Big Minnesota premier of “Food For Change” a cooperative event


Minnesota might not attract fancy opening night premiers for many Hollywood blockbusters, but when you want to debut a national documentary about co-ops, where better than the Land O’ Lakes?

Sunday night, about half a dozen Minnesota-based food cooperatives will take center stage for the U.S. premier of Food for Change, a nationally focused picture about the growth, expansion and economic success of these enterprises.

Each of the local food co-ops featured have growth and success stories to tell, says Kari Binning, marketing and media manager for the Mississippi Market co-op, which has expanded from its Selby Avenue home base to a second market at 1500 W. 7th St. in St. Paul.

Conveniently, Mississippi Market seized the opportunity to link its annual membership meeting to the film’s premier, said Binning, which will run at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul.

Dan Nordley, an executive at Triangle Park Creative in Minneapolis that publishes the national Cooperative Grocer magazine, said in a website posting the film points out historical significance of food co-ops along two paths.

First, they were instrumental in bringing consumers behind the organic food industry; second, the film shows how food co-ops strengthen communities where they are located.

Nordley is an active member of the Seward co-op in South Minneapolis that has expanded and grown while the community it serves goes through demographic change with new Minnesotans originally from East Africa.

These food co-op experiences are examples of Minnesota cooperative developments that will also be examined at a day-long November 8 conference, Cooperatives = Community Development. CoMinnesota and supporting cooperatives are hosting the conference at Thrivent Financial’s Minneapolis headquarters. Thrivent, the nation’s largest mutual benefit society with $75 billion in assets, is recognized internationally as a co-op although member-owned mutuals and credit union are incorporated under different U.S. legal codes.

“Minnesota and Wisconsin are the two biggest users of cooperative business models,” said Kevin Edberg, executive director of the multi-state Cooperative Development Services organization based in St. Paul and a co-director of CoMinnesota.

Minnesota has the largest number of co-op enterprises incorporated in a U.S. state. Wisconsin’s per capita financial use of cooperative enterprises is greater, Edberg said, citing University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives research.

The Wisconsin center found Minnesota had 1,016 cooperatives involving 3.4 million member-owners. They represented 17 business and categories: 305 housing, 229 farm supply and marketing, 156 credit unions, 64 water and waste, 56 retail (food and consumer goods), 55 mutual insurance and 44 electric cooperatives.

Other, smaller categories of Minnesota co-ops were 32 for education, 16 for arts, crafts and entertainment, 15 telephone, 14 healthcare, 10 biofuels, nine daycare, six media, four farm credit, and one transportation co-op.

Building from that platform, Edberg said the conference would explore areas where more cooperative development can help Minnesota grow while helping build a more sustainable economy.

Among morning speakers are Chris Kopka, from Thrivent Financial and its Brightpeak Financial investment subsidiary, and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Kopka holds an adjunct position for teaching cooperative law at University of Minnesota Law School; Ritchie, who has promoted cooperative development here and abroad, tracks cooperative development through filings in his state office.

Informal luncheon table talks focus on building a co-op base for the future. Elena Gaarder of Nexus Community Partners will discuss how the development community can support worker co-ops, Rudy Levine from CoFED (Cooperative Food and Empowerment Directive) will discuss engaging youth in co-op development, and John Flory and Yolanda Cotteral from Latino Economic Development Center will discuss development in Latino communities around Minnesota.

Afternoon sessions link co-ops with important economic development issues for Minnesota.

Dennis Johnson, Senior Cooperative Foundation chair, will discuss senior housing co-ops. Warren Kramer, executive director of Northcountry Cooperative Foundation, will discuss manufactured home park cooperatives and homeownership.

Leslie Watson, of Northeast Investment Cooperative, and Flory from LEDC, will discuss community wealth building; and Flory will join Pakou Hang, from Hmong American Farmers Association, in a discussion of co-ops in immigrant communities.

It’s a powerful set of events that will reinforce what Minnesotans are suited to do well and how we can used this advantage to grow an economy that will help move all Minnesotans forward.