By Samuel P. Butterfass – [email protected]

The Minnesota Street Market is celebrating its fifth anniversary as St. Joseph’s local food and art co-op.

The co-op opened in 2012 after the closure of a local grocery store that had been family-owned for over 100 years. The grocery store, Loso’s, was named after an original settler of St. Joseph, Peter Loso. His son, Martin Loso, opened the store in 1899.

Loso’s was forced to close in 2010 due to market pressures. That’s when the co-op got its start.

“In 2011 the community came together and everybody put up one hundred dollars and they reopened [Loso’s] as a co-op,” said Pia Lopez, President of the Board of the co-op. Lopez was the Editorial editor of the St. Cloud Times from 1988-98 and won awards for environmental writing. She became a member of the co-op board in 2015 and then president of the board in April 2016.

On Wed. March 1, Lopez spoke on the first five years of the co-op and its relationship with the community.

“The College of St. Benedict was one of the largest donors,” Lopez said.

CSB and St. John’s Abbey each donated $10,000 to the co-op during a capital campaign in 2012 and 2013. Additionally, the Order of the Sisters of St. Benedict donated $3,000.

“Their investment in the co-op allowed us to buy coolers, freezers and inventory to really get the place going,” Lopez said.

But the co-op’s relationship with CSB/SJU is more than financial. Four work-study students currently work at the co-op, and the SJU greenhouse contributes produce as well. Amiee Bannwarth, CSB senior environmental studies major also serves as a member of the co-op board.

Lopez cited her fascination with sustainable agriculture as a reason for becoming involved with the co-op.

“I liked the idea that they were trying to support local, small farmers who were trying to do sustainable agriculture,” Lopez said. “In the beginning, there was a real emphasis on art and food.”

Lopez noted several positive changes in the operations of the co-op over the last five years, including expanding relationships with local farmers.

“That was hard to do. It’s different from a big supermarket. They deal with maybe one or two distributors who deliver all their food,” Lopez said. “We have a very labor intensive process where we work with each small farmer. In February and March we’re working out producer agreements with them so they know what to plant.”

Lopez noted that these relationships benefit both the co-op and the farmers.

Lisa Baker, owner of Bakers’ Acres in Avon, a 15-acre certified organic farm (primarily producing vegetables) provides produce for the co-op.

“They plan ahead in the winter so we can order the right amount of seeds and plan in our fields to get them what they need throughout the summer,” Baker said. “It’s not a speculative market for us. We’re not guessing. We sort of know what to expect,” Baker said.

“It’s a one-on-one thing,” Lopez said.

One of the biggest changes the co-op will be experiencing is a new bakery, opening in the rear of the shop.

“We’re already dismantling shelves… we are in a big transition right now,” Lopez said.

Feature photo courtesy Lisa Baker.