When I was a little girl of about four years old, we lived on the east side of St. Paul. My little red tricycle crossed the cracked and sometimes tipped sidewalk concrete slabs as I carefully navigated back and forth alongside the yard. Like in most city neighborhoods of the early seventies, the small corner store was a few blocks away down the same stretch of sidewalk.That was the route my independent younger sister, at the ripe age of three, took one day as she determined to “go buy candy”. I remember the frantic search of the neighborhood as our mother raced to find her missing daughter. My sister was found near the store, confident and nonplussed by Mom’s questions as to how she planned to “buy candy” when she had no money at all. In our young minds, that little corner store was heaven on earth and the natural destination for anyone.
Amazon recently announced that it is purchasing Whole Foods. New retailers like Lidl rush to market, and the grocery business continues to merge and change at lightning speed. Huge food companies buy up shelf space at large retailers, squeezing out the competition. In our town, Lammer’s was purchased by larger Dick’s fresh Market, MarketPlace was purchased by even larger Coburn’s, and Super-giants Walmart and Aldi are refreshing their stores to get your attention. Consumers begin to imagine drones delivering gallons of milk to their doorsteps. Organic foods have launched into the mainstream grocery aisle, no longer a fringe movement. Smart and savvy businesses pay to know their consumers, their demographics, their price points, and their desires in order to fill the demands cheaper and faster. It can all feel overwhelming; what seems like a simple proposition– buying food for the family and feeling good about it- is getting more complicated. The good news is that we have the power to shape the food industry with our food dollars.
Long-time members of Menomonie Market Food Co-op may recall the struggle of local farmers who faced tremendous obstacles to grow anything besides conventional corn and soybeans, and the foolish bravery it took for families to embrace chemical-free agriculture or return to land that others had given up hope of making a living on. Our food coop’s humble beginnings of a few bulk bins of beans and a small assortment of organic vegetables are a dusty memory. Today, a new owner at Menomonie Market Food Co-op may not recall our co-op’s humble and difficult beginning, but that’s not to say they do not have the same impact as our very first owners. Just as when this co-op began, we are still supporting small, local farmers who are, more than ever, being pressured to dismiss their core values of providing good, clean food to their consumers. Though our co-op has grown throughout the years, we, as shopper and owners, are able to continue to support those small producers and farmers like we committed to 40+ years ago.
As the last remaining locally-owned grocery store in Menomonie, we operate to meet our Ends which state we will be central to a thriving healthy community. This means we, as owners and shoppers, can speak to not only what products we would like to see on the shelves but that we can speak to how our food is produced, focus on supporting local farm families, strengthen employees through dignified employment and determine what organizations we align and partner with in our community to bring about health for all of us.
The recognition that the quality of our lives, our community and even our food cannot be fully measured by consumer data but rather depends upon a much broader focus of complex systems of interdependence leads us past elementary principles of supply chains. A holistic mindset brings us back to diversity of farms, the richness of community and a renaissance of thoughtful care of each other and our environment.
This is the opportunity, the power and the beauty we have in our little neighborhood store. We have a place to take a class taught by another owner, meet a friend for coffee, engage a farmer and know that together our purchases can be a grounding force of thoughtful long term stability in our local agriculture and in society.
And in the off chance a small child shows up solo at Menomonie Market Food Coop- intent on a special treat –I hope that perhaps one of us may just recognize that little one and bring comfort to a frantic parent. After all, it is only natural that our corner store would be the first place that anyone would think to go.
-Mariann Holm, MMFC Board Member