Food co-op puts emphasis on buying local

by Joni Astrup
Associate editor
Students in Elk River High School’s culinary arts program heard about the Elk River Area Food Co-op during a presentation last week.

Alyssa Johnson, the co-op’s marketing and outreach coordinator, described the Elk River Area Food Co-op this way: “It’s a local sourcing option where the goal is to get the food as close to home as possible.”

Photo by Joni Astrup
Alyssa Johnson spoke to Elk River High School culinary students about the Elk River Area Food Co-op. She’s wearing a co-op T-shirt with a slogan on the back that reads, “Keep your friends close and your farmers closer.”

That offers a number of benefits including reducing transportation costs and pollution and keeping the money local, she said.
Culinary arts teacher Monique Sabby said buying local makes sense. She told the students, for example, that a container of microgreens costs a local farmer $20 to produce, but many times that to buy from a national food service company.

“They’re marking it up and the farmer isn’t the person making the money on it,” Sabby said. “It makes sense to think about those food choices and going to our farmers market and giving the money back to the person that is supplying these great products.”

Johnson, meanwhile, explained that the Elk River Area Food Co-op is owned by its members and the members make the decisions about it.

“Co-ops are really a nice way to empower the local consumer,” she said.

The Elk River Area Food Co-op is selling lifetime memberships for $100 and has 282 members so far. Organizers are aiming for 600 to 800 members before looking at opening a retail location.

Johnson said they want it to be more than just a grocery store, but also have it be a community space where people can take classes and connect with local farmers.

The co-op has 15 partnerships so far with local, small-scale farmers who offer benefits to the Elk River Area Food Co-op members.

The co-op also offers classes. Classes coming up include topics such as making soap, keeping bees and growing microgreens.
An Elk River Area Food Co-op meet and greet will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Elk River Library, 13020 Orono Parkway, Elk River.

Johnson was invited to address Elk River High School culinary students by Sabby during “Elk Time,” a 30-minute period every Thursday that Sabby likes to use to provide enrichment opportunities for students and connect with the community. Participation by her culinary students is voluntary.