The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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October 19, 2008

Food co-op advocates laying plans

It's "when, not if", one says

MANKATO — It was bound to happen.

With the mainstream embracing whole grains, organics and fair trade foods, and with supermarkets significantly increasing their organic/health foods offerings, it’s not surprising there’s talk of reviving a food cooperative in Mankato.

It’s been more than 20 years since the Community Foods Cooperative in South Front Street closed its doors. But today a new crop of idealists with a lot of enthusiasm is getting close to starting one up.

“If we get some more effort and input,” says Greg Lessard, the guy at the forefront of the movement to bringing a co-op back to Mankato, “we could know by Christmastime whether it’s feasible ... But I think it’s a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if.’”

Lessard, a recent graduate of Minnesota State University and onetime employee at the St. Peter Food Co-op, has been leading meetings since last winter.

At the most recent monthly meeting, at the Rasmussen Park building, a small group talked about marketing, financing and other start-up concerns, but one thing was clear: The group is excited about the potential.

“I like this,” Lessard told the group. “This is my favorite day of the month.”

Soon, people were volunteering to help. Don Lipps is offering to create a Web site. Bayard Black is wondering about potential investors. Others are pondering ways to reach more people or what location might work for a co-op.

Before it was over, they’d tweaked their mission statement and discussed ways to reach a broader audience with a survey it’s conducting.

Occasionally, there was mention of the previous effort to have a co-op in Mankato.

Started in the 1970s, the Community Foods Cooperative operated at 725 S. Front St., which is now the Barkhadle International Grocery.

It thrived for several years until a combination of factors came together to spell doom.

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