Midwest Pantry: Power to the (Local) Producer

I've always had a dream about community and neighbors. I'm not sure when the dream started, but I would imagine what would happen if I could fix someone's bicycle and they would pay me with a box of veggies or by helping with my taxes or by watching my kids. In the world of capitalism and trade that we live in, I grew up to hope that perhaps there might be a place where we could all see what our local communities and neighbors were producing. The closest thing I could find would be a flea market, farmer's market, or, later on, a coop grocery store. But I knew that something was still missing. It was never quite a complete picture.


A few years ago when I took over Simple, Good, and Tasty I came a bit closer to seeing what local folks were doing to bring people together. I could almost picture a resource where quality local producers were all featured and supported. This week, much to my surprise, I discovered a couple of folks who are doing just that and more. I'd like to tell the story of Midwest Pantry.


It starts, where else, but at the now well known and oft lauded Mill City Farmers Market. Three years ago, Zoie Glass and Chad Gillard were doing their best to sell their wares and all was going well. Then they tried to grow, to reach out, to find new markets for their locally made products. The result was that they found themselves spending lots of money and even more time for very, very little in return. The fact was that the channels provided for producers are not all too friendly or focused on…the producers. The system is more like claw your way to the top and hope you meet the right people on the way. In this system, probably 90% of new businesses don't ever make it. 

Local producer Pashen on display at the Midwest Pantry food show.Local producer Pashen on display at the Midwest Pantry food show.

So what do you do? Well, if you are Glass and Gillard, you decide first to pool your resources. There is definite strength in partnership. Then you have the audacity to go ahead and create what you need when it isn't there for you. In this case, what was missing was a way for local producers and food buyers to connect. The solution? Midwest Pantry. Let me try and explain.





"We believe that there should be lots of small food companies in the Midwest. Afterall, we live in America’s Breadbasket! As small food producers ourselves, we created Midwest Pantry to connect buyers to Artisan Producers and provide services that we wish would have been available to us when we started each of our original businesses."


Midwest Pantry has decided to take the role of advocate. Imagine if a warehouse or distributor decided to get out the bullhorn and become active in the sales, distribution, and marketing of your products for you, yet without any of the overhead, markup, and additional costs (and without the warehouse). I know, sounds too good to be true. But it is true, and you sweet purveyors of local goods can go there and sign up. For what you get, the fees are minimal at just $50/year. 


"Midwest Pantry is designed to provide members with cost-effective solutions to the seemingly endless issues with starting and running a successful, quality-focused small food business."


I saw firsthand some of the benefits of belonging to the Midwest Pantry coalition. First, they put together really great food shows. The one I attended was the first of its kind and consisted of about 20 local companies showcasing their goods. The attendees? Over 50 buyers from our local coops, Whole Foods, Lund's, Kowalski's, and other stores across Minnesota and even a few from Wisconsin and Iowa. So there is the first benefit, namely direct connection. 


Next they take this connection a step further and make sure that the food show isn't just a meet and greet where people exchange business cards and never speak again, something they saw over and over at other food shows. They actually have created order forms with all of the vendors products listed right on them with suggested retail prices, case size, etc. You taste something, love it, order it. The proof that these order forms were working could be seen in the pile of them that were filled out and growing on the reception table. After the show is over, that same order form exists online in order to make follow through and continuation easier.


Domata...locally gluten freeDomata...locally gluten free

By checking out their website, you see some of the other benefits of membership, such as reduced shipping rates, discounts, and assistance with many of their partners for printing, photos, marketing services, and social media. These are many of the things that can cripple a small business if they take them on alone or will leave the business behind if they leave them out.


In essence, Midwest Pantry facilitates the process of starting up and/or growing a new business by providing resources and, therefore, creating opportunities for businesses to succeed. Pooling resources, sharing information, providing opportunities... this is realizing and harnessing the power of a community. 


By all accounts, Midwest Pantry looks like it is going to take off. Despite being a fledgling company and a totally new model for how to do business, the response has been outstanding. The event that took place on June 5th was on a rainy day, in the parking lot behind Cooks of Crocus Hill in Saint Paul. It was lively and very well attended. Judging by the attendance, orders placed, and list of applicants waiting for their membership to be approved, they might quickly outgrow that big white tent. For the sake of all involved in this local food movement, let's hope so.  


Be sure to check out Midwest Pantry's website and if you are a local producer of fine food products, consider filling out an application.


Chad Gillard and Zoie Glass are the founders of Midwest Pantry. Chad is also the owner/producer of Aunt Else's æbleskiver and co-owner with Zoie Glass of Malone's Simple Syrups. Zoie Glass owns/produces Lucille's Kitchen Garden jellies and jams with her partner Amy Glass.








Lawrence Black is a writer and editor at Simple, Good, and Tasty. He has two kids and loves gardening and eating with them. He can be reached at: