‘Everyone’s welcome’ at the Co-op table
by Cally Peterson
It’s a familiar story.
People saw a need for something in their community, so they came together to make it happen.
In October 2011, a diverse group of Bismarck-Mandan area residents met at a local truck stop to discuss their shared vision. Collectively, they pictured a community space that improved access to healthy, local food and enhanced community wellness.
By June 2013, after many conversations, public meetings and a visioning session, the group incorporated as a cooperative, and the BisMan Community Food Co-op was rolling. Shares were sold and members signed up in support. Over 600 member-owners invested in the first year alone. A site was secured for a brick-and-mortar grocery store, and in 2016, the BisMan Community Food Co-op opened its doors for business at 711 E. Sweet Ave. in Bismarck.
“We’re 100 percent member-owned, by 3,500 families,” says TJacob Smude, deli manager at the BisMan Community Food Co-op. “But you don’t have to be a member to shop here. Everyone’s welcome.”
|TJacob Smude, deli manager at the BisMan Community Food Co-op, prepares veggies for the featured fall soup.
Photos by NDAREC/Liza Kessel
As described on its website, one of the BisMan Community Food Co-op’s guiding principles is, “Real food: We are what we eat.” That principle is reflected throughout the co-op store, where shoppers will find a high volume of organic products, sustainably raised meat and seafood, locally sourced produce, and a variety of specialty diet items, like gluten-free or vegan options. Food labels reveal local goods stock many shelves and coolers.
“The market for local products is extremely high,” Smude says. “When people pick up a product and see the name of the farm, they get excited!”
Although North Dakota is known for its agricultural sector, some may be surprised to learn that area farmers aren’t just growing corn and soybeans.
“They might be surprised by how many people are producing,” Smude says. Customers often feel a strengthened connection to local food when they shop at the co-op, which also helps build loyalty, Smude says. “We support so many of our local farmers, and people see that. The commitment to local really separates us.”
The BisMan Community Food Co-op has also helped improve producers’ bottom lines, giving them another outlet to sell their goods.
“We’ve kind of become a security blanket for small farmers. They know we’re always buying. They can come here and drop off what they don’t sell at the farmers markets or their excess produce,” Smude says.
The co-op strives to offer North Dakota grown and certified organic produce and targets growers who use sustainable-certified practices, when possible. What can’t be stocked regularly by local farmers and ranchers is supplemented by regional producers and a national supplier.
A large bulk section offers a wide variety of foods, like herbs and spices, whole grains, local beans, flours, granola, nuts, dried fruit and baking supplies. And the deli area provides healthy lunch options, quick bites, weekend brunch, bakery items, espresso, fresh-pressed juice and four tap lines of kombucha (kawm-boo-chah), a probiotic fermented tea rich in health benefits.
Paul Breiner and his wife, Cathy, have been BisMan Community Food Co-op members since the beginning.
|Local products constitute 80 percent of the BisMan Community Food Co-op’s fresh salad bar, which member-owner Paul Breiner enjoys over lunch.|
“We were happy to support what the co-op was doing,” Breiner said.
In fact, when the co-op was in the design and construction phase, Breiner, an architect, donated his services to the co-op. He even helped secure old barnwood that was repurposed in the current space.
The Breiners have since moved to Minot, but remain BisMan Community Food Co-op members. They make trips down to Bismarck a couple times a month to enjoy a meal and do some shopping, since Minot doesn’t have a food co-op like it, Breiner says.
“This is the type of place we want to support,” he says.
Smude loves to hear comments like Breiner’s and get member feedback. He encourages local residents and visitors to swing by and check the co-op out for themselves.
“We’re a friendly community of people. Our employees are members who are knowledgeable and passionate about the products. And the prices aren’t as high as people think,” Smude says. “We’re here to be stewards of the community, land and environment, and we try to support every facet of that in your (the members’) grocery store. You can still support local here at the co-op.”