In the 1970s, Minnesota cities from Duluth to Winona had food co-ops, more than anywhere else in the country. Large numbers of people embraced the idea of replacing capitalism with egalitarian systems of distribution led by local communities. In the early years, there were 60 co-op grocery stores in nearly half of Minnesota’s 87 counties.
The movement, according to a new documentary about the local “Co-op Wars,” launched from the work of People’s Pantry, based in a Georgeville farm community in Stearns County. It was created as a way to provide healthier food that came from and was provided to individuals, rather than relying on and supporting industry chains.
Eventually, the founders developed North County Coop [sic] in Minneapolis, the first grocery store–based enterprise. It eventually did $2,000 in daily business in the 1970s, before sociopolitical divisions broke up many involved in that movement.
One of the women interviewed for “Co-op Wars” was Lori Zuidema. She said that as a woman without a college degree, she was able to rise to a position of responsibility. “For me it was an element of feminism. There wasn’t a division of labor. Women did everything that the men did. We did all of the jobs, including driving the truck.”
Today Minnesota is home to a network of 45 co-ops, working with more than 200 organic farms.
“Grocery Activism: The Radical History of Food Cooperatives in Minnesota,” by Craig Upright (University of Minnesota Press, 2020). The author was inspired to explore co-op history from experience in the 1990s as a Minneapolis restaurant food buyer. The choice had largely come down to deciding “who is more deserving of the limited resources in my food budget: the local farmer from the county next door who uses conventional growing methods or the conglomerate shipping organic carrots more than a thousand miles from California?”