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There are over a dozen food cooperatives in the metro area and the number is growing. With more and more options available for people to buy their groceries, you might expect cooperatives in the Twin Cities to turn inward, keep their customers close, and focus on protecting their bottom line. But as Wirth Cooperative Grocery (WCG) moves toward becoming operational, the opposite has proved true: WCG has experienced overwhelming support from other cooperatives in making the dream of a co-op in North Minneapolis a reality.
“As a small co-op, we truly understand the pressure of competition,” says Leigh Huck, Membership & Community Outreach Coordinator at Linden Hills Co-op. In February of this year Linden Hills made WCG the recipient for their round-up donation campaign during their “We Love Our Community” initiative. Customers could choose to round up their grocery bill as a donation. “We understand that small, local food businesses need support and we were happy to help how we can,” continued Huck. “Our community was proud to support a start-up co-op in need.”
Both Huck and Abby Rogosheske, Education and Outreach Coordinator at Seward Community Co-op, explained that their co-ops take the sixth principle of cooperatives very seriously: cooperation among cooperatives.
“This principle compels us to do whatever we can to support other co-ops,” said Rogosheske. This is not about competition; this is about supporting a movement for an economic system and a food system that works for everyone.”
Like Linden Hills, Seward chose WCG as a recipient for the round-up donations from its customers, intended to support those organizations that “sustain a healthy community that has: equitable economic relationships; positive environment impacts; and inclusive, socially responsible practices.”
“Wirth Co-op is a perfect fit,” said Rogosheske. The response from Seward’s members was overwhelmingly positive. “The sentiment was, ‘I love my co-op; everyone should have the choice to own and shop at a co-op in their neighborhood.’” In May 2015, 43,179 of Seward’s customers donated $19,261, putting the value of cooperation among cooperatives into practice.
As WCG has progressed toward opening in North Minneapolis, the support from other cooperatives has gone beyond financial investment. Former WCG General Manager, Miah Ulysse, explains that numerous co-ops provided logistical and instructional support.
“I’ve been amazed at how open other co-ops have been in sharing information about how they operate in hopes of helping us start our business and making it financially successful.”
WCG has received insight, advice and support from representatives of cooperatives throughout the Twin Cities. Staff and board members have shadowed Christina Nicholson, the General Manager of Hampden Park Co-op, and gleaned wisdom from Amy Fields, Eastside Food Co-op’s General Manager who donated a significant number of hours to WCG as it builds systems and infrastructure for a successful grocery operation.
In addition, WCG receives substantial support from Emily Anderson, board member of Wedge Community Co-op, who is personally supporting the WCG board and helping teach the City of Minneapolis’ Cooperative Technical Assistance Program (C-TAP). Leslie Watson of CDS Consulting Co-op has also provided valuable input, and board members plan to attend a training session with CDS.
As businesses feel the pressures of competition, they may be tempted to make decisions based on fear that result in erecting walls. But the cooperation among cooperatives is a posture of open hands, employing generosity and love in the pursuit of “a food system that works for everyone.” And Wirth Cooperative Grocery is feeling the love.
Written by: Andrew Ulasich