10-11 mm food co-op

MIKE McCLEARY/Tribune Heidi Demars hopes to organize a group of people to look into starting a food co-op in Bismarck. 10-11-2011

When Heidi Demars moved with her husband and two children to Bismarck from Grand Forks in February, one thing she did even before the move was to look for a food co-op or natural food market in the community.

The family belonged to Amazing Grains co-op in Grand Forks, which offered chefs' presentations, movie nights and other events. Her involvement with the local foods movement there included efforts to get local foods into the schools and creating community gardens, she said.

Demars found that some local groceries and retailers in Bismarck-Mandan have portions of their businesses devoted to organic foods and products, but what she was looking for was missing - a co-op owned by community members that sells locally-produced foods.

So Demars, an occupational therapist, set about networking with her Realtor, with neighbors and others, to see how much interest there would be in starting a food co-op.

She and her family became members of Riverbound Farm CSA (community supported agriculture) south of Mandan, and found "a great group of people" at their events at the farm.

She placed a sign-up sheet at a gathering there, and found a core group of about 20 enthusiasts also interested in having a local co-op.

From the sign-up list, she started a Facebook group just recently - "80 people are already interested," she said - and also connected with another group of Pride of Dakota members who tried to create a co-op a couple of years ago, she said.

"This is to me, both consumers and producers coming together," Demars said. "The next step is just to really find out if more people out there are interested in getting involved."

Putting together a food co-op takes a lot of time and commitment from people, she said. In her experience, it generally takes about two years for a co-op to get going, she said. Startups need financing and upfront investors to establish themselves, she said.

But co-ops are good for their communities, she said, creating jobs and helping the local economy.

"A co-op is community-owned and member-driven, and dollars stay local," Demars said. And a local group could reduce the "food miles" it takes to get foods here, she said.

Co-ops are celebrated in many communities, she said: "This is such an agricultural state, but we're used to exporting (our food), it all goes out of state."

"The great thing about good quality food is that it is part of our lives every day. It is universal. People love quality food and access to it."

Producers and consumers met two weeks ago to talk about getting a feasibility study done by an independent consulting agency, she said. The consultants would explore whether "yes, this is the right market, or no, the numbers don't add up," she said.

Right now, the goal is to get the community interested and find leaders who want to work on this, Demars said.

The next planning meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Bismarck Public Library, Meeting Room A.

To find the group's Facebook page, search for Friends-of-the-Co-op on Facebook.

(Reach reporter Karen Herzog at 250-8267 or karen.herzog@bismarcktribune.com.)

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