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Duluth food co-op hits half-million in register roundup

Whole Foods Co-op's round-up-to-the-nearest dollar donations support area growers, food producers and nonprofits.

A wide shot shows the interior of the Whole Foods Co-op's Hillside location
Whole Foods Co-op employee Adam Leier tends to the register at Duluth's Hillside location. Through shopper donations at the register, WFC has raised $500,000 to area nonprofits since 2017.
Contributed / DanSan Creatives
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DULUTH — Your total is $10.98. Would you like to round up to the nearest dollar?

Saying “yes” to 2, 4 or 99 cents can be a manageable ask for shoppers. That’s what Whole Foods Co-op leadership figured when they launched round-up-at-the-register efforts, which have added up.

The cooperatively owned community grocery stores, located in Duluth's East Hillside and Denfeld neighborhoods, hit the $500,000 mark in donations this spring.

Marci Strack, of Whole Foods Co-op, stands outside of CHUM in Duluth
Marci Strack, of Whole Foods Co-op, stands outside of CHUM in Duluth after a news conference Feb. 28. CHUM and the Lake Superior CSA Guild are teaming up again to bring fresh produce to the food shelf with help from the co-op round-up-at-the-register campaign.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“That’s a half a million dollars by rounding up at the registers,” said Marci Strack, marketing manager.

Donations are split 50/50 between the Give nonprofit support program and the Grow Local Food Fund , with the exception of March, when the 100% of donations go to CHUM and Minnesota FoodShare, and June, when all proceeds go to Whole Foods’ access discount. (The latter gives 10% off all purchases to co-op owners enrolled in Minnesota Food Assistance Program, said Strack.)

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Superior Small Batch