Newspaper Article

Star News: Elk River Food Co-op Seeks to Grow Its Volunteer Base (2018)

Elk River Area Food Co-op Star News

Elk River Food Co-op Seeks to Grow Its Volunteer Base

Mar 8, 2018
by Joni Astrup
Associate Editor

Original Story

The Elk River Area Food Co-op will host a volunteer recruitment event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 24.

The event will be held at the Elk River Library, 13020 Orono Parkway.

“We are growing so much, we need extra help,” said Alyssa Johnson, the co-op’s marketing and outreach coordinator.

There are openings on four new committees: membership, finance, education and operations, and there will soon be an opening on the co-op’s board of directors.

Volunteers are also needed to staff a co-op booth at the Elk River farmers market and to help at other co-op summer events. General volunteer help is needed as well.

Johnson said the volunteer recruitment event will include an explanation of the co-op’s mission and vision and a chance for people to get their questions about the co-op answered. Snacks and beverages will be served, some of which are being donated by the co-op’s partners.

The co-op has 17 local partners offering products such as honey, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, micro greens, therapeutic massage and handmade soap. All of the partners give discounts to Elk River Area Food Co-op members.

The Elk River Area Food Co-op is a start-up, member-owned, community grocery store dedicated to providing access to high quality, local, natural and organic food at a fair price, supporting local farmers, and contributing economically to the community.

The co-op’s membership has grown to 320. Johnson said the goal is to have 600 members to begin looking at locations for a retail store.

For more information, go to People interested in becoming a co-op volunteer are encouraged to fill out an application online, though it is not required.

To reach the co-op, email


Star News came to our Annual Member Meeting to hear about our 2016-2017 successes along with our goals and aspirations for 2018.


by Joni Astrup - Associate Editor

The Elk River Area Food Co-op has doubled its membership in the last year as it works toward opening a retail store.

The co-op has added more than 140 members since November 2016. Its membership now stands at 303, according to Annie Felix-Gerth, co-op president.

“We are building a lot of momentum and we are achieving our goals,” Felix-Gerth said during the co-op’s annual meeting Nov. 16 at the Elk River Library.

Goals for 2018 include doubling membership again to 600, improving board operations and establishing committees, she said.

Once membership hits 500 to 600, Felix-Gerth said the co-op can begin looking for a store location. The co-op is operating under the assumption that the store would be 10,000 square feet in size and 1,000 to 1,200 members would be needed before opening a store of that size, she said. A smaller store would require fewer members to open.

She said the co-op needs to continue to build awareness.

Twenty-six percent of new memberships came via social media while 22 percent were from word-of-mouth.

Felix-Gerth said they have been doing outreach by attending community events such as parades and festivals in the summer and offering classes and other events in the winter.

Alyssa Johnson was hired as the co-op’s marketing and outreach director one year ago, which Felix-Gerth said has been key.

The co-op is a member-owned organization dedicated to providing access to high quality local and natural food at a fair price, supporting local farmers and contributing economically to the community, according to the co-op’s 2017 annual report.

Three new board members elected

During the annual meeting, three new members were elected to the co-op’s board of directors. They are Anna Harris, Angela Foster and Carla Mertz.

Harris is a native of Syracuse, New York, where she grew up on a hobby farm. She and her husband bought a house in Elk River recently after moving to Minnesota from Colorado. She has a master’s degree in environmental education.

Foster and her family have lived in Ramsey for five years after residing in Minneapolis for many years. She works as a paralegal.

Mertz is the owner of Iron Shoe Farm in Princeton, which is one of the Elk River Area Food Co-op’s partners that offer discounts to members. Iron Shoe Farm offers member discounts on micro greens, beef, chicken and pork.

Felix-Gerth and Kari Froehlich, the co-op’s vice president, were re-elected to the board.

Other board members are Christina Hackenmueller (secretary), Liz Tveite (treasurer), Maria Rehland and Liz Frink.

