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Luverne group hopes to establish food co-op

LUVERNE -- A pair of Luverne women with a passion for health and wellness are teaming up to garner support for creation of a food co-op in the community.

LUVERNE - A pair of Luverne women with a passion for health and wellness are teaming up to garner support for creation of a food co-op in the community.

With plans for a public input meeting tonight (6:30-7:30 p.m. at Hilger Commons, 215 N. Cedar St., Luverne) and another from noon to 1 p.m. March 15, at the same location, they hope to provide education about and seek input on the needs and wants in a food cooperative.

“Consumers as well as potential investors are welcome,” said Kim Rockman, who with Roni Feit has started the discussion in Luverne. They have already developed a steering committee and subcommittee, comprised of nearly 20 individuals also interested in the project.

“We would really like to get people of all demographics - people who might not have considered a food co-op - people of all income levels, all ages, families,” Rockman said.

The idea for a food cooperative in Luverne was born about four months ago when Feit was seeking ideas on what to do with a building she and her husband, Lowell, own. In meeting with the Luverne Area Chamber of Commerce, Feit learned there was a need for a health food store in Luverne.

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That’s when Feit contacted Rockman, and the two began their research and eventually focused on the food co-op concept.

“We felt like it was something that would be a great asset to the community,” Rockman said.

Though they have since learned the building owned by the Feits isn’t conducive for the business, they have identified three other options in the community, from existing retail space to new construction.

“The grand vision right now would be new construction in a complex,” Rockman said, adding that if everything comes together, she’d like to see the business open within the next year or two.

The co-op concept Thus far, Rockman and Feit have found great response in the community, but they’re also learning that many people don’t quite know what a food co-op is.

Rockman, familiar with the food co-op in St. Peter, said bulk items are the staple of a food co-op, offering selections from spices to dry ingredients. She envisions a shop that includes both organic and non-organic options, with farm-fresh produce as well as packaged and processed items available.

“There’s potential to have a deli-bistro in there as well,” she said. “Based on the size of the store, there’s usually a line of health and body products - supplements, lotions, shampoos and that whole realm of stuff as well.”

Rockman said she’d like to see the store provide options, rather than competition, with the town’s only grocery store.

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“A big difference between co-ops and the conventional grocery store is a real emphasis on education and community outreach - that’s a big part of the mission,” she said.

Because the store would sell bulk items, Rockman envisions a place where consumers can get tips on how to use certain spices or ingredients, learn about different varieties of flour or nuts or seeds and perhaps even learn food preservation.

For Rockman, educating consumers is an important aspect of the food co-op model. Living with chronic fatigue syndrome, she is on a journey of healthy eating and healthy living.

“...(I) recognize some of the habits and lifestyle changes that we, as a culture, make that hinder our full potential for wellness,” she said. “I’m big on prevention of disease - that’s where my passion lies.

“Teaching people how to grow their own food … that really does tie in nicely, and I think it’s really empowering for people,” she added.

In many instances, a local food co-op works in harmony with local farmers’ markets, and Rockman is hopeful that can happen in Luverne as well.

“In St. Peter, the farmer’s market is twice a week and in the parking lot of the food co-op,” she noted.

Feasible and possible Working with Holly Sammons at the Luverne Economic Development Authority, Rockman and Feit are now in the process of doing an initial feasibility study. They are gauging public interest and possible locations now, and with the two public input meetings hope to have the information needed to proceed with a full market feasibility study.

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“The biggest thing about the co-op is member ownership,” Rockman said. “Anyone can shop there, but you can buy a share and become a member. The board will decide each year what percentage of the profits will be given out as dividends to the member-owners.”

While member shares will need to be sold to help make the food co-op a reality, Rockman said loan programs available through U.S.D.A. Rural Development and state programs may also be used to help finance the start-up.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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