- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - In a story Nov. 25 about food co-ops, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the minimum investment for shares in the Prairie Roots Food Cooperative in Fargo is $1,000. A member share costs $300.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Food co-ops seek to keep more homegrown products in state

Food co-ops planned in Fargo, Bismarck want to stock their shelves with North Dakota products

By DAVE KOLPACK

Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - While North Dakota residents give thanks around the table in a state that produces much of the nation’s foodstuffs, it’s likely that most of what’s on their plates is coming from somewhere else.

Food cooperatives planned for the two largest metropolitan areas are aiming to change that.

The Bismarck-Mandan Community Food Co-op already held its groundbreaking ceremonies and the Prairie Roots Food Cooperative in Fargo is well on its way to reality with more than 900 members onboard. For a minimum investment of $200 in Bismarck and $300 in Fargo, members can be part of a movement to consume natural, local foods.

“We’re going to be kind of looking at sourcing our products through a lens that asks, “Can we get this locally as much as possible?’” said Kaye Kirsch, development director of the Fargo group. “We want to support local producers and have their products available in our store.”

North Dakota ranks first or second in the nation in the production of a dozen commodities, including durum wheat, spring wheat, pinto beans, black beans, navy beans, dry edible peas and sunflowers.

The co-ops can be attractive to both large and small producers in the state, said Karen Ehrens, coordinator for the state’s Healthy North Dakota program.

“It could be that some diversification by large growers could happen, or it might be more likely that small numbers of acres could be rented out or leased, or small parcels purchased,” she said.

The two groups also are getting help elsewhere. A nonprofit that supports food co-ops gave $10,000 seed grants to each of them. And Doug Burgum, a Fargo businessman and philanthropist, is providing a $100,000 matching grant to the Fargo project.

A national nonprofit organization that gives money and advice to startup co-ops is working with about 120 communities on projects, including Fargo and Bismarck. Food Co-op Initiative executive director Stuart Reid said co-ops have become popular in the last decade both in big cities like New York and Chicago and towns with a couple thousand people, though the smaller areas have more trouble supporting them.

“It’s a credit to North Dakota that both of them were on our top 20 list and both of them were grant recipients,” Reid said.

Officials with both North Dakota co-ops hope membership clout will get food into areas of North Dakota where the nearest grocery store is more than a country mile away. The state has 17 counties with areas that are considered potential food deserts, where people don’t have ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable foo, Ehrens said.

Kirsch said she wants to, “provide an infrastructure network so that local producers in small towns throughout North Dakota can get their product to the larger markets like the co-op in Fargo. That’s really kind of my personal dream for where I would like to go,” she said.

While some other states like Nebraska and Oklahoma have discussed similar ideas, Reid said there aren’t yet “a lot of good models.”

“If you can create a network of stores that collaborate on distribution and maybe have shared administrative services to keep costs downs, I think there are some possibilities,” he said. “Somebody has got to serve those communities, so there’s an opportunity there.”

Members and shoppers at food co-ops are typically well-educated, white-collar workers with medium to higher incomes, Reid said. But Ehrens said the two stores are looking to increase access and plans to accept food stamps.

“They are concerned that a food co-op is not just a fancy shop where people with moderate and above-moderate incomes cam go to find organic foods,” she said. “Rather, that people of all income levels can go there to find healthy food.”

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Follow Dave Kolpack on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DaveKolpackAP.

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