Four co-op partners also spoke at the annual meeting. They were Andy Walker of Walker Farms in Princeton, Jake Pettit of Pettit Pastures in Milaca, Brandon Grochow of My Alaska Seafood Connection and LuAnne Moe of Moe Therapeutic Massage.

Walker Farms offers pork, beef, chicken and eggs. Pettit Pastures raises grass-fed beef it delivers locally and also supplies to restaurants. Grochow used to live in Alaska and uses his contacts there to bring seafood directly from Alaska to the Elk River area. Moe is located in Elk River’s Martin Plaza, across from the Dairy Queen, and has been in business since 1998.

Upcoming co-op classes include:

•Nov. 29: Microgreens Make & Take

•Dec. 14: Introduction to Fermenting

•Dec. 19: Mindful Movement for Holiday Stress Relief

•Jan. 9: Sushi Tasting

Event details can be found under the “Event” tab on Facebook or at

Star News: Food Co-op puts emphasis on buying local (2017)

Did you see us in last weekends paper? We headed to the Elk River High School to talk about the importance of supporting local farmers and the benefits of a community owned grocery store.

Food co-op puts emphasis on buying local

Published October 10, 2017 at 5:42 am 

Photo by Joni Astrup Alyssa Johnson spoke to Elk River High School culinary students about the Elk River Area Food Co-op. She’s wearing a co-op T-shirt with a slogan on the back that reads, “Keep your friends close and your farmers closer.”

Photo by Joni Astrup
Alyssa Johnson spoke to Elk River High School culinary students about the Elk River Area Food Co-op. She’s wearing a co-op T-shirt with a slogan on the back that reads, “Keep your friends close and your farmers closer.”

by Joni Astrup
Associate editor
Students in Elk River High School’s culinary arts program heard about the Elk River Area Food Co-op during a presentation last week.

Alyssa Johnson, the co-op’s marketing and outreach coordinator, described the Elk River Area Food Co-op this way: “It’s a local sourcing option where the goal is to get the food as close to home as possible.”

That offers a number of benefits including reducing transportation costs and pollution and keeping the money local, she said.
Culinary arts teacher Monique Sabby said buying local makes sense. She told the students, for example, that a container of microgreens costs a local farmer $20 to produce, but many times that to buy from a national food service company.

“They’re marking it up and the farmer isn’t the person making the money on it,” Sabby said. “It makes sense to think about those food choices and going to our farmers market and giving the money back to the person that is supplying these great products.”

Johnson, meanwhile, explained that the Elk River Area Food Co-op is owned by its members and the members make the decisions about it.

“Co-ops are really a nice way to empower the local consumer,” she said.

The Elk River Area Food Co-op is selling lifetime memberships for $100 and has 282 members so far. Organizers are aiming for 600 to 800 members before looking at opening a retail location.

Johnson said they want it to be more than just a grocery store, but also have it be a community space where people can take classes and connect with local farmers.

The co-op has 15 partnerships so far with local, small-scale farmers who offer benefits to the Elk River Area Food Co-op members.

The co-op also offers classes. Classes coming up include topics such as making soap, keeping bees and growing microgreens.
An Elk River Area Food Co-op meet and greet will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Elk River Library, 13020 Orono Parkway, Elk River.

Johnson was invited to address Elk River High School culinary students by Sabby during “Elk Time,” a 30-minute period every Thursday that Sabby likes to use to provide enrichment opportunities for students and connect with the community. Participation by her culinary students is voluntary.

Check out the full story on the Star News website!


Star News: Co-op Doubles In Size (2016)

2016 was a monumental year for the ERA Food Co-op.

Our membership doubled since 2015! We now have over 160 committed community members investing their time and money into creating a convenient store that provides a one-stop-shop for healthy food and sustainable products.

We were awarded our SECOND $10,000 grant from the Food Co-op Initiative. That proves they believe in what we are doing and want to see a physical store created in our area! One out of twelve start-up’s are chosen in the entire nation, and we’ve been chosen two years in a row – that’s pretty amazing.

