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Food Co-ops: Sprouting Up

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Food co-ops sprouting up

Tucker Smith, an employee of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, is also a BisMan Community Food Co-op member-owner.


Prairie Roots Food Co-op in Fargo and BisMan Community Food Co-op in Bismarck hope to open the doors of their stores in 2015. Fargo and Bismarck residents who believe in the cooperative business model and want to eat locally grown, natural foods have organized food cooperatives, and investors have purchased shares in them.

Recent picnic hosted by Prairie Roots Food Co-op.

Heidi Demars, BisMan Community Food Co-op’s outreach coordinator, is one of the co-op’s founders. She had been a member of Amazing Grains Food Co-op in Grand Forks for several years and worked at a community-supported agriculture farm in Crookston, Minn. She understood the connection between food and the farmers who grow it. Demars also appreciated that buying food at Amazing Grains helped her children understand where food is produced.
When she and her husband were packing boxes for their family’s move from Grand Forks to Bismarck in 2011, Demars told her husband that if Bismarck didn’t have a food co-op, they should form one.
When she learned that her new home did not have a food co-op, she was true to her word and set out to organize one. The initial meeting of Bismarck area residents interested in starting a food co-op was held at a truck stop in Bismarck two-and-a-half years ago.
Since then, the BisMan Community Food Co-op has created a vision statement and conducted a feasibility study. It is now seeking members to commit $200 to a founding membership. Members who commit to a founding share agree to be core members who help

build the business plan and launch the co-op, according to the BisMan Community Food Co-op website. The co-op anticipates selling 1,000 shares at $200 each. The co-op has 630 invested members thus far.
The co-op anticipates start-up costs will be from
$1.2 million to $1.6 million, according to its website. Besides selling shares, the co-op also plans to sell
up to $500,000 of preferred stock to members or non-members and to accept subordinated loans from cooperative members. The remaining money will be secured through a commercial loan which the co-op expects to be from $300,000 to $600,000, depending on the amount of community investment made through membership shares, preferred stock and member loans.
BisMan Community Food Co-op is looking at Amazing Grains and other cooperatives across the United Sates as models. While the food co-op will sell natural foods and as much locally grown food as possible, it also will sell other items.
“It’s going to be a full-sale grocery store; meats, natural household cleaning products, not just produce,” Demars said.
The cooperative’s board is evaluating sites for the store, has been talking to local farmers about being food providers, and is working on a job description for the position of general manager. Their goal is to be open by summer 2015.

In Fargo, Prairie Roots Food Co-op also hopes to open for business in 2015.
“Our goal is to open a retail food co-op in the Red River Valley that will be a one-stop shop for all your natural, organic and local food and product needs,” according to the Prairie Roots Food Co-op website. Because Prairie Roots is structured as a cooperative, “it’s a grocery store by the people, for the people,” the website states.
Organizers of the Fargo food cooperative fi rst met in 2010, and then obtained a grant to do a feasibility study. “The results of that were very favorable,” said Kaye Kirsch, Prairie Roots Food Co-op membership and marketing consultant.
In 2011, the cooperative formed a board of directors. As of July 2014, the cooperative had more than 700 members, with a goal to have 1,000 by the time the store opens in 2015.
Cass County Electric Cooperative is a supporter of Prairie Roots Food Co-op, said Scott Handy, Cass County Electric CEO. First, as a cooperative, the electric co-op supports other co-ops’ efforts.


Meanwhile, Prairie Roots fi lls a void because Fargo does not have a food co-op, Handy said.
“It seemed like a missed opportunity,” he said A number of Cass County Electric Cooperative’s members would be producers for the food co-op, Handy added.
In early July, Prairie Roots Food Co-op kicked off a member loan campaign, with a goal to raise $400,000 in the campaign which ran through September. Prairie Roots’ site selection committee is searching for a site for the store. The cooperative believes it is important for the site to be centrally located, Kirsch said. The co-op plans to buy as much food as possible from local farmers. It already is doing that on a small scale, Kirsch noted.
For more information, go to: praire-roots. coop;


Ann Bailey is a freelance writer from Larimore.