Digging a Community Garden and More: Mississippi Market’s Eco Stamp Program

One of the only (slightly) disappointing things about living in the city center is the lack of nearby space to grow my own garden. I'm lucky to have a mother who lets me help rock out a serious amount of produce from her garden each year; many others turn to garden matchmakers, modular gardens, rooftop farms, and other urban gardening projects.

One such project is Oxford Urban Farms, an up-and-coming community garden at 1025 Selby Avenue in St. Paul that was the recent recipient of a $1,362 check from Mississippi Market Co-op. The donation itself was cool enough, but as I understood more about where the money came from, I was even more impressed. Through Mississippi Market's Eco Stamp program (other area co-ops like Linden Hills Co-op have similar programs), co-op shoppers made it happen without even having to dig through their loose change.

Mississippi Market developed their Eco Stamp program in 2006 as a way to connect shoppers more directly to the community. When you bring a reusable bag to the co-op, you receive a $.05 credit that can either be applied to your purchases or donated to the current Eco Stamp program recipient. Each participating organization receives two months’ worth of these donations, usually between $1,200 and $1,500. As you can imagine, this kind of cash infusion -- all raised $.05 at a time -- can make a huge difference to a small organization. Past recipients include Fruits of the City, West 7th Meals on Wheels, Farm to School, and Minnesota Food Share.

Kari Binning, Mississippi Market’s Marketing and Media Manager, explained, “This program is a great collaboration. Shoppers choose a reusable bag, which is good for the environment and saves the co-op money. Then the co-op shares the money we save with the larger community.”  The shoppers, the environment, the co-op, and the community all win.

Co-op employees choose the Eco Stamp recipient from suggestions generated in-house, and all donations are made to organizations that align with the co-op’s mission: sustainability, environmental practices, local food, and food education for kids.

Since 2006, Mississippi Market has given away about $7,500 per year, and they want you to help them find worthy organizations. To this end, Kari started a discussion on the co-op's Facebook page, where you can add your own ideas and suggestions of like-minded organizations that could benefit from the Eco Stamp program.

For the Oxford Urban Farm, the funding was particularly well-timed. The donation enabled them to prepare for this weekend’s Parade of Community Gardens (Saturday, August 21, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.), which will help them make people aware of their program, their community, and their focus on local food.

You already knew that bringing a reusable bag to your grocery store, co-op, or other favorite shopping spot was good for the environment. But did you know it could also, nickel by little bitty nickel, make an impact on a growing organization? Now you have no excuse.


Tracy Morgan is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. She also runs Segnavia Creative, a business development and marketing firm, and serves on the board of directors for the Mississippi Market Natural Food Co-op in St. Paul.