Local food production reaching capacity


A case study of the cooperative food system in the Twin Cities and surrounding area shows enormous strength for local foods, but it also reveals that local food production, marketing and retailing may have reached current local capacity.

This should have everyone pondering what local food proponents and local food cooperatives should be doing next, said Kevin Edberg, executive director of Cooperative Development Services in St. Paul.

“We know there is still more interest among people wanting to get started in local food production,” he said. “But it will take some good thinking to figure out what we will do with the production.”

That, however, is for the next stage of planning and development. The research report shows great strengths within the local food system to build on.

The study, The Twin Cities Cooperative Local Food System, was conducted and written by Joan Stockinger of CDS and Dave Gutnecht, editor of Cooperative Grocer, a national publication for food cooperatives that is based in Minneapolis. Funding for the study was provided by a grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Among their findings, the cooperative food system in the Twin Cities area now has 15 consumer-owned retail cooperatives operating 17 stores. They have 91,000 owner-members and 50,000 nonmember customers, generating $179 million in annual sales of which 30 percent are local produced and processed foods.

The authors found this system supports from 300 to 350 local farmers, processors and local suppliers within a 200 mile radius of the Twin Cities.

This sets the food co-ops apart from other food retailers that may be increasing their offerings of organic or local foods, Edberg said. Members have invested in their stores for access to products they want. “It is a demand driven, not a product pushed food system for the members and their customers,” he said.

Stockinger and Gutnecht found that membership in Twin Cities food co-ops have been growing by about 100 members per week during the past decade. This growth, they warned, must be maintained and local food co-ops may need to keep expanding to handle local food products now coming on the market.

It becomes a matter of “scale” for both the producers and processors as well as for the local food retailers, they said. And this, they said, is an important matter for further study by all who enjoy local foods and want to support the local food industry.