Radical Roots explores the origins and future of the American natural food movement by uncovering the drama behind its most dynamic center: the food cooperatives of the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

Today, Minneapolis/St. Paul boasts the strongest local food scene in the US, bolstered by the country’s largest co-op network. But how was this network created? Radical Roots tells the story of the inexperienced young people who tried to build an alternative to the capitalist order, the violent struggle that almost tore them apart, and their eventual success in ways they never foresaw.

It’s a tale of hippies and draft resisters, Black Panthers and organic farmers, and a takeover attempt by a secretive Marxist organization, setting in motion a debate over race, class, health and democracy. Radical Roots connects this history with the food activist of today, who are again trying to create a food system that is healthy, ecological and just for all.


How Co-op Shopping Changes the Landscape

Lately, I've been transcribing an amazing interview with Audrey Arner of Moonstone Farm, so I thought I'd share a small bit of the inspirational insights I've been enjoying:

“I think the growing awareness of the co-ops that wasn’t just about quality of food, it wasn’t just the range of food, but where it originates. That growing awareness within the community of eaters arose at the same time and really predicated demand for the supply that could come from a greater amount of organic vegetable production in the region. And the strength of that community was also illustrated in Gardens of Eagan’s fight about the gas company wanting to put pipeline under their organic farm and completely disrupt the strata or organic soils and all that had been tended and cultivated there for so many years, and they only won that fight because of the support of the co-op community. 

“As so many members who had been eating foods that originated at that farm weighed in and sent letters indicating their support for not disrupting these soils, it became a precedent for the way that utilities have to interrelate with organic farms in Minnesota. And that wouldn’t have happened without the community of eaters, the community of conscious eaters. So it has even wider ramifications, I think, than just eating well from the place that we live, but it has landscape ramifications.”


"Greetings Food Freaks!"


“Greeting to Food Freaks of Amerika from the funny-looking, counter-culture, over emotional, righteous, right-on, anti-intellectual, Maoist oriented food dealers of the North Country.”

- Dean Zimmerman, “Food Conspiracy in the North Country,” Changes, July-August 1972


Yep, that's the earliest piece of writing that we have found in the Minnesota Historical Society from the always-quotable Dean Zimmerman, the first person we interviewed for our doc Radical Roots: Revolutions of the Twin Cities Food Co-ops. He was writing in an anti-war magazine, giving advice to others in the nascent food movement in its earliest days:

This letter is in response to requests from people all over the country (country in this context means Amerika not to be confused with a similar word which means: a place where trees, grass and wild animals are more commonly seen than are cars, buildings, and pavement) who have been asking 'What the hell are youse guys doing up there in Minneapolis?' When this author was given the impossible task of responding to such a simple-minded question, the first draft of the response was, 'Getting food to folks, stayin stoned and diggin in.'


Despite this flippant opening, Dean does go on to describe the founding of North Country Co-op and the other earliest co-ops as well as the People's Warehouse, also giving a brief description of how things are run. It's a fascinating look at the co-ops in their embryonic phase, when their goals where both more modest ("Gettin food to folks, stayin stoned and diggin in") and more ambitious (being part of a revolution that was both personal and political) than they are today.


Keep coming back for more gems like this, and, if you're in the Twin Cities, come on down to the Trylon on Thursday night to see our treaser trailer as well as Shift Change.


It's Happening! SHIFT CHANGE screening launches campaing for RADICAL ROOTS, our documentary about the TC food co-ops

Yes, we are back, and with exciting news! Work on our documentary about the tumultous early history of the Twin Cities co-ops (and its implications for food activists today) is underway. We (Erik Esse and Hilary Johnson) have teamed up with director Deacon Warner and animators John Akre and Beth Peloff for the project, tentatively titled Radical Roots: Revolutions of the Twin Cities Food Co-ops. We will launch an awareness and participation campaign for the film on April 11 at 7:00 at the Trylon microcinema with a screening of Shift Change, a new documentary about the exciting movement of worker cooperatives creating good jobs in the US and Spain. We will also show a teaser trailer for Radical Roots featuring co-op super-activist and former Minneapolis city councilman Dean Zimmerman. Tickets can be found here. Please join us! Also, if you have any, stories, photos, printed materials or (fingers crossed) film from the co-ops movement in the 1970s, please contact us at info@cooperativesociety.info.


About Shift Change:

At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks, big business, and growing inequity in the United States, employee ownership offers real solutions for workers and communities. Shift Change visits thriving cooperative businesses in the U.S. and Spain; sharing on-the-ground experiences, lessons, and observations from the worker-owners on the front lines of the new economy.

Shift Change filmmakers Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin visited the world's oldest and largest network of worker cooperatives in Mondragon—in the Basque Country of Spain —where 60% of local residents are employee-owners. With high job security and competitive salaries, the Basque Country boasts half the unemployment rate of the rest of Spain, and the Mondragon Corporation is the country's 10th largest. 

Here in the U.S.—where a long decline in manufacturing and a brutal economic crisis have led to millions of Americans being thrown out of work—many are looking to Mondragon as a model. Worker-owned businesses are on the rise, with hundreds of coops in the U.S. today, representing thousands of individual worker/owners. 

Shift Change highlights businesses that empower immigrant cleaners in California, install solar power in inner city Cleveland, and manufacture robots in Wisconsin.  The film conveys the promise that these businesses offer to reinvent our failing economy, provide a pathway to long term stability, and nurture a more egalitarian way of life.


Granola and Car Bombs: The Twin Cities Co-op Wars

If you live in the Twin Cities, you may know that we have more food co-ops with more members than anywhere else in the country.  But you may not have heard of the sometimes violent struggle that waged over what those co-ops show be, and how they fit in to the larger struggle for a better world. Are they for the counter-culture of the working class? Are they anarchist, Marxist or not political at all? Is white sugar poison or the food of the proletariat? Check out this radio documentary from KFAI and AMPERS:

In this documentary, producer Maria Almli interviews those who were there. Learn how the co-op wars began--when a secretive group in support of Marxist principles began retooling operations for the newly emerging hippie grocery stores--and how members found themselves in the midst of a car bombing and violent takeovers.

Craig Cox also wrote a very interesting book on the struggle, Storefront Revolution. We at The Cooperative Society are in the beginning stages of creating a documentary movie about the Co-op Wars and its resonance for people in the co-op and food justice movements today. While some of the manifestations are very different, we are still asking ourselves some of the same questions about class and race, activism and commerce, and the nature of healthy food. Stay tuned for more news on this exciting project!


Why Close Your Business on Cesar Chavez Day?

Photo from the Wikimedia Commons, Joel LevineWorker-owned Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco was closed on March 30th for Cesar Chavez Day.  I knew about this because I follow them on Twitter, and thought it was a nice, if quixotic, gesture.  But Rainbow cheesemonger Gordon Edgar (author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge) explained the significance in a recent (short) post on his blog, and I really liked what he said:

"It’s important to remember, as a 'foodie revolution' takes place, who does the majority of the hard work, at least in states like California, to bring food to the table."

A few years back, when I worked at Seward Co-op in their previous location, we had a customer call us up on Easter to find out if we were open.  Then he berated the customer service person as being godless or unchristian or something to that effect because we didn't close for Easter.  Some people care why you close your business.

So nice job, Rainbow Grocery!