Co-op on a Budget: Winter Eating for Locavores

This is the fifth post in our Co-op on a Budget series, which explores the different ways that we can shop co-op effectively and affordably. Also check out posts on shopping bulk, the Wedge Co-op vs. Cub Foods, Eastside Food Co-op vs. Rainbow, and a class on eating economically.


February, March, and April are some of the most difficult months in a locavore’s kitchen. The canned tomato, salsa, and pickle supplies start to dwindle. The bottom of my chest freezer – once obscured by stacks of frozen veggies and fruit –  is visible again. It’s hard to stay on a 200-mile diet when there’s not a green thing in sight.


When I first started a local-only diet in 2010, I was completely unprepared for winter in the upper Midwest. By late-season I desperately searched for anything besides beef and dairy for meals. A friend suggested I try our local co-op, Mississippi Market, as she thought she’d seen local carrots and potatoes from a Wisconsin farmer. I hustled on over and was thrilled to find a hefty winter food supply for locavores like me.


Our Minnesota co-ops do a fantastic job supporting local farmers and growers, especially when the farmers’ markets and CSAs are in the off-season. On a February visit to the Wedge in Minneapolis, I found produce, meat, dairy, and dry goods all from within 200 miles. The fresh produce included not only winter staples like carrots, turnips, and beets but also fresh lettuce, mushrooms, and greens. Co-ops have the capacity and resources to store local produce, as well as the connections with local growers to continue supplying the market all season.












Most co-ops clearly label the local products they carry and provide information about the grower as well. Shoppers at many Twin Cities co-ops use the “discover local” tags, small green ovals next to an item’s price tag that signals the product was made or sourced from within 200 miles of the co-op. Other stores like the Wedge provide a short bio of the producer right on the shelf. These small connections help us better identify with our food, our land, and our community.


Co-ops also provide affordable access to fresh local food with some of the same conveniences we look for in a supermarket. As much as I’d like to visit a farmer every time I needed milk, eggs, or fresh lettuce – it’s not possible with a busy schedule. As our other Co-op on a Budget posts confirmed, local and organic items are comparable in price and in some cases cheaper than major supermarkets. Plus, finding local items is nearly impossible at the larger grocery stores, especially during the winter.


If you’re new to local food or the co-op, I probably wouldn’t recommend jumping into a cold-turkey locavore diet in the snowy parts of February and March. However, now is a good time of year to start gradually supplementing your diet with local foods in preparation for summer’s more abundant local food supply. Starting with the cold-storage produce available now at the co-op (carrots, potatoes, lettuce, etc.) helps slowly transition kitchens into a full locavore diet and the wide variety of local options available come summertime.


If it wasn’t for Mississippi Market, I’m positive my locavore diet would’ve failed. Co-ops are the best winter resource next to the farm for eating locally grown.  


If you’re looking for a cold-weather recipe to start your local eating, try the Ham and Black Bean Soup recipe below. The vegetables, ham, and black beans all came from my co-op — even in February!


Ham and Black Bean Soup

Adapted from Taste of Home



1 pound dried black beans

2 small onions, chopped

2 teaspoons sunflower oil

2 celery ribs, chopped

10 cups water

4 cups cubed fully cooked ham

5 cups potato, chopped into 1 ½” chunks

1 cup carrots, chopped

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon pepper

1 ham bone or 2 smoked ham hocks



1.    Rinse and sort beans for debris. Place in a large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off heat, cover beans and allow to soak in the hot water for 1 hour.

2.    While the beans are soaking, prepare the remainder of the ingredients. Drain the beans and rinse with warm water. Into the empty Dutch oven, heat the sunflower oil.

3.    Add the onion and sauté for 1-2 minutes or until tender. Add the celery and cook for 1-2 minutes more.

4.    While stirring, add the remainder of the ingredients. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 1 ½ hours or until the beans are tender.

5.    When beans are tender, remove the ham bones and allow to cool until able to be handled. Remove any remaining ham from the bones and return to the pot. Cook until heated through. Serve warm with a loaf of crusty bread.




Amy Sippl is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good, and Tasty. She grew up in rural Wisconsin, but now calls St. Paul her home. She writes about her successes and struggles to eat and grow local food on her blog: Minnesota Locavore. Her last post for us was Great Grains: 9 Whole Grain Holiday Cookies.