Local farmers, sustainability enthusiasts, and foodies in the Fargo-Moorhead community rejoiced at the grand opening of the Prairie Roots Co-op on Wednesday, Sept. 6. The rest of the celebration-filled week brought the community together with live music, workshops, sales and a free yoga class.
Prairie Roots Co-op, on 1213 Northern Pacific Avenue of Fargo, is a community-owned grocery store with a mission to bring local, organic and non-toxic products to the community. The co-op offers classes, events, and workshops to help people live sustainably and develop healthier lifestyles. The members of the co-op believe that it is more than just a place to gather and eat; it is a social justice mission within itself.
Jodi Regan, a member of the co-op’s marketing team, said that planning began in September 2010 in the backrooms of churches and coffee shops and that Prairie Roots became an official organization in 2011. When the board members of Prairie Roots first came together to bring this project to life, they recognized that Fargo lacked what many cities of similar populations had: a co-op. Population aside, Fargo has a rich tradition of agriculture, and the Red River Valley is known as one of the most fertile places in the country. The co-op creates opportunities for local and regional farmers to sell their produce directly to the community, and in return, generate income for the local economy. After six years of meticulous planning, Prairie Roots opened to the community in July.
“Sometimes to get the best quality of something, you kind of just have to do it yourself,” Regan added.
Although Prairie Roots opened to the public in July, the team waited until September to celebrate its grand opening. Regan explained that they wanted to have a slower opening to get a feel for the needs of the community, to ensure great customer service and to simply get the word out. Buzz about the co-op spread through social media and word of mouth, and by the time the academic year began, students and members of the community alike were itching to check out what Prairie Roots Co-op had to offer.
Customers who enter the co-op are greeted by a beautiful assortment of produce, including products not typically sold in conventional grocery stores. Regan explained that if a customer is browsing the fresh produce section and thinks, “What the heck do I do with a rutabaga?” not to fear-the staff is there to help. The employees at Prairie Roots love to cook and can offer advice for shoppers who are foreign to certain products.
Prairie Roots Co-op is not just for people who want to eat organic. Vegans, vegetarians, and people who have gluten or lactose intolerance have a wide array of options that will not disappoint. In the hot bar section that has ready-to-eat food every day, and in packaged products available to bring home and enjoy, there are options for all. They also have a large selection of chemical-free household and personal hygiene products. Mike Wenning, who is new to the Fargo area, attended the grand opening. He was looking for non-toxic soaps and medications, and was pleased with the range of options. While he usually shops at Swanson Health Products in Downtown, Fargo, he planned on coming back to the co-op.
“I always thought it was a restaurant,” Wenning said. “I kept walking by on the other side of the street, and I thought ‘wow, that’s a nice co-op,’ and I know what a co-op is, but it was nice to find this.”
A potential barrier for college students interested in shopping at the co-op is the cost of the products. Regan said that if a potential customer is questioning whether or not Prairie Roots is a good fit for them, they should first and foremost ask themselves, “Do I care where my food comes from?” If the answer is no, it makes less sense to shop at Prairie Roots, where the goal is to tell the story of the farmer and educate its customers to better understand how certain ingredients affect the body.
Cobber sophomore Carly Erickson, who was introduced to the co-op through an Instagram ad, understands the importance of local businesses.
“Having to pay out a little more to a business that supports and gives back to the community is not a big deal for me,” she said.
Beyond shopping at the co-op, people are able to become an owner. A lifetime membership at Prairie Roots Co-op is three hundred dollars, which can be paid upfront or in payments of 25 dollars every six months. Members receive additional benefits that include having a voice in board elections, deciding what the co-op does with its profit and earning special discounts on items in store.
The Prairie Roots Co-op’s main goal is to support the local community, but the impact extends far beyond Fargo-Moorhead. Customers who shop locally can significantly reduce their carbon footprint, Regan explained. Furthermore, Prairie Roots tries to be as environmentally friendly as possible by selling reusable bags, composting its waste and donating to Dorothy Day or an emergency food pantry.
Unlike big chain grocery stores, where the mission is to be the most cost effective, Regan said, “Our mindset is the opposite. We’re like, ‘How do we recycle this even if it takes a little more effort? How do we compost this? How do we donate this?’ Because at the end of the day, we really want the food to help people. It’s not just about making money.”
The co-op hopes to eventually extend its reach by implementing bodegas on college campuses and opening more stores south and west of Fargo. While these goals are certainly attainable, for now the focus is on the success of the new and upcoming co-op.
“There’s a song by Noah Gundersen that goes, ‘start small, grow tall’, and I love that.” Ragen said.
Mariah is a junior double majoring in Music and Global Studies, with a concentration in development studies. She enjoys singing in the Concordia Choir, being involved in the theatre department, traveling, and spending time in nature. This is her second semester on the Concordian staff.