The St. Peter Food Co-op has been a valuable asset to the south central region of Minnesota for over 31 years. I realized just how valuable as I sat down to eat lunch at the co-op recently.
General manager Margo O’Brien had just given us a tour and hosted an event to publicly recognize the USDA’s role in financing the new facility. After signing the closing documents on a loan guarantee through nearby Wells Federal Bank and Rural Development’s Business & Industry loan guarantee program, it was time for lunch.
Several co-op employees recommended the pulled pork sandwich, which featured locally raised pork and a chipotle blackberry sauce also produced locally. It was delicious. As I was eating, a couple of other people stopped to comment about how good the pulled pork and the other deli items are. People came into the co-op throughout lunch to browse the huge selection of locally produced cheeses, consult with a staff person at the wellness desk and meet friends for coffee and pastries from the bakery.
It was clear that the co-op was more than a store to pick up groceries. It was a community gathering place centered around locally grown foods and a healthy lifestyle.
The co-op buys its products locally, which often requires staff to sit down with individual farmers and discuss inventory needs and pricing. That extra work pays off and results in the co-op being stocked with high quality healthy foods that boosts the regional economy since it is purchased locally.
“The new store allows us to expand our products,” O’Brien said. “The community has responded great so far. We’re very happy.”
The project addresses two major goals of the Obama administration: Increasing access to locally grown foods and creating or saving jobs in rural areas. Of course, Rural Development had several partners that helped make the project happen.
The city of St. Peter and the Northcountry Cooperative Development fund also provided financing. The co-op raised about $900,000 by selling shares to existing and new members. And Wells Federal Bank provided the $1.28 million financing guaranteed by the USDA.
“This project, without the USDA, wouldn’t have happened for our bank,” said Matt Zebro of Wells Federal.
And the USDA was more than happy to help. As our economy continues to recover, partnerships are becoming more important. This includes public-private ventures like the partnership between Wells Federal and the USDA. Local support from cities like St. Peter for development projects. Strategic investments from nonprofits like the Northcountry Cooperative Development fund and community members stepping up like they did in the share purchase drive for the St. Peter Food Co-op.
The St. Peter Food Co-op is something I wish we had in every rural Minnesota community. It’s an excellent example of community-supported economic development, public-private partnerships and healthy living, which is exactly what our rural communities need.
Plus, I would be able to get a pulled pork sandwich whenever I wanted one.
USDA’s Business and Industry Guarantee Program is available to assist rural American business ventures. For more information, click here.