Beth Schatz Kaylor
 

When Heidi Demars moved from Grand Forks to Bismarck with her husband, Tyler, and their two children, one of the first things they did was seek out the local food co-op. "We were pretty surprised that Bismarck-Mandan, being a larger community than Grand Forks, didn't have a co-op," says Demars. With a group of interested community members, they decided to take on the monumental task of starting one.

For the Demars family and members of other co-ops nationwide, their local food co-op is a place to not only purchase groceries, but also connect with fellow community members over a shared love of good

food.

At first glance, a thriving food co-op looks just like any other grocery store, with a produce section, shelves for dry goods, refrigerator and freezer areas with dairy and meat,and usually a bulk goods area for grains, nuts and granola. However, upon closer analysis, a shopper will note that many of the items come from local producers; that many of the items are organic; and that each item in the store supports the store's mission of contributing to the wellbeing of the community, as well as supporting sustainable food producers.

"Our Grand Forks co-op, Amazing Grains, not only supplied us with fresh food, but it also had a wonderful community garden, a great little cafe and educational classes. It really became a place for us to connect with others," says Demars.

After seeing the effects of poor nutrition on children as a school-based occupational therapist, along with the positive changes that can result in behavior and attention when kids are provided a nourishing diet, Demars became a community food advocate, recently winning a Bush Fellowship for her work in the field. "As a mom and consumer, I pay attention to what my kids eat. There is so much junk out there that is easily accessible in terms of cost and convenience, but we focus on buying and eating real food as much as possible and sourcing locally when we can. We want to support our farmer friends, but seeking out good food in the area means we are running to various stores and markets and even buying some items online that aren't available here." The co-op will be a one-stop-shop for individuals and families looking for local food, as well as most other kitchen staples. "Bisman Community Food Coop -- it has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" says Demars with a smile.

Heidi and Tyler Demars, along with a hard-working board of directors and dedicated co-op ambassadors, are gaining speed with the Bisman Community Food Coop (BCFC), with more than 220 member-owners and more joining the ranks every week. However, Heidi Demars sees education as the biggest hurdle in gaining membership. "There is some confusion initially, but once prospective members understand the concept, most fill out a membership form on the spot," she says.

To help clarify, we asked Heidi Demars to answer some of the most frequent questions about the coop.

Q: Are you open?

A: "Not yet. The sooner we build membership, the sooner our doors will open" says Demars. "Our goal is to secure 600 member-owners before securing a location. Member-owner investment provides start-up capital as well as showing project viability to financing partners." Memberships have been available for the past six months, and BCFC has secured more than 220 members thus far. "We're really excited by the progress we've made," she says.

Q: Where are you going to be located?

A: "We have our eye on a few potential spots," says Demars. However, at this early stage of development, the BCFC organizing team is focused on securing 600 memberships before selecting the store space. "Of course, if a supportive community member in the area has commercial retail space that they'd like to hold for us, we'd be more than happy to talk with them," says Demars. Ideally, the co-op will be centrally located with approximately 6,000 square feet of retail space and adequate parking.

Q: If you are selling local food, what are you going to do in the winter months?

A: "Although the co-op is definitely supporting local producers, we fully realize that we live in an area with a short growing season," says Demars. BFCF has already connected with a national natural foods supplier, ensuring that the store stays well stocked with fresh produce throughout the year, along with many other items not available locally.

Q: What are the benefits to being a BCFC member?

A: Anyone will be able to shop at the co-op, but non-members will likely have to pay a surcharge on store purchases. Members will eventually receive a portion of the store profit. Profits achieved by the co-op are distributed to members based on their patronage, or how many dollars they spend at the co-op during the year.

However, Demars emphasizes that most co-op members are driven by more than financial benefit. "Becoming a member is really voting with your dollar, a vote that says you care about community and good food," says Demars.

Q: How do I become a member?

A: Anyone can sign up for a membership at BismanFoodCoop.com. A household BCFC membership is a one-time investment of $200. Payment plans are also available. "We've had members purchasing additional memberships as gifts for friends and family," says Demars. "We've already built this amazing community of co-op members, and we're excited to see it continue to grow."

To learn more about Bisman Community Food Coop, visit bismanfoodcoop.com or on Facebook.com/BisMan Community Food Co-op



 
Beth Schatz Kaylor is a communications professional and freelance writer. She blogs about her North Dakota kitchen at rhubarbandvenison.com.