Regional Food Co-ops Take Off in Cedar Rapids Des Moines
Story Photo by Cindy Hadish
Kim Burnett-Hanssen is passionate about local foods, but can do
without the chaos sometimes found at large farmers markets.
"I work nights and I'm not a big crowd person," said Burnett-Hanssen, a communications specialist at Iowa Methodist
Medical Center in Des Moines.
When she heard about the Iowa Food Cooperative, Burnett-Hanssen found the perfect solution to fill her appetite for
fresh produce and more.
The Des Moines-based cooperative, along with the Iowa Valley
Food Co-op, centered in Cedar Rapids, are two of just 20 or so
food cooperatives nationwide that operate as "virtual farmers
markets," using modern technology to connect customers to
old-fashioned, farm-fresh foods.
Members peruse the online list of a wide variety of items available from area farmers, bakers and producers, ordering what
they like at their own convenience. Those growers and other
producers, in turn, prepare the orders to drop off at a central
distribution site where the items are picked up by members on
"We don't do a lot of shopping at the grocery store anymore,"
Burnett-Hanssen said, citing eggs, honey, hand-made pasta
and more that she buys through the co-op. "To me, it's a great
way of investing in the community. Everything is Iowa-grown or
Iowa-made and the money stays here."
The co-ops don't have a retail store, but operate as facilitators
to connect consumers and producers in the web-based marketplace. That can be confusing, at times, for visitors who try to find
the co-op's store as they travel through Des Moines, said Gary
Huber, general manager of the Iowa Food Cooperative.
"It's a different way to buy food for your family," said Huber,
who is also one of the co-op's growers. "We're one of the direct-to-consumer options."
14 :: Harvest 2014 :: EdibleIowa.com
Dark green kale, colorful Swiss chard, red-ripe berries, pasture-fed beef, pork, lamb, chicken, chevron, tantalizing baked
goods, homemade soaps, rugs and more can be ordered at the
click of a button.
To shop or sell, consumers and producers pay a fee to become
members, with a small charge added to sales for operational
Huber said members cite community vitality, social responsibility
and economic resilience among their reasons for joining. They
also share a level of trust in the quality of the co-op's products
and like knowing where their food comes from and offering a fair
price to local farmers.
"I think the future for small farmers is to have a robust economy
around local foods," Huber said. "(The co-op) is not the only
answer, but it's one of the viable answers."
Launched in 2008, the Iowa Food Cooperative was patterned
after the successful Oklahoma Food Cooperative.
The Oklahoma City-based co-op, which touts fresh peanut
butter, 30-pound watermelons and hickory-smoked Caciocavera
cheese among the 5,000 products offered on its website, was
the first local cooperative of its kind in the nation and has sold
more than $5.7 million in local foods and non-food items to
date. All products are grown or made in Oklahoma.
Huber noted that the Iowa Food Cooperative continues to grow,
with nearly 1,000 members and distribution sites in six locations:
two in Des Moines, including a new central location at 4944
Franklin Ave., as well as West Des Moines, Osceola, Ankeny and
Jason Grimm, co-founder and coordinator of the Iowa Valley
Food Co-op, wanted something similar for Eastern Iowa. The
Cedar Rapids-based co-op began in 2011 and has since grown
to more than 450 members.