For discussion

February 2015

Growing a Food Cooperative from the Ground Up
By Heidi Demars

Heidi Demars is the Outreach Coordinator for the BisMan Community Food Co-op. She was selected by the Bush Foundation as a 2013 Bush Leadership Fellow and is working to increase food literacy in the community and to create connections and strong relationships between consumers and producers in the region.




Growing a food cooperative from the ground up

Throughout the last decade the demand and production of local food markets has increased substantially. The number of U.S. farmers’ markets rose 200% from 1998 to 2014, and the number of community supported agricultural organizations nearly tripled from 2001 to 2005. More and more people want a connection to their food source. Additionally, the demand for organic, whole, and minimally processed foods is growing rapidly.

Food cooperatives can be a great solution to address these growing demands. But what if your community doesn’t have a food cooperative? Start one!

Food cooperatives are on the rise throughout the U.S. with over 120 new start-up’s in development. Co-op developers are calling this the “second wave” of food co-op’s, the first of which began in the late 60’s and early 70’s as part of the counter-culture.

Food co-op’s are owned by consumers or “member-owners” and are governed democratically. Each owner has one vote and a voice in the direction of the co-op including what foods they carry, policies, etc. They exist to fulfill the needs and aspirations of the members and provide the members with benefits including member discounts and patronage refunds in profitable years.

The BisMan Community Food Co-op in Bismarck, ND started as a conversation among a diverse group of people wanting more convenient access to good food.  That conversation turned into monthly meetings, which turned into a core group of talented and committed community members willing to serve on the board of directors. This group found several resources including the Food Co-op Initiative, a non-profit based out of MN, and several other food co-ops across the country that were willing to provide information and support to create the BisMan Community Food Co-op, of which I became the Outreach Coordinator.

Following a positive feasibility study, we decided to incorporate and began selling memberships to the public. And as it turns out, the community was behind us in a big way! In just a year’s time, we grew our membership to 600 households and are planning to hire our first General Manager in the next few months. We are in the process of establishing a site and plan to open in 2015.  

This process has taught me a few things:

  1. Gandhi was right. We need to “be the change” and roll up our sleeves if we want to make a difference. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.

  2. People are amazing. We have had so many amazing volunteers and they have given their time selflessly. Whether it was developing our brochure, creating our website and marketing plan, photography, fundraising, graphic design, or a member stepping up to spread the word, I am so proud of our community. This co-op is literally being created by the community for the community, and that is pretty special.

Go for it! Whether it’s creating a co-op in your community or following your dreams, there will always be uncertainty and doubt. But the key is to do it anyway and have faith in your abilities. And if you don’t know how to do something, just ask for help. You’d be amazed at how many people will step up and want you to succeed

More discussion

North Dakota Wellness Chats: Building awareness, one month at a time
November 2023

Working Together to Nourish North Dakotans
June 2022

FARRMS: Growing a More Sustainable Future for North Dakota
March 2022

Awesome: When a Foundation isn’t a Foundation
February 2022

Shining Light on Diabetes
November 2021

Marie Hvidsten: Rural Leadership North Dakota (RLND) Program
June 2021

Katherine Roth: Resources to Support North Dakota’s Small Businesses, Non-profits, and Municipalities
January 2021

Brittany Sickler: What is America’s Seed Fund? Opportunity for North Dakota Innovators
December 2020

Madison Marion: Making Contact: The Experience of a Student Case Worker of COVID-19 in North Dakota
November 2020

Abby Tow & Micayla Bitz: Everyone Needs Help Sometimes.
June 2020

Louise Dardis: North Dakota needs you to complete Census 2020 to receive equitable funding when every resident is counted.
December 2019

Scott Meyer: Why Entrepreneurship Should Be Taught in North Dakota
September 2019

Luke Schaefer and Alissa Thiele: Coming Together to Help Students
April 2019

Jen Walla: Prairie Roots Community Fund
February 2019

Lindsey Leker: Creating Community with the use of Technology and Youth Leadership
January 2019

Megan Laudenschlager: Strengthen ND - Supporting and Accelerating Community Development in Rural North Dakota
December 2018

Jodi Bruns: NDSU Extension Takes Creative Approach to Enhancing Communities and Improving Leaders
September 2018

Kevin Iverson: The 2020 Census
August 2018

Josh Askvig: Building Communities for All
June 2018

Jessica Nelson: CHARISM -- Building a Stronger, Better Neighborhood Since 1994
April 2018

Katherine Roth: The Jamestown Regional Entrepreneur Center – A Newcomer to the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of South Central North Dakota
March 2018

5 Years of North Dakota Compass!
February 2018

Alexandre Cyusa: Folkways -- Building a vibrant community one memorable experience at a time
December 2017

AIPHRC: Engaging and Partnering with Tribes: American Indian Public Health Resource Center Improving Public Health
November 2017

Josh Hoper: Through scientific eyes: Building homes and hope with Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity
October 2017

Diane Solinger: Jeremiah Program ignites hopeful journey for single mothers, creates better future for the next generation
September 2017

Kelly Sassi & Denise Lajimodiere: Turtle Mountain Teen Art and Writing Workshop: Enacting Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy in a Summer Program for Native American Youth
August 2017

Kristi Huber: Do you know the Return on Investment on your charitable giving?
May 2017

Jesseca White: Disrupting the Revolving Door: A look at alternative justice in Fargo
January 2017

Leola Daul: Heart-n-Soul Community Cafe: A Place Where All Are Welcome to Enjoy a Local, Healthy, and Delicious Meal no Matter their Ability to Pay
October 2016

Cass Clay Food Systems Advisory Commission: A Multijurisdictional Food Policy Council
August 2016

5 Ways to Join the Compass Community
May 2016

Inform, Improve, Inspire: North Dakota's First Ever Demographics Conference
March 2016

Donene Feist: Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs in North Dakota
January 2016

ND Head Start: Vibrant Economy Leads to Workforce Shortages - Head Start Programs Statewide Are Feeling the Impact
December 2015

Lynette Schaff: Bullying- Just a Schoolyard Problem? Think Again!
November 2015

Jim Deal: Changes to Come
October 2015

Janis Cheney: AARP- Discover Your Possibilities
September 2015

John Trombley: Competition is Tough; Why Make it Tougher?
August 2015

Nick Ybarra: Keeping the Trail
July 2015

Megan Laudenschlager: Engaging Millennials
June 2015

Kim Bushaw: Brain Development
May 2015

2015 Legislative District Profiles
April 2015

ND Compass Points
March 2015

Heidi Demars: Growing a Food Cooperative from the Ground Up
February 2015

Helen Danielson: National Mentoring Month
January 2015

Sharz Miar: Giving the Gift of Hope for the Holidays
December 2014

Cheryl Ann Kary (Hunkuotawin): Talking Indian: A L/N/Dakota Model of Oratory
November 2014

North Dakota Legislative District Profiles
October 2014

Edwin Erickson Jr.: Soybeans- Growing an Important Commodity for North Dakota
September 2014

Jennifer Braun: A Look at Early Childhood Education in Western North Dakota
August 2014

Jordyn Wallenborn: Ticks Bite: Protect Yourself Against Lyme Disease
July 2014

Lorraine Shepherd-Davis: Filling a Need in the Community
June 2014

Howard Barlow: Helping Build a Better Community
May 2014

Denise Hellekson: Using Mindfulness to Calm Your Busy Mind
April 2014

Melissa Sobolik: End hunger through community partnerships
March 2014

Jacob Sowers: Places and their story: More than just a spot on the map?
February 2014

Neil Scharpe: "Protecting North Dakota's Quality of Life"
January 2014

Donald Warne: "American Indian Health Disparities in North Dakota"
November 2013

Kay Schwarzwalter: "Community building through community gardens"
October 2013

Jasper Schneider: "Rural Development in North Dakota"
August 2013

Dean Bangsund: "Economic contribution of the petroleum industry in North Dakota"
July 2013

Jane Strommen: "Addressing the education and support needs of older North Dakotans and their family members"
June 2013

Randi Roth: "In Support of North Dakota Communities"
March 2013

Richard Rathge: "Vision of North Dakota Compass"
February 2013

Paul Mattessich: "What's the real poverty rate?"
January 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2024. All rights reserved.