Agriculture Connects Us
Sitting down to write an article for the agriculture issue is almost too much pressure. This week we anticipated the release of the PBS special Around the Farm Table, which featured our wonderful vendor and former staff member Erin Link of EB Ranch who raises goats for meat and milk soap, Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil from amazing co-op supporters and vendors Ken and Jay, and beautiful flowers grown by Maggie at Greenlight Farm who supplies flowers to our retail partner Hive & Hollow. Throw in that the host of the program is one of our cheese vendors, and in that one episode you can see the interconnectedness that local agriculture brings to a community and to a food co-op. These people are our vendors, our owners, our staff, our board members, our partners, and our friends.
We’ve also been getting ready to launch our Fund our Foodshed Grant cycle. In this fifth year, our awards are bigger than ever thanks to you “rounding up” at our registers. Our produce farmers recently received their welcome to the season letter. Plus, the seed displays are up and giving us all optimism for the season ahead. And this week in the news, Ellsworth Cheese Factory has officially opened up its new Menomonie plant and will receive its first batch of milk. How exciting!
Internally, the co-op is shifting its gears and getting ready to move into a different phase of the development cycle—expansion. We continue to work towards a purchase agreement with the City of Eau Claire for the south half of City Block 7. We are also beginning to imagine what the building there will look like and how it will serve our ownership as well as downtown Eau Claire. This starts with dreamy conversations and a focus on our Ends to be central to a thriving, healthy community.
As we get closer, we have already been bringing in experts and grocery people to help us turn that vision into a reality. We’ve enlisted the help of National Co+op Grocers, a business services cooperative that supports close to 150 food co-ops nationwide, again for this expansion project. We are reviewing the results of our surveys regarding expansion that we sent to Eau Claire owners last year, and we’re relying on many of the lessons that we learned when we expanded the Menomonie store in 2015. Once a deal with the city is procured, we will be moving ahead with offering Class C shares to all owners at Menomonie Market Food Co-op who may be interested in investing in the project. Last time around, we were the smallest co-op in the United States to raise $1 million, and we did that in six weeks! It is crazy to imagine beating that accomplishment, but I have no doubt that we will leave it in the dust. It is clear that Eau Claire is ready to support a bigger store, to support our local farmers and makers in new ways, and to support good food and good jobs.
This article was originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.