By Rick Gion
If you’re familiar with the Red River Harvest Cooperative, you know it’s an organization that’s on the grow. In fact, it’s now the leading food co-op in the area. They offer many goods including eggs, meat, produce, and even services like an innovative composting program.
I recently sat down with Candace Anderson, director of retail operations with the Red River Harvest Cooperative and asked her a bunch of questions. Her enthusiastic and thoughtful answers may just sprout some interest in joining this local food community.
HPR: Can you briefly explain Red River Harvest Cooperative?
Candace Anderson: We’re a producer cooperative made up of local farmers, ranchers and makers who have created a collective organization to market and sell their local food products online to retail and wholesale customers.
A producer cooperative is an organization where the producers themselves become equal member owners by financially investing in the organization. This enables producers to have a voice at the table, so to speak. Any member owner may propose ideas and express concerns as a part of the democratic process, a foundational pillar of cooperatives.
Red River Harvest Cooperative’s board of directors meets regularly to make decisions on the day-to-day operations and the future of the cooperative on behalf of its membership, focusing simultaneously on the near- and long-term vision of the cooperative set forth in our mission by the founding membership.
HPR: Which regional farms and makers are a part of your co-op?
CA: Archer Greens, Betty’s Acres, Brendemuhl Produce, Deb’s Corner Foods, Doubting Thomas Farms, Family Roots Farm, Farmented Foods, Great Plain Greens, Gottenborg Apples, Heart and Soil Farm, Hugh’s Gardens, Nature’s Roots Farm, New Roots Farm Incubator, Nourished By Nature, Prairie Rose Farm, Thomsen Farms, Uncle Jesse’s Produce.
HPR: Which items are available from the co-op right now?
CA: An abundance of fall harvest produce! In our current order cycle, we are offering:
(changes weekly: see current storefront) Seven varieties of squash and pie pumpkins, seven of tomatoes. Six varieties of peppers, great for making salsa, pasta sauce and stir-fry. Two varieties of eggplant, five of potatoes, three of apples. Fresh herbs and microgreens, green beans, brussel sprouts, other root veggies, and rhubarb.
Plus various cuts of beef, lamb and pork, chicken and duck eggs, oatmeal, seven-grain cereal, honey, and a line of prepared foods. Plus a compost subscription and hand-made soap.
HPR: Are goods available all year?
CA: Yes! Not only do we want to offer products that are readily available at the farmers market during peak season, we want to offer those local products all year round, including, but not limited to, shelf-stable products and prepared foods.
We’re in the process of onboarding new producer owners this fall. Stay tuned as we add some gut-friendly fermented veggies to the lineup soon.
We’re working with producers interested in season extension and being able to produce veggies and fruit for longer periods of time in a greenhouse or indoor operation. The goal is to have more local produce available earlier in the spring, later into the fall, and -- if we dare say -- into winter. Think about having local tomatoes and salad greens available for a New Years Eve dinner party or topping your meal with fresh and nutrient-dense local microgreens when it’s dark at 5pm.
We saw that last winter, having microgreens available when other local veggies weren’t. The pop of color and burst of nutrients in mid-January were exactly what people were craving. And, this year, a local entrepreneur turned urban farmer who is growing a variety of salad greens vertically and year-round in a state-of-the-art shipping container has joined us! We’re really excited to have them on our team as we start thinking about deep winter in the upper Midwest.
HPR: By season, what kinds of items are offered?
CA: We are heavier on pantry items, meat and eggs in the colder months, and last year we had a consistent microgreens producer throughout the winter. This year, we are looking forward to having salad greens available as well.
Early spring produce becomes available in May or June - think asparagus, lettuce, chives, garlic scapes. This, of course, depends on how wet and cold it is each spring. We start to see more veggie options available come July and right now -- fall harvest season -- we have a variety of produce and a lot of it!
With the use of greenhouses and other indoor operations, we aim to have a consistent option for people to purchase local produce for as much of the year as possible. We know this isn’t something that will happen overnight, but we’re committed to seeing this happen over time.
We’re also looking at opportunities for value-added processing of local produce at times when we have such abundance, thereby allowing for the preservation of the nutrient-rich food grown by our producers. For example, local schools may be more interested in purchasing ready-made vegetables, such as french fries, versus bringing in potatoes straight from the field. We can also freeze many different vegetable varieties, reducing food waste and spoilage.
HPR: Do you offer meat and eggs?
CA: Yes. This year, we have five member owners offering chicken eggs, two offer half dozens of duck eggs, and we have one producer who offered turkey eggs for a limited time this summer.
