restaurants now and is even starting to make positive strides in school lunches. Organics are literally everywhere you turn, almost to the point of confusion. But for the producers and farmers, this “everywhereness” means that margins are being squeezed and pricing is a core issue. The average consumer doesn’t understand the benefit of one food source over another. Even organic farming is starting to feel “corporate farm” in some areas, only leading to more buying confusion.

No question, co-ops are facing challenges in this market. But the one thing that co-ops can focus on – perhaps better than any other type of grocery retailer – is connecting local food with hungry consumers. And the local foods movement, growing each day in awareness and impact, can only help. Local food has momentum. Local food has easy to understand benefits. And let’s not forget: local food is yummy!

Co-ops have another one of a kind feature that deserves to be honored – their background of community, democracy, and cooperation. Creating more opportunities for engagement and involvement strengthens the value of the co-op. This distinctive culture is one that major national chains can’t easily replicate.

I’m not a food pro; I’m just a girl who really loves food. And from my perspective, this is a very exciting time to be talking about, writing about, thinking about, and sharing good, local food. While congratulations are certainly in order for Mississippi Market’s successful 30 years, I’m even more excited about what the future of the Market, other co-ops, and the local food movement may hold for foodies like me.

Tracy Morgan is the owner of Segnavia Creative, and a newly elected member of the Mississippi Market Co-op board. Congratulations, Tracy, way to go!