ND’s capital city offers local food in central location | TSLN.com

ND’s capital city offers local food in central location

Kayla Sargent
For Tri-State Livestock News

A trip through the meat department in Bismarck, North Dakota's newest grocery store, Bisman Community Food Cooperative (BMCFC), is a fresh experience.

It looks a bit different a regular grocery store. All the cuts of beef, lamb, pork and buffalo are labeled with stickers showing the North Dakota ranch where it originated. Turn the corner to the produce section and you will find advertisements from vegetable farms just out of town. In the massive bulk department, there are grains provided from farmers across the state.

"We are buying our beef, pork, lamb and buffalo local. For produce, by the end of 2016 we are hoping to be 20 percent supplied by local producers, or more if we can, but we did have to find a back up produce supplier," said Bisman Co-op's General Manager, Randy Joersz.

Being a member-owned cooperative, the consumers are the ones that determine the product found in the Bisman Co-op. This is evident in the large variety of locally grown, natural or organic, and sustainably produced products that line the shelves.

“We are buying our beef, pork, lamb and buffalo local. For produce, by the end of 2016 we are hoping to be 20 percent supplied by local producers, or more if we can, but we did have to find a back up produce supplier.”Randy Joersz, Bisman Co-op general manager

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"We look for sustainably produced products. I spent a day with one of our producers, Nourished by Nature, and I was just so impressed. I saw how things produced naturally can really thrive, the way God intended it to be, in a natural environment. So that's what we're looking for, non-GMO feeds for the protein producers and for vegetable producers, no chemical. So that we can sell a product that we have a story to tell about it," Joersz said.

With an increasing awareness of lifestyle, and efforts to stay healthy, a group got together in the fall of 2011 and began the footwork to build a co-op to meet these needs for the state's capital city and it's across-the-river sister community. The group set a vision for the store and began raising funds by growing their membership. Within the first year, they had 200 members, that's now grown to 1,650 members. Members pay a one time fee of $200 and in turn have voting rights, special member discounts and dividends on profitable years. In order to start building, the group also received funding from Rural Electric Co-op and obtained a loan. After extensive fundraising and planning, the co-op is hosted a much anticipated grand opening June 4, 2016.

Before the grand opening, around 1,000 people showed up for a "friends and family" event. "That led me to believe that there's a huge amount of excitement for the product that we're going to sell," Joersz said. "A lot of the excitement is anticipation, but we're stocking the shelves right now and just the people that are working the shelves have never seen the product that we're stocking. There is a huge demand for a healthier lifestyle."

Not only will the new co-op provide consumers with more access to natural, local, healthy products, but the store is focusing on creating a relationship between the producer and the consumer.

"I think that producers and consumers do need to be partners," said Glen Philbrick, owner and operator at Hiddendale Farm and BMFCF board member.

The Hiddendale Farm is one of the local producers that will be selling product in the store. Philbrick markets grass-fed, grain finished beef, onions, squash, carrots, cucumbers, spinach and quinoa. He not only sees this as a good market that offers premiums for his product, but also as a way to connect with consumers and better understand their needs.

"I think things will grow overtime because this will enable consumers to come closer to the producers, where we seem to have that disconnect right now. Ultimately, this is a consumer co-op and we have to provide what they want," Philbrick said. "I think that's what every producer has to look at is, 'what does the consumer want and can we meet their demands?' Not just say 'here's what I have, take it.' That's really not how things should be, we need to consider what the consumer wants."

The closer connection between producers and consumers benefits everyone involved. Just as the producers become more aware of what today's consumer seeks, consumers also have the opportunity to learn more about where their food is actually coming from and how it was produced directly from the farmers and ranchers.

"One of the things we're asking is that our producers have a website so that the consumers can go their website and look at how that product is produced and where it's produced. We want to be open and available to tell our consumers a story on everything we sell," Joersz said.

The co-op works closely with all of the producers involved to ensure that it is a successful experience for them as well. Most of the producers that have products on the shelves have already been in contact with the co-op for at least a year. Joersz said he gave producers estimates of the volume of product the store would sell in order for the farm or ranch to have it's production level up to par at the time of opening.

"What our goal is, is to build that infrastructure of local producers so they can raise their level of producing up because they have a market now for their product. Rather than relying on the farmer's market and whatever else they went to, now they have a market to sell their product," Joersz said. "The nice part about coming to us is they can sell in bulk. When I sit down with the producers I give them the amounts that we're going to go through, so they've got to raise their level up to that. But we've got to prove to them what we can do too. It's kind of a two way street."

While the co-op is set up to open and offer plenty of local products, they hope to continue raising the percentage of local products offered throughout the years. Board members and employees have high hopes for the future of the co-op and anticipate steady growth of members, producers and consumers involved.

"We're always looking for new producers. We'd love for producers to just go wild in this area. There's a lot of room for producers to come forward and we'll give them a great market. That's the thing, is they thrive, we thrive and everyone's happy."

Anyone interested in becoming involved with the co-op, either as a producer or member can find more information at their website, http://www.bismanfoodcoop.com.