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Sustainable market looking to get on its feet

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A locally owned profit-sharing food cooperative in Red Wing is more than an idea, but not yet a full-blown reality.

"A desirable food system is one where food is grown locally in a sustainable way and then marketed in a locally owned store," says Clarence Bischoff, a Welch man who's leading an effort to open a cooperative market in Red Wing.

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That cooperative -- Riverbend Market Cooperative of Red Wing -- would provide tasty, nutritious, chemical-free, locally grown food to the community, Bischoff said, adding that it would have the economic benefit of keeping money in the region.

Over the past couple of years, Bischoff and others have organized lectures at which knowledgeable academics have touted the advantages of sustainable agriculture, local cooperatives and sustainable practices in general. Meanwhile, Bischoff has recruited a board of directors tasked with organizing the cooperative from a grassroots level.

The push for a local cooperative has gained momentum in Red Wing -- as has a trend toward sustainable development in general.

"I guess I kind of like to know where my food is coming from," said Riverbend director Kevin Ballman, articulating a sentiment he said is behind the push for locally raised food.

But now Riverbend's leaders find themselves at a crucial juncture, as they attempt to navigate the choppy waters between a lofty notion and a real, functioning market.

@Sub Heads: Start-up cash

@Normal1: The tasks before Riverbend right now are twofold.

One is raise capital to buy or lease a building to open a market. "We need to raise money right now. That's our main push," Riverbend Director Jerry Cook said.

The other task is recruiting 100 charter members. With a $100 membership fee, 100 new members would not raise the up to $1 million in cash needed to get Riverbend up and running in a building, Bischoff said.

But with more members, he explained, the cooperative stands a better chance of garnering grants and "forgivable" funds. He said there are numerous organizations and government entities that make start-up funds available to organizations like Riverbend.

Riverbend director Kurt Schreck said therein lies "a chicken-or-the-egg" problem.

In order to recruit successfully, Schreck said, Riverbend might need to get some initial grant dollars to show prospective members that the ball is rolling. That effort is under way. Riverbend is looking to apply for a loan from the Red Wing Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

For more information on Riverbend go to www.riverbendmarket.com

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