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.
Grocery stores began offering so-called “whole foods” and organics, which had been the sole domain of the co-op in the Mankato market.
Parking was also an issue — there was none. And the place had a certain image — sort of a ’60ish vibe — that simply didn’t mesh with the ultra-busy, do-everything ethos of the 1980s.
“In 1984, people got very, busy,” said Anne Ganey, now executive director of the Mankato YWCA and former co-manager of the Community Foods Cooperative. “People were working a lot and that 24-hour access (offered at the bigger grocers) was appealing.”
Kathy Brynaert, current state representative and former president of the Mankato co-op’s board of directors, was among the individuals that ultimately decided to shut down the co-op.
She agreed with Ganey’s assessment of why it died and said the board tried for two years to resurrect it.
They held meetings, usually in someone’s living room, as they explored all angles and avenues in making it work.
“We met with some bankers and looked at some property,” Brynaert said. “We got really close to signing a lease, but it never quite happened. We did everything we could, but the business plan didn’t give us confidence that we’d have stability ... And there was allegiance building to the St. Peter Co-op.”
Indeed, many people flocked to St. Peter, which has been in business and been successful since the early to mid-1980s.
Margo O’Brien is the general manager at the St. Peter Co-op and has been there since the store opened. She said that 20 years ago, “We saw the demise of those organizations that couldn’t make it, and we also saw a stabilization of the existing co-ops.”
Things were easier for co-ops to start up 20 years ago.
“All of these co-ops were started on shoe strings. You could put your bulk things in used peanut butter containers and that was good enough,” O’Brien said.
It wouldn’t be today. Today Cub Foods and Hy-Vee — as well as Target and Wal-Mart — can offer much of the same healthy, organic and fair trade items that a co-op would stock.
O’Brien said it definitely poses huge challenges for new existing co-ops and start-ups. And now, she said, the co-op idea is seeing a bit of a resurgence.
She said she’s witnessed two start up in the last five years, both of which are successful.
“It’s taken a very huge dedication on the part of people to get both of those stores off the ground,” she said, “and it’s years’ worth of very strong dedication.”
Lessard says he’s aware of the fight ahead of him and the rest of the group. And he’s aware that getting involved with a co-op means committing several years to an enterprise that, in the end, may not survive.
Still, he and the others, for now at least, seem very committed to the idea of having a co-op in Mankato.
“We have to rethink how we consume food,” he said. “Co-ops can offer a compelling alternative to the current big-box chain stores.”
It's "when, not if", one says
MANKATO — It was bound to happen.
- Local News
- Hundreds turn out for Holiday Train The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train rumbled through New Ulm Sunday, attracting several hundred or so people who came to see the sights and hear the sounds.
- Club decorates tree with Hubbard House flowers Library Christmas tree's theme is 'Books and Flowers'
- Leonard accepts position with state Historical Society Ben Leonard to stay in St. Peter and continue as school board member.
One night in the life of the Salvation Army shelter
Four men share their stories with The Free Press.
- More Mankato homeless now than 10 years ago Young and old seeking help from a variety of sources
- How They Voted: week ending Dec. 6 Here's how area House members voted on major issues in the week ending Dec. 6. The Senate was in recess.
- City may delay big jump in water fees for apartments After hearing from apartment owners, Mankato city staff are proposing a six-month delay in plans to begin charging basic water and sewer fees for every apartment unit.
- Runners brave sub-zero temps to run the Reindeer Dash Runners had to work hard to stay warm during the YMCA's Reindeer Dash 5k Saturday.
Krohn column: Could reality TV get worse?
Get ready for wall-to-wall Vikes stadium coverage
- Shop With a Hero touches hearts, lives Annual program pairs officers and firefighters with kids in need. The "hero" helps them shop for their families, and for themselves.
- More Local News Headlines