A self-guided tour through Minnesota’s Bluff Country
—by Emma Onawa
We Minnesotans have a lot of reasons to be proud—great schools, friendly people, relatively progressive politics, strong industry—and lots of food co-ops. Minnesota boasts at least twenty-one co-op locations, more than any other state in the Midwest and, although not fact-checked, likely in the U.S. These reasons and others, of course, help to make up for the weather.
Many of the co-ops are located in the metro area, but six are found in the southeastern area of the state, so if you’re planning a road trip to the beautiful bluffs of southeastern Minnesota, be sure to check out the local co-ops on the way. Most have been around since the 1970s, when they started as a source for whole bulk foods and a few packaged goods. Here are some basics to send you off:
Hastings: Spiral Natural Foods Co-op and Grocery
Spiral derives its name from its early location near the spiral bridge in Hastings that took residents to old town Hastings along the Mississippi River. In the beginning Spiral endeavored to provide healthy, whole foods as well as some dairy, local produce, and foods without additives, which were not available in regular grocery stores. In 1992 Spiral changed from annual fees and a discount system to the equity-based system common in co-ops now.
Spiral was located in the old downtown area until 2011, when it moved to its present location off Highway 55. This move almost tripled sales. Spiral has a strong line of supplements and bulk, as well as a full line of produce.
Deli: Self serve with soups, sandwiches, wraps, and spreads.
1250 South Frontage Road, Hastings, MN 55033
Monday–Saturday 9 am – 8 pm, Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Red Wing: Riverbend Market Cooperative
Riverbend is the new kid on the block, experiencing the challenges and struggles that most new businesses endure. Riverbend first opened its doors in 2010 after the local farmers’ market discussed the idea and strategized, then celebrated its grand opening in April 2011. Its large retail space offers produce, bulk, frozen, grocery, and supplements and is growing and evolving every day. The co-op works closely with the Red Wing Farmers’ Market and sources local foods as much as possible. It also sources fresh seafood every week. Riverbend has a cadre of dedicated volunteers who help support its operation and growth.
Deli: Full service with soups, salads, wraps, desserts as well as made to order smoothies and
sandwiches. Small seating area.
417 Main Street, Red Wing, MN 55066 (across from the St. James Hotel on Highway 61)
Monday–Saturday 9 am – 7 pm, Sunday 10 am – 4 pm
Winona: Bluff Country Coop
Bluff Country opened its doors in 1972 as Famine Foods Co-op, so named to remind people that there’s a lot of hunger in the world and to eat lower on the food chain. In these early days, the co-op provided access to bulk and packaged goods. The name was changed to Bluff Country in 1992.
Bluff Country was the first co-op in the country to deal in Fair Trade products, and carries exclusively fair trade coffee and chocolate, in keeping with its international consciousness. Staff also are
committed to pure health and wellness products, particularly skin care products. Bluff Country works with local organizations to train high school students and developmentally or similarly challenged individuals to learn the co-op business and sustainable practices.
Deli: Self serve with soups, salads, wraps and sandwiches, desserts. Small seating area.
121 West 2nd Street Winona, MN 55987
Monday-Saturday 8 am – 8 pm, Sunday 10 am – 8 pm
Rochester: People’s Food Co-op
The Good Food Co-op served the city of Rochester from 1975 to 2011. The co-op was organized at the Rochester Public Library and was a bulk store until it was wiped out by a flood. The store was rebuilt and had three prior locations.
In October 2011 the Good Food Co-op joined forces with People’s Co-op of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, which helped with buying power and sales. On September 2, 2013, People’s Rochester opened the doors of it newly built location in downtown Rochester, the first grocery store in downtown Rochester for many years. In this move, People’s Rochester doubled its staff and grew to 15,500 feet of retail space. People’s sources local meats and seafood.
Deli: Large deli featuring salad bar, coffee and tea bar, made-to-order sandwiches, olive bar, rotisserie chicken, soups, salads, pizza, burritos, and bakery. Large seating area.
519 1st Avenue Southwest, Rochester, MN 55906
Open daily, 6 am – 10 pm
Cannon Falls: Ferndale Market
Ferndale Market is a treasure hiding just off of Highway 52 in Cannon Falls. The store fronts a family farm that has been raising free-range turkeys since 1939.
While not a co-op, Ferndale’s principles and products are easily recognizable to co-op shoppers. The market specializes in locally produced products, including a wide variety of meats, pastas, sweets, breads, condiments, and beverages, as well as their own uncured turkey products, ranging from whole turkeys to turkey breast to sausage and snack sticks. They also have frequent weekend events.
31659 County 24 Boulevard, Cannon Falls, MN 55009
Monday through Friday 10 am – 6 pm, Saturday 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday 11am – 4 pm.
Oak Center: Oak Center General Store
If you’re looking for the old-time co-op atmosphere, Oak Center is your place. Although not technically a cooperative, Oak Center has had a long presence in the sustainable food market and movement. Store owner Steven Schwen supplies the store with produce grown from his own Earthen Path Organic Farm.
The store also is stocked with basic bulk and dry goods, dairy, breads, and bright orange-yolk eggs from Steven’s happy chickens. Oak Center also sells bedding vegetable and herb plants in the spring, many of them heirlooms. Steven sells his produce to local co-ops (including Hampden Park Co-op) and farmer’s markets, as well as through a CSA. In the winter, Oak Center features live music and other programs nearly every weekend.
67011 Highway 63, Oak Center, MN (about halfway between Zumbro Falls and Lake City)
Generally open during the day. If no one is in the store, look for someone in the back or on the land. If no one comes, leave payment for whatever you purchase.
www.oakcentergeneralstore.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for live music.
Northfield: Just Food Co-op
Unlike many other co-ops, Just Food did not morph from a small bulk food store. Although there were buying clubs over the years, founding members decided to improve the food system.
Just Foods opened in December 2004, its name derived from its commitment to doing business justly through local sourcing, fair trade, and clean, whole foods. Just Foods sets the standard with stringent guidelines for purchasing all of it products: organic produce, GMO-free, fair trade, local, and clean foods and health/wellness products. It’s also committed to pricing its extensive organic produce in line with conventional grocery stores.
Just Food partners with local colleges to promote healthy food access, sustainability education, and healthy monthly care packages parents can send to children attending local colleges.
Deli: Self serve sandwiches, hot bar, soups, and breakfast on weekends
516 Water Street South, Northfield, MN 55057 (2 blocks off Highway 3)
Monday through Saturday 8 am – 9 pm, Sunday 10 am - 7pm
Emma Onawa has been a co-op owner and shopper for more than 30 years and has never met a cat or a cheese she doesn't like.