Like any new venture, there are a number of obstacles to overcome when starting a local foods cooperative. The fact that people in Long Lake, Minn. chose to start a cooperative during the economic downturn in 2007-08 was just another of those obstacles.
But with a lot of community support and an extra boost from the Food Co-op Initiative and USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program, those obstacles were overcome and the Harvest Moon Local Foods Cooperative opened its doors in Long Lake in June of 2010.
Minnesota USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer recently visited Harvest Moon to highlight how the RCDG award help get the cooperative off the ground and learn more about the economic impact the cooperative makes in the community.
Landkamer and cooperative board members stood in front of a wall that featured the signatures of the cooperative’s founding members, a visual that symbolized the grassroots support of the project. Harvest Moon general manager David Giedd highlighted how the cooperative filled a gap in providing access to fresh, local and delicious foods that are not readily available in the community. “We’re also a huge supporter of the local economy,” Giedd said. “We’re going to be here for a long time, creating good jobs and buying from local farmers.”
Based in Dennison, Minn., the Food Co-op Initiative (FCI) has used RCDG funds over the last three years to support the start-up of retail food cooperatives throughout the United States. Using a specially designed development model, FCI works to enable a faster and more efficient start-up process to develop new retail grocery co-ops that create local jobs and establish new markets for local producers. FCI provided technical support and guidance as Harvest Moon evolved from an idea with strong community support into a reality.
“The need is there,” said FCI director Stuart Reid. “We’re working with over 100 cooperatives like Harvest Moon, trying to make it a little easier for them by providing valuable resources and guidance.”
Rural = Unique
As Giedd led a tour of Harvest Moon – through the deli, past the local meat and cheese section, and past the dairy cooler that featured milk in glass bottles from local grass-fed cows – he talked about unique strategies and challenges in opening a co-op in a rural area.
“I think a key is not to dictate what that co-op needs in a rural community,” Giedd said. “We have a few products that people might be familiar with, but are still 100 percent local. That helps get people in the door and sort of gets them on board so they can learn more on their own.”
To learn more about USDA support for small businesses and cooperatives, click here. Learn more about other federal investments for local food businesses at the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass.