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Fresher foods for the table

Barb Uselman and Deb Erickson are two members of the Down Home Foods Co-operative in Wadena. Uselman has been running Down Home Foods for seven years. Erickson is a board memeber and a supplier of the fresh foods Down Home sells at their North Jefferson location. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal1 / 2
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There is a plan cooking to bring a bigger food cooperative business to Wadena.

A crowd estimated at 150 people turned up April 23 at the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center. The board of Down Home Foods was hosting the event, which was geared toward securing co-op memberships.

"It went overwhelmingly well," Board Member Brittany Springer said.

The co-op's board of directors still has a lot on their plate, but it is an exciting time for Wadena business.

"It has not transitioned yet. All of the legal paperwork is done for us to be a co-op," Springer said. "Right now we are in the membership phase. We are trying to collect enough memberships where we can sign a lease on a building. We will be moving to a larger location. It will be a good thing for this area."

Barb Uselman has been selling health foods from her Down Home Foods location on North Jefferson Street for the last seven years.

"When I first bought this store I thought about it, and I looked into it, but it was way too involved for me to handle it, so I dropped the idea," Uselman said.

She dusted off her plan's bigger operation after meeting Wendy Gordon, who runs the Manna Food Co-op in Detroit Lakes in the fall of 2015. Gordon, who was working as a dietitian when they met, showed Uselman how it could be done.

Another supporter of the cooperative is board member Deb Erickson, who ran a beauty salon until the chemicals she was working with each day made her ill.

"When I first got sick 20 years ago I was going to the Cities for good food," Erickson said. "The search for good, clean food is hard. If we can get it closer for people it's a win-win situation for everybody."

While Wadena has two grocery stores, the food is not grown locally.

Springer and her family farm between Deer Creek and Henning. In addition to milking 180 goats, the Springers grow grass-fed beef, sell organic pork, chickens, eggs and run a large vegetable operation. Like Erickson, Springer sees all sorts of good coming out of a co-operative.

"Once they transition we are talking about bulk items like flours and grains, and we are also sourcing as much of our food locally as possible. We are also working with the Why Co-op Coalition, which has stores in Brainerd, Long Prairie, Pequot Lakes, St. Joseph and Little Falls.

"We will have more buying power since we are working with them," Springer said. "The nice thing is that we are kind of all working together, so the membership that people purchase for the Wadena store will also be good for five other surrounding co-ops."

The Down Home Food board has been moving slowly for the last year but Uselman said they are now taking bigger steps.

They just had founding farmers meeting a couple months ago to make sure they had the support of local farmers. In the beginning, the co-op is planning to acquire their local products from a group of seven or eight farmers.

"We have to qualify the farmers," Uselman said, "They can't use any chemicals, they have to do it the right way," Uselman said.

Uselman said the board wants to have at least 300 members before they go after a lease on a larger facility for their co-op.

Down Home Food Cooperative will be a "not for profit," business according to Uselman. The business wants to make enough profit to keep operating, but it is not the main reason for having a co-op.

What is the main reason?

"Supplying good, healthy foods," said Uselman, who sees the co-op as being a community builder—as good for the consumers as it is for the local farmers.

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