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Wirth Food Co-op to Service Food Desert in North Minneapolis

Wirth Co-op, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

Named after the Theodore Wirth Park, the Wirth Cooperative Grocery, North Minneapolis's first food co-operative, is under preparation for opening in 2016. The general idea of a food co-operative reflects a food distribution business model that allows its members to autonomously own and govern their business. Using the food co-operative business model as a foundation to the idea, the initiative for the Wirth Co-op started in 2007 when a group of residents in North Minneapolis met to discuss community development plans.

The group focused on the neighborhood's demand for accessible food, aspiring to revitalize the neighborhood through the necessity to uplift the local economy. The lack of accessible food created a food desert in the area, an ongoing issue for many neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. Residents in North Minneapolis do not have easy access to health food choices and there are very few grocery stores available within walking distance for many families. Residents with the means of transportation and disposable income choose to drive out of North Minneapolis for their food shopping.  

After the first few initial meetings, the group held its first official Annual Meeting and elected its first Board of Directors in 2008. Soon after, plans for Wirth Co-op solidified when the Board decided on the store's mission, logo, and name. After eight years of development and the help of the Brick and Mortar federal grant of $500,000, the startup secured a 4,500 square feet store location at the retail level of the Commons at Penn building. The Management Team and Board of Directors hope to finalize the financing and complete the store's construction before the end of 2016.  

Ana & Miah, Wirth Co-op, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United StatesAna Woodruff (left) & Miah Ulysses (right)

When asked to describe the distinctiveness of the Wirth Co-op, Miah Ulysse, General Manager, says that the pending grocery store is "definitely unique" and explains that the store will offer unconventional food products compared to most food co-ops in Minneapolis. Both Ulysse and Ana Woodruff, President of the Board of Directors, believe that the Wirth Cooperative Grocery will be an unconventional food co-op in a sense that the store will not push to solely be a organic or all natural food co-op. Ulysse further expresses that the Wirth Co-op will strive to serve the North Minneapolis community by reflecting the store based off of what the community wants and values. Ulysse states, for example, if the North Minneapolis community wants Hot Cheetos as a snack choice then the store will work towards offering it. The Wirth Co-op will offer a variety of food choices that include conventional products, as well as organics for the community. The goal is to give the neighborhood accessible foods that are also affordable for customers that hold different values in regards to food.   

The Wirth Co-op currently has 545 member-owners and continues to grow. With a one-time investment of $100, anyone is welcome to become a member-owner and membership can easily be purchased through the Wirth Co-op's official site. Ulysse and Woodruff agree that the member-owners or co-operative business models present a great opportunity for the North Minneapolis residents to get together to support and give back to the community. Ulysse explains that when people purchase memberships, they are making "a personal investment into a piece of their community."

The long-term benefit of the investment will give the community access to a variety of quality foods, in store benefits such as discounts, and work to give back to the community and improve the local economy when the store makes a profit. Moreover, with a model that allows profits to go back into the community, Woodruff really sees the co-operative as a partial solution to the lack of quality, accessible food in the area as well as a great way to push for sustainable economic development. Overall, the Wirth Cooperative Grocery is an organization that has been made possible by residents in North Minneapolis with the goal of operating the store for the benefit of their member-owners and to help serve, support, and develop their community.

How will the co-operative business model in North Minneapolis transform the community? What are some co-operative initiatives in your city? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.  

Credits: Images by Tam Nguyen. Data linked to sources.