Exploring Farms and Co-ops for Local Foods
Updated: May 16
Spring brings the return of Farmer’s Markets and increases our urge to travel and explore. Have you ever wondered who are the “farmers” at Farmer’s Markets? And while we’re on the subject of local foods, maybe you have wondered what’s cooperative about shopping at a co-op?
Since the Back to Basics Spring Fair’s vendor line-up will include several farms and co-ops, let us take you on a mini-tour, exploring the concepts and businesses of farms and co-ops.
Magic Summer Mini Farm
Magic Summer Mini Farm of Cloquet is a new Back to Basics vendor. They are a native wildflower and medicinal herb seed farm. They will be offering native wildflower seeds, monarch and pollinator seed mixes, as well as organic salves/scrubs/tinctures.
Danielle Diver is passionate about growing plants using only organic and biodynamic methods. “I do not believe that synthetic chemicals are an appropriate means to solve environmental problems, whether in agriculture, horticulture, fiber production, or ecological restoration. I mainly grow native wildflowers and medicinal plants, and since I grow them organically, I can be confident that they are safe for human consumption as well as for pollinator consumption.”
Danielle acknowledges there can be challenges: “The bane of my existence for the last two summers has been a bunch of beetles that keep eating all my lupine seeds. I don't mind sharing, but they are very greedy.”
Ole Lake Farm
Ole Lake Farm of Aitkin describes themselves as “home to farmers Kevin and Debby Flowers, a flock of free-range laying hens, heritage breed turkeys, pampered Alpine dairy goats, and sometimes a few frisky pigs.” They raise grain, produce, and animals “as naturally, humanely, and sustainably as we can.” At the Spring Fair Ole Lake Farm will have whole wheat and rye flours, cornmeal, whole wheat and rye berries as well as goat milk soap and lotion.
Island Lake Farm
Island Lake Farm of Deerwood uses agro-ecological practices to work in symbiosis with nature to produce food, fuel, fiber and a healthier planet. Audra and Jim Chamberlin have operated their “Harvest to Market” farm for more than 25 years and recently became “Water Quality Certified'' by the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program. Island Lake Farm is located south of Deerwood where they raise potatoes, garlic, hogs, cattle, sheep, hazelnuts, and mushrooms. At the Spring Fair, Island Lake Farm will have pork, goat milk soap and lotion.
Grampa G's Farm is a designated century-old farm that has been in continuous production by the same family for at least 100 years. At their passive solar deep winter greenhouses in Pillager and Pine River, farmers Louise and Shayne Johnson were hard at work, so they will have early-season items at the Spring Fair including vegetable starts, flowers, and produce. They will also have jams and jellies. They are members of the Sustainable Farming Association (Central Chapter) and Minnesota Nurseryman’s.
Besides to the farms listed above, you will find two popular area food co-ops among the vendors at the Spring Fair, Ideal Green Market Co-op and Crow Wing Food Co-op. From the outside, many co-ops look like any other business, since a co-op provides products and services like any other conventional business. But, it’s what goes on behind the scenes that makes it different. A co-op exists to serve its members, but what makes co-ops unique is that the members are also the owners.
In addition to getting the products and services (fun fact: many co-ops offer classes, community spaces, recycling opportunities and support to other non-profits) you need, you also have a say in the business decisions your co-op makes. You can learn from the Ideal Green Market Co-op and Crow Wing Food Co-op folks exactly how members benefit by talking to them in person, but in the meantime here’s an illustration from the Crow Wing Food Co-op’s website:
Dollars spent at a cooperatively owned grocery store reverberate through local economies to a greater extent than dollars spent at national chain groceries; a recent study found that, for every $1,000 spent at a local food cooperative, $1,604 of economic activity is generated in the local economy (compared to $1,360 generated by $1,000 of sales at a conventional grocer).
There are several other area co-ops worth looking into: Harmony Co-op in Bemidji, the Free Range Food Co-op in Grand Rapids, and The Bluff Country Co-op in our Driftless Region would be good places to get started.
And whether you are joining us for the Spring Fair or not (and we hope you are!), this exploration of farms and co-ops should give you some reference points as you explore how and where to get local foods. In our experience, whether at a Farmer’s Market, other in-person events or a Co-op, folks are eager to share their knowledge and it’s great to know your farmer!