Tucked away next to Dikken’s Furniture & Decorating and Timmerman Taekwondo Studio on Blue Earth’s Main Street is Rainbow Food Co-op.
Founded in 1979, the cooperative has been an integral part of Blue Earth for over 40 years. Nevertheless, director Steve Tenney suspects that there are misconceptions about his role in the community.
Indeed, you may be wondering now, “What exactly is a cooperative?”
In official jargon, a food cooperative, or food cooperative, is a food distribution point that is organized as a cooperative. In other words, he belongs to his community, not to a private or public company.
“People don’t realize it’s owned by the community, not a big company – that’s important for a number of reasons,”said Tenney. “The money you spend here stays here.”
He keeps on, “We are not here to make huge profits. Instead, we offer quality, affordable items that are grown or bred by your friends and neighbors.
And, Tenney clarifies, locals don’t need to be a Rainbow Food Co-op member to shop there. Although some co-ops require memberships or fees, the Blue Earth Co-op does not.
After stepping through the front door of Rainbow Food Co-op, customers are greeted with a tantalizing array of products – many of which are locally produced, and even more natural and nutritious ingredients.
“I try to have good quality things”Tenney summarizes.
The left wall of the store is lined with loose items.
“We have over 400 bulk items, including 17 different kinds of flour for baking bread”,said Tenney. Other bulk items include candies, nuts, wild rice, dried fruits, grains and spices, and trail mixes.
“Our dried fruits, nuts, and candies are sourced from a Minnesota supplier, and I believe they are the best quality on the market,”said Tenney.
A stroll through the other aisles of the store reveals other pleasant surprises, many of which are sourced locally.
Whole Grain Milling Co, a producer of whole grain products located in Welcome, provides the co-op’s stock of delicious tortilla chips.
Meanwhile, Honey Hills Farm, a business owned by Blue Earth resident Mary Hickerson, supplies some of the handcrafted goat’s milk skincare products that line the shelves near the co-op’s sunny front window. .
Other local products abound, from organic eggs – Tenney sells about 20 dozen a week – to maple syrup, meat products, honey, garlic, coffee and other gift items.
Tenney likes that many of the co-op’s products are locally sourced.
“It gives residents the opportunity to have a presence in a store, where they might not otherwise be welcome,”he says, adding that he works with some local suppliers on consignment. “It allows locals to have a presence in a local store.”
Rainbow Food Co-op’s meat freezer, which lines the left wall of the store, is a particularly interesting microcosm of local meat products.
“One of the newest additions to the co-op is our selection of meats, all raised and packaged locally,”said Tenney.
A local producer, Scott Haase, owns Blue Dirt Farm, which is an idyllic stretch of tree-dotted land located south of Blue Earth.
Haase has been supplying pork products to Rainbow Food Co-op for two years, but its relationship with the Blue Earth Co-op extends well beyond that time.
“My mother volunteered there when I was a baby or a small child,”Haase calls back. “I remember hanging out under the counter.”
Although it’s now too big — most likely — to fit under Rainbow Food Co-op’s counter, Haase still contributes its pastured pork and wood products to the co-op’s meat freezer.
Haase crosses Mangalitza pigs – a unique breed of pig that was developed nearly 200 years ago in Hungary – with Berkshire pigs, and lets them roam and graze freely on his farm.
According to Tenney, you can taste the difference. “(Haase’s) pigs are not raised in confinement”,he says. “They are bred to have more fat and marbling.”
In addition to valuing quality food products, Haase, a former Rainbow Food Co-op board member, is an advocate for supporting local businesses and producers.
“It helps us as a community in so many ways,”Hase said. “It’s a shame that we have some of the most fertile soils in the country and we mainly export soybeans and corn. If we can use the resources we have here, it can improve the functioning of the whole community. »
Goette Farms, located in rural Bricelyn, is another local producer whose meat products can be found in Rainbow Food Co-op’s expansive freezer.
Owners Brandon and Erika Goette raise beef, lamb and chicken products on their property in Bricelyn, but they also collaborate with other producers.
“We work with a friend from Blooming Prairie who has pigs,”says Erika Goette. Goette Farms also offers cheeses and maple syrup from Wisconsin.
Goette Farms’ flagship product, however, may well be its lamb.
The Goettes started raising lambs years ago in South Dakota, before moving into full-time lamb production in 2018 after moving to Bricelyn.
They found Rainbow Food Co-op through a fellow grower at Blue Earth Farmers’ Market, who suggested the co-op as a potential supplier for their produce.
Tenney says Les Goettes lamb meat has been popular with his customers ever since.
“There are a surprising number of people looking for lamb,”he notes.
Another big proponent of buying local is Goette.
“For us personally, we try to source all of our groceries locally,”Goette said. “If I don’t support local, why should people support me? »
Tenney adds that the decision to buy local goes beyond ethics; it is also a simple question of quality.
“It’s very satisfying to come to work knowing that I’m providing the best quality I can find to local restaurants, families and individuals, while being environmentally friendly with less packaging and allowing customers to fill their own containers.”,said Tenney.
He concludes, “We were recently approved to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, so I encourage everyone to come in and explore what we have to offer.”