Monday, July 1, 2013

Marquette Food Co-op Part I – Who are They?

The MI Local Foodbeet covers all of the 96,000 plus square miles of Michigan. I felt like I was neglecting the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) – I had not been there since I started blogging three years ago. Kudos to the Facebook pages of Yooper Pasty and Things to do in the U.P. which were essential to the early phase of my research and inspiration.

When I mentioned that I eat vegetarian, Jesse from Things to do in the U.P.  linked me with Natasha Lantz, the Community Liaison at the Marquette Food Co-op. She provided a lot more resources, and it became clear that Marquette should be my destination. This post is the first of 4 about Marquette. It is Part One about the Co-op.

My first stop after unloading at The Landmark Inn was the Marquette Food Co-op just a few blocks down the hill in the downtown area. After introductions, Lantz gave me a tour of the store. It includes Michigan brands from beans (Honey Boy Bob in the bulk section) to beer (mix and match six-packs). There are fruits and vegetables from several U.P. farmers in the produce case.

They also sell locally produced:
- milk (DeBacker Family Farm),
- roasted coffee (Dancing Crane and Dead River),
- meat (Rainbow Packing Co.),
- granola (Sweetwater Café),
- artisan bread (Sweetwater Café and Marquette Baking Co.),
- raw honey, and
- maple syrup.

 There’s a Grab and Go deli section, with sandwiches and salads, and a Wellness Dept. There are locally produced tinctures (Wilderness Herbs), soaps (Native Sister’s and Superior Bay), and laundry soap (Superior Bay) in the Wellness Dept.

After the tour, we sat down with general manager, Matt Gougeon to discuss the past and future of the co-op. It was established in 1971 as a buying club – a time that Gougeon calls the second wave of co-ops - the first being in the 1930s to 1940s. The items for sale were picked up from the People’s Food Co-op warehouse in Ann Arbor. In the 1980s, they moved into a building for retail sales; the current site opened in 2002 with an expansion in 2006. Early next year, the co-op will move into a space three-times the current and a bit outside of downtown. It will have a full-service deli. They currently have 3,500 members.

A co-op differs from a traditional health food store. Members make a one-time purchase of an equity share and at the end of each year are likely to get a dividend based on profits calculated and on how much the member contributed to the overall profitability of the store. There are member sales and discounts on classes. “It’s bottom up,” said Gougeon. “The members tell us what they want on the store shelves.”

They have had great success with canning, bee keeping, and fruit tree pruning classes. “The largest bee keeping club in Michigan was birthed from the Marquette Co-op,” said Gougeon.

Sales at the co-op have been growing, especially over the last five years as the buy local and eat local movement takes hold in the area. Local product sales have grown 60% since 2010. The largest local vendor is 10 acres; some are backyard gardeners. Last year 11% of sales were local products – this is close to $500,000.00 dollars in support for U.P. businesses.

When you are in the area, check them out. Click here for the second part of this two-part series on the Marquette Food Co-op.

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