COMMUNITY VOICES | Mississippi Mushrooms: Where Mushrooms, social justice and economics meet

What do mushrooms, social justice, and economics have in common? The connection might not seem apparent at first, but Ian Silver-Ramp is happy to connect the dots with some creative thinking and a healthy appetite for entrepreneurship.Ian, who studied agriculture at the University of Minnesota, farmed on a cocoa plantation in Costa Rica, and worked with a major pesticide company for a stint, started off Mississippi Mushrooms with little more than the seed of an idea.Despite ample farming experience, Ian didn’t know mushrooms or the ins and outs of starting a small business. He simply knew he wanted the work he did to be consistent his values. “When I first decided I was going to open Mississippi Mushrooms and make a company, I didn’t know anything. I hadn’t even ever successfully fruited a mushroom,” remembers Ian.So, in the spring of 2012, when he heard about Neighborhood Development Center’s Plan it! Continue Reading

Efforts build to open a food cooperative on St. Paul’s East Side

Grass-roots community organizing efforts that began last fall to establish a cooperative grocery store on the East Side of St. Paul are gaining momentum. More than 100 residents attended a community meeting in October 2011, from which a steering committee formed. The organization eventually established the Gateway Food Cooperative and, in April, began recruiting member-owners. To date, nearly 130 households have purchased a share in the cooperative or “co-op,” which could open as a retail food store in two to four years.

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What Main Streets have over Wall Street

Far from America’s money center, community-based, farmer-owned and consumer-owned cooperative businesses in Minnesota are helping create jobs and wealth, and investing in their communities.That became apparent in an event advisory sent by Frank McDowell, general manager of New Vision Co-op, a southwestern Minnesota regional agricultural co-op now based at Brewster.“There is a lot of strength coming from agriculture for the last three years or so, and it is good for the whole economy,” McDowell said.The co-op is “retiring” (paying back) about $4 million in equity to original members who formed New Vision in 1998, a merger of two large co-ops in the area.About 3,000 farmers in southwest Minnesota and nearby border areas of Iowa and South Dakota will receive these checks. “Our local merchants will be glad to see this money show up on ‘Main Street’,” McDowell said.Such actions are expected as companies, of any ownership structure, prepare for the future and positions themselves to cope with changing market conditions and business opportunities.In contrast, critics of big stock corporations and high-finance note that corporations now have about $3 trillion stashed away, not being reinvested in the economy. While this stunts job growth and further holds back economic progress, other critics warn that when corporations start “investing,” much of it will likely be in merger and acquisition (M&A) activity that won’t necessarily grow the economy or put people back to work.More often than not, M&A activity creates “redundancies” and “synergies,” said Gerardo Espinoza, executive director of the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF) at Brookline, Massachusetts, in a recent interview. They usually lead to layoffs and more unemployment and further weakening of the economy.That is a danger for America down the road. But that isn’t the case with New Vision Co-op and a new merger partner, the Wilmont-Adrian ag co-op that merged into New Vision on September 1, or other co-ops based in Minnesota.Back on Wall Street, another danger is the debt being acquired by U.S. companies, according to AP business writer Bernard Condon. Continue Reading

Better biodiesel

• by Julia Olmstead • Earlier this week I had the good fortune of visiting the Organic Valley cooperative in La Farge, Wisc., a tiny town nestled into that state’s ridiculously gorgeous Kickapoo Valley. There’s a lot to like about Organic Valley: their co-op model has made organic dairy production and organic farming a viable path for more than a thousand farmers, they prioritize sustainability in all that they do, and, well, their chocolate milk just rocks. Continue Reading