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Cooperation in Action

Co-ops Improve Neighbors’ Nutrition with Community Action


hen a difficult problem is discussed in a business or community meeting, someone will often say, “It’s not brain surgery.” What that phrase usually means is that the solution under discussion needs to be simple, workable, and practical, without overreaching and missing B y J u l i e Kendr i c k the mark. Two community co-ops are doing just that by focusing their outreach efforts within their communities. They aren’t trying to solve the world’s hunger problems, but by improving nutrition within their own neighborhoods, their intentional and heartfelt actions could have far-reaching impact. Everyone Eats is the brainchild of Just Food, a Northfield co-op with an outreach program that includes a long-term partnership with the food shelf operated by the Community Action Center of Northfield. “It’s been fantastic,” says Mary Upham, Just Food’s outreach and education coordinator. “We’re using Just Change registerbox funds and Planet Patch reusable bag donations to purchase co-op-quality food for the food shelf year-round.” Upham notes that food shelf donations in her community have grown exponentially in quantity but offer limited choices for those who prefer natural food. “During this recession, the food shelf has nearly doubled the number of pounds of food it’s distributing, but most of the food is processed and nonorganic,” she says. Since beginning Everyone Eats, Upham has received positive feedback from food shelf staff members. “They say that people are excited to see organic peanut butter or Annie’s macaroni and cheese on the shelves. People have started to ask, ‘What’s organic today?’ or ‘What’s new from the co-op?’ Everyone deserves access to healthful food,” Upham says. In Northeast Minneapolis, the Eastside Food Co-op is working in partnership with local schools and health clinics to create a healthier place to live. “We have a special relationship with Edison

High School, which is six blocks away from our store,” says Kristina Gronquist, assistant manager. “We provide healthful snacks for sports teams, donate Thousand Hills all-beef hot dogs for the school’s annual Open House Barbeque and help them to purchase sustainable paper supplies at wholesale prices for special events.” The efforts have moved beyond donations and into action, with general manager Amy Fields offering a “Natural Foods 101” session at the school. Last summer, students created a mosaic mural that decorates the building, and the co-op makes an effort to employ local teens for part-time store jobs. Gronquist oversees a number of community outreach events, donations and meetings, but she’s most excited about a recent community health initiative sponsored by the University of

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6 September/ October 2012 • Twin Cities Natural Food Co-ops • mix

Minnesota’s Office of Business and Community Economic Development. With two public health graduate students, the co-op will work with four city clinics, including the Central Clinic, which is across the street from the store. “We’ll partner with health professionals to share our expertise on food and nutrition,” she says. “We’ll start with focus groups, but we intend to conduct nutrition classes, tours and films, while offering snacks and child care at events. We want to help our neighbors who are struggling with obesity, diabetes and poor health.” Julie Kendrick is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer who focuses on family, business and lifestyle reporting for a number of local sites and publications.

Julie Kendrick for MIX: Co-ops in Action  

co-ops and natural foods work in community