Our board of directors grew! We added two new positions for a total of eight members. By doing so we have extra hands, more ideas, and added hours to dedicate toward making the co-op a reality.

In November we hired our first staff, Alyssa Johnson will be our 2016-2017 Marketing and Outreach Specialist. She will be working hard towards building awareness and education on the co-op.

We’ve consistently held monthly classes and will continue to fill our calendar with opportunities to learn about healthy living while meeting other like-minded individuals in your community.

Star News: Elk River Area Food Co-op Home Grown (2015)

Photos by Britt Aamodt Kari Froehlich hopes the co-op will be a one-stop shop for individuals and families interested in eating healthy food and supporting local farmers and communities. Here she is with her family, niece Lauren Holzem, holding Froehlich’s daughter, Paislee, and Froehlich’s son, Brecken.

Photos by Britt Aamodt Kari Froehlich hopes the co-op will be a one-stop shop for individuals and families interested in eating healthy food and supporting local farmers and communities. Here she is with her family, niece Lauren Holzem, holding Froehlich’s daughter, Paislee, and Froehlich’s son, Brecken.

Home grown

By ECM Publishers
Jul 13, 2015
Original Story

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
Contributing Writer

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
Membership: $100


Co-op 1 of 12 in nation to win seed grant (2015)


Co-op 1 of 12 in nation to win seed grant

By Jim Boyle
Jul 13, 2015

An effort to develop an Elk River food co-op has gotten a boost from a national movement to increase the number of food co-ops across the nation.

Food Co-op Initiative, a national nonprofit dedicated to not only increasing the number of food coops but also helping them achieve success and sustainability, awarded  12 “Seed Grants” to new retail food co-ops organizing across the United States.

“The public interest in food co-ops is at an all-time high,” reported Stuart Reid, Food Coop Initiative executive director. “By owning and controlling their own cooperative store, communities are able to ensure stable access to healthy food, provide meaningful jobs, and support local producers.

“Food co-ops can become both an economic anchor and a social hub for the community.”

Award winners were selected based on the strength of their leadership, quality of business planning, potential for successful operations and potential impact made by the grant funds.

The awards will be used to help pay for professional business development, market studies and membership recruitment. Co-op organizers will raise matching funds in their community and collaborate with Food Co-op Initiative throughout their development process.

This marks the sixth round of Food Co-op Initiative Seed Grants since the program began in 2005. Since then, $560,000 in startup support has been awarded to 68 food co-ops. Newly opened cooperative groceries are expected to generate over $500 million in revenue over the next five years.

“This is a very select group,” Reid said. “We are working with over 140 communities that are actively engaged in starting a food co-op.”

The national initiative’s aim is to deliver access to healthy food in diverse communities across this country. It provides information, training and technical assistance, as well as seed capital, and engages in research to blaze, maintain and improve the development path for new food coops.

“Although we were only able to provide funding to a limited number of co-ops, we provide free resources, training and advice to all food co-ops using a Web-based approach, which allows easy access on demand and provides personalized services through mentoring, live training events and a lot of email,” Reid said.

Food Co-op Initiative is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) created to encourage and support new food co-op development. The Seed Grant program is made possible through a USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant and major funding from the Blooming Prairie Foundation, National Cooperative Bank, National Co-op Grocers, and the food co-op community.

2015 Seed Grant Award Recipients:
•Clipper City Co-op, Manitowoc, Wis.
•Elk River Area Food Co-op, Elk River, Minn.
•Friends and Farmers Co-op, State College, Pa.
•Little Falls Food Co-op, Little Falls, Minn.
•Sitka Food Co-op, Sitka, Alaska
•West Chester Food Co-op, West Chester, Pa.
•Long Beach Grocery Cooperative, Long Beach, Calif.
•Montavilla Food Co-op, Portland, Ore.
•Prairie Food Co-op, Lombard, Ill.
•The Renaissance Community Co-op, Greensboro, N.C.
•Local Motive Silverton Co-op, Silverton, Ore.
•Prairie Roots Food Co-op, Fargo, N.D.