Store offers organic options

North Country Co-op had an organic cookout for community members.

Allison Wickler

Surrounded by concrete and high-rises, the North Country Co-op offers city dwellers a taste of the organic farm life.

On Tuesday, the grocery store had a back-to-school barbecue for the students, faculty and staff members of the University and Augsburg College.

North Country hosted the event to reinforce that the co-op is a different type of grocery store and to show new students what organic living is about.

The goal of most co-ops is to provide a variety of environmentally friendly foods to their customers, and they typically are run by their members.

The co-op invited Midwest vendors such as Whitewater Valley Orchard in St. Charles and Peace Coffee to showcase their products to students and visitors.

Attendees tried such items as locally grown fruits, organic coffee, turkey brats and walnut burgers. Beaver Creek Ranch owner and beef farmer Doug Anderson even brought a live Scottish Highland calf.

Erik Esse, marketing and merchandising coordinator for North Country, said it’s important to show students what organic food offers.

“We do have a personal connection with local farmers and really value the local economy and sustainable agriculture,” he said.

University alumnus Andy Lambert, who represented Peace Coffee at the event, said the company partners with co-ops to further education and outreach to students and the community about buying Fair Trade and organic products.

Although these foods often are more expensive than traditionally processed foods because of the cost of production, they are sold at “real cost,” which pays farmers living wages, Lambert said.

“You can’t raise a family on minimum wage, and on real wage you can,” he said.

But not all students see the difference between organic or regular grocery store fare.

Graham Kist, a first-year international business student, said he is not opposed to the presence of organic and Fair Trade food, but does not shop for them.

“It’s fresh, just like Cub Foods fresh,” he said. “I can’t really tell the difference.”

The cost of organic and Fair Trade foods is an issue for history senior Cynthia Scarborough.

“I’ve noticed a lot of the products are too expensive for me,” she said. “But I plan on pursuing it in the future.”

Still, there are students who support co-ops and organic farming.

English senior Kelly McCarthy, who attended the barbecue, said she has been shopping at the co-op for about a year.

“I prefer to know my food was grown here in Minnesota,” she said. “You know a lot of your food was produced at a family farm.”

Andy Thompson, a food science senior, used to volunteer at North Country and still is a frequent shopper.

“It’s a great asset to the community,” he said. “It’s a fun place to go shop.”