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Your Cooperative: More Than Vegan Butter

Food cooperatives around the Twin Cities and around the country are known for supporting farmers practicing sustainability and providing products for an increasingly food-conscious market. Because of this, cooperatives tend to be associated with words like local, organic, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, cage-free, antibiotic-free, preservative-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, and … expensive.

Sitting in on a Wirth Cooperative Grocery (WCG) board meeting, you will gather that healthy, organic options are important to those who have been working to make Wirth a reality, but the emphasis is on options. Local and organic are two choices among many. The core value of Wirth is ownership: its cooperative nature means equity, access to the array of products its members desire. It means the power to give input, request products, vote for board members, and shape the direction of the community grocery store.

For her part, board member Candy Bakion affirms healthy, natural foods, but emphasizes her desire for variety. “I go to co-ops for the junk food, and buy candy at farmer’s markets,” she smiles. “People assume a co-op means only healthy food, or only food they can’t afford. They tell me, ‘Co-ops are for other people,’ but Wirth is a place for everyone. We don’t beat people up for their food choices. Me? I’m pulling for a soda machine,” she laughs.

After seven years of dreaming and planning, you might think the WCG Board of Directors have the store all planned out. But Jenny Warner, Vice President of the Board, counters, “I’ve never made assumptions about what [WCG] would look like.” That’s because the cooperative doesn’t belong to her or the board. It belongs to all of its member-owners, whose input will guide the staff making decisions for the grocery store.

“Wirth is about meeting the needs of the community,” explains WCG General Manager Miah Ulysse. “I would rather a customer be able to buy an apple than for me to push vegan butter on them.” Vegan butter may be available at Wirth, alongside many local and organic options, but so will more affordable conventional products.

A single grocery store can’t provide every product. Candy knows she might not get her soda machine. Regardless, she and the cooperative’s nearly 500 member-owners have signed on to Wirth Cooperative Grocery because they believe in communal ownership, in having a say in their own grocery store, in investing in their neighborhood economy, and in meeting the diverse food needs of their community.

Written by Wirth Co-op Member Andrew Ulasich