Two producers sell meat in a variety of cuts, giving the co-op the opportunity to offer a wide selection of pasture-raised beef, pork and lamb. Some of our member owners offer their eggs or meat in bulk options as well, which can be found through our wholesale market.
HPR: Are there vendors that offer whole turkeys or other Thanksgiving fare?
HPR: Are there pickup locations? Where and when? How often do folks pick up their goods?
CA: Yes, we offer once-per-week pick up or delivery between 4 and 6pm on at the Wednesdays. The pickup location is 212 8th St South in Moorhead in the Erbert & Gerbert’s building, just off of Main Avenue. In the warmer months, we set up the tent at the Moorhead Farmers Market in the parking lot at the Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Avenue North, and have folks pick up in the back of the parking lot. In the winter, we move indoors and ask customers to enter on the side of the building at 212 8th Street South.
HPR: Do you have a physical location?
CA: We have a physical location at 212 8th St. South in Moorhead. It’s open 4 to 6pm on Wednesdays for pickup. We do have pantry items, meat and sometimes, depending on the season and grower, additional produce available for customers on pickup day as well.
HPR: What are some of your favorite items that are offered?
CA: That’s a tough question. I feel like I can list almost everything! I really believe in what we’re doing, and the local products our member owners are growing, raising and making -- farm-fresh duck eggs, rainbow chard, butternut squash, ground lamb, breakfast herb beef sticks, daikon radish microgreens, Red River eggplant, hummus, and purple potatoes.
Having produce that is harvested specifically for my order is a pretty neat option. When you compare the amount of time produce typically takes to get to us, 2,000 miles or more and days on a truck, plane or boat, it’s refreshing to experience the difference in quality, freshness and longevity when making the choice to eat from a locally sourced food system.
The chef-created meal box was one of my favorites. The co-op collaborated with Renewing the Countryside for the Our Local Plate event (at Doubting Thomas Farms in early September) to offer a box of locally sourced items to be used to create a chef-created meal at home.
The meal box was curated by local chef Anthony Grady of Mangata Wine & Raw Bar and Luna Market who offered a chef’s demonstration of the meal at the event. Anthony dove into the project, knowing he wanted to feature “the abundance of the garden.” He crafted a beautiful meal to feed a family of five, and we offered the curated meal box, a chef-created recipe, and all the local ingredients needed to make it at home.
Working with Chef Anthony and the co-op to bring this option to our customers was such a treat! Seeing the intersections of the local food economy come together in this collaboration and the excitement created from it has been empowering, and I’m eager to see what else we can do to promote the talent and ingredients we have right here in our locale.
I’ve been using the compost subscription for the past six months or so and love it! A food-safe bucket is provided each week, which I fill with veggie scraps, eggshells and other plant waste. Then Farmer Jake picks it up from my doorstep and feeds it to the worms living their best worm life in large compost bins near his farm. At the end of my subscription, I received a small bag of compost that I use as a soil amendment for my own plants. Hassle-free composting with a reward at the end -- it’s a win-win!
HPR: I know that Bernbaum’s uses products from your co-op. Are there other restaurants that do?
CA: We love working with Andrea and the team at Bernbaum’s! We are actively seeking additional wholesale customers in the greater F-M area. This is exciting new territory for us, and we invite those interested in building a wholesale relationship to contact us. We work with our wholesale customers one on one to offer individually curated product selection and pricing. We are eager to connect with local chefs, as well as caterers, day care providers, and those working in health care facilities and schools.
HPR: Can you think of anything that I’ve missed?
CA: When you buy from us, you’re choosing to support an effort led by those in your own community. With the resources we have, we are working to strengthen the local food economy, ensuring that more of the dollar goes back to the farmer, rancher, or maker for each purchase.
One of the things that has become an important piece in our work has been connecting to a network of organizations who are also committed to establishing stable and sustainable solutions within their local food systems. We’ve connected with groups from across the country who have a collective understanding of the challenges we face in an unstable climate and the role local and sustainable food production and distribution plays in creating viable and reliable solutions for our communities.
Locally, we are grateful to be connected to multiple organizations within the greater F-M area, as well as statewide organizations in North Dakota and Minnesota who are committed to supporting small family farms in a variety of ways.
Personally, I’m often in awe that I get to do what I do each day. It’s an honor to play a role within our local food system, gaining the opportunity to learn and grow from those in the local food community who came before us and continue to do the work. I’m excited to see how things unfold as we all continue to strengthen community ties and our local food economy right here in our region.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Online Marketplace: redriverharvest.localfoodmarketplace.com/Products
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