Why Co-ops? is an educational campaign of The Food Co-op Coalition of Central Minnesota. It is designed to engage food consumers with the value co-ops have to offer and why consumers might want to stop, shop and possibly join one of the six regional food co-ops currently participating in the coalition.

The campaign focuses on resources for consumers seeking local, healthy food sources and the multiple connections that benefit consumers available through food co-ops. Information is provided on how co-ops work and how one can become a member-owner. Currently all co-ops in the coalition, including Ideal Green Market of Pequot Lakes, are open to all shoppers, whether or not they are member-owners. They offer "food you can trust" as they stock local goods (within 200 mile radius from each co-op) and many additional goods that meet basic criteria.

"With the increasing visibility in the media over recent years about our food - where it comes from, how it's produced, what's actually in it - the overall commitment of food co-ops toward food transparency can be very helpful in providing options and answering questions a consumer has about the food they are eating," project manager Barb Mann said.

The desire for local food grown closer to home is consumer-driven. Co-ops have established relationships with local growers and food producers to make these goods available and accessible.

Food co-ops also offer bulk goods, such as herbs, spices, nuts, grains, beans, flours, honey, oils and maple syrup, that a consumer can self-serve purchasing only what they need at a lower cost per pound than pre-packaged items. Bags/containers are provided, for a cost, though shoppers may bring in their own containers to refill as needed.

Co-ops are also committed to food education and offer classes that provide recipes and information about products offered.

The Food Co-op Coalition established in November 2016 includes the following co-ops: Crow Wing Food Co-op, Brainerd; Down Home Foods, Wadena; Everybody's Market, Long Prairie; Ideal Green Market Co-op, Pequot Lakes; Minnesota Street Market, St. Joseph; and The Purple Carrot Market in Little Falls that hopes to open its doors by 2019.

Each co-op is promoting member-owner drives with prizes and incentives to join between now and the end of May. Ideal Green Market of Pequot Lakes offers new member-owners who join in this period their name in a monthly drawing for $100 gift certificate for use in the store. Applications for becoming a member-owner can be found at www.idealgreenmarket.com, or stop in the store during open hours 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays and 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Saturdays, located at 34988 County Road 39, Pequot Lakes.

For more information about the Why Co-ops? project go to www.thegoodlifenorthcentralmn.com, click on "local foods" / "why co-ops."