By ECM Publishers
Jul 13, 2015
The Elk River Area Food Co-op will differentiate itself from other local food stores with its emphasis on fresh, healthy, organic, bulk and local foods.
Growing up, Kari Froehlich’s family ran a cattle farm. That was her early introduction to where food comes from.
by Britt Aamodt
Kari Froehlich was born and raised in Elk River. Now she’s raising her son and daughter here, in a community that has a lot more to do, a lot more places to go, than when she was a kid.
Yet it doesn’t have a food co-op.
Froehlich, along with 45 members and counting, is hoping to open one by 2017.
Every Thursday at the Elk River Farmers Market, she and her board members staff a booth.
“The two questions people always ask are when are you going to open and where are you going to be?” Froehlich said.
She’s found in these off-the-cuff conversations that a lot of people are interested in a one-stop fresh food shop that’s open year-round.
The idea hit Froehlich three years ago. She was a young working mom.
“I’d be rushing to all these stores, checking labels, trying to find food that was good for my family,” she remembered. “After a while, I started to settle.”
She’d pull into the closest, most convenient store and grab what she needed just so she could get home to her family.
But Froehlich was a farm girl. Her family still runs a cattle farm. She grew up understanding where good — and local — food came from.
Plus, she’d recently completed an online program through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. It reinforced her what she already suspected: That what we put in our mouths impacts our health.
She got home and started researching food co-ops. There were co-ops in Cambridge and Anoka. Why couldn’t her area have one, too? What would it take?
She and a friend attended a program put on by the Food Co-op Initiative. The group’s purpose is to help groups found co-ops in their towns. Froehlich was inspired and intimidated.
“A lot of the groups there had already been working on their co-ops for two or three years,” she said.
Now the Elk River Area Food Co-op is where those groups were then. This year, they received a $10,000 grant from the Food Co-op Initiative to be used, in part, to fund a feasibility study. The catch is that the co-op must match the funds.
And what that boils down to is members. The co-op needs to have at least 300, and better yet 400, to match the funds and start talking to banks about loans.
But what is a food co-op? Froehlich gets this question, too.
A food co-op is a member-owned business. Members have a vote in what happens. At the end of the year, if there is a profit, they vote on what to do with the money.
How a co-op differs from other area stores is in its focus on healthy, organic (but not always), bulk and especially local foods. A handful of Princeton farms have already pitched in their support.
“If it’s not our area local, then it’s Minnesota local. If it’s not Minnesota, then it’s the United States,” Froehlich explained.
Ideally, the co-op would have good access to parking. The dream plan is to have space for cooking classes, public events (indoor and outdoor) and a small deli with food and coffee.
But to make any of this happen by 2017, the co-op needs to make its membership goal by Jan. 1. They’re taking memberships by mail, online and at the farmers market. Members pay a one-time fee of $100. Anyone can shop at the co-op but members get a discount on every purchase.
“If a community doesn’t support the startup effort, then it won’t support the store when it opens,” said Froehlich. “We need to show lenders that our community supports this.”
Elk River Area Food Co-op
P.O. Box 64 Elk River