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New food co-op opening Algona doors

By Staff | Feb 27, 2009

Iowans are not strangers to cooperatives when it involves elevators, electricity, or telephones. But a food cooperative, what is that?

For Joanne Roepke Bode, of Algona, educating people about a food co-op is a frequent job as she is in charge of the steering committee of Fresh Connections, a food co-op scheduled to open in Algona in late March.

With two years of planning and fundraising behind them, the organizers of Fresh Connections have rented a store front and have grown to 130 members. They have a goal of 200 members by their opening and want to serve an area in a 100-mile radius from Algona.

Joanne, and her husband Beany, who teaches biology at Algona Garrigan High School, returned to their native Iowa from Washington, D.C. after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 to be closer to family. Her husband’s family farm is near Algona and Joanne is from Aurora in northeast Iowa. Joanne also works part time at the Algona hospital in public affairs.

The couple enjoys growing vegetables and she described the two of them as “do it yourself people.” After five years in Algona, they had become part of a group of friends who wanted to start a food co-op with the emphasis on locally grown food.

Joanne Bode said food co-ops are frequently found in communities that are located with a college so putting a food co-op in Algona would make it different from other food co-ops. An early and frequent problem was that, “Some people aren’t open to the word organic,” said Bode.

A letter from Bode to the editor of the Algona paper telling of the goals of the food co-op helped answer questions and reduce fears. She said the food co-op does not oppose nor wants to change conventional agriculture.

Fresh Connections has three points in its mission. One is to connect local producers with consumers. Another is to enhance the local food economy.

The last point is to provide educational opportunities. This would include classes on canning, serving gluten-free meals, and heart healthy meals. For farmers, Fresh Connections wants to show how to extend the growing season and conduct farm tours.

With its location in downtown Algona, Fresh Connections will be the only grocery store in that business area. They are renting their store space from Lori Hanchett who operates the Gallery Brew next door, a business that serves coffee and sells framing and prints.

The 1,800 square feet of space will carry fresh produce and locally grown meat. They will have flour, rice, and herbs available in bulk and sell gluten-free items. There will be home and health care items and groceries both natural and organic. Regional art will be available for sale.

Bode believes the food co-op will complement Algona’s two other grocery stores that are both located on the north side of Algona where the two highways intersect plus Algona’s active farmer’s market. Fresh Connections and the grocery stores will not be direct competitors. A survey of the Algona Area conducted by Fresh Connections said customers would be willing to pay an additional 10 percent higher price for locally grown food.

A membership, which is a one-time fee of $100, will not be required to make purchases at the food co-op. Producers wanting to sell to Fresh Connections will have to join the co-op. Members will be able to buy at a discount, get a patronage refund and serve on the board of directors.

Bode said she likes the cooperative method of doing business, because operating as a cooperative means customers can talk to the boss or, as a member of the board of directors, be the boss.

Contact Clayton Rye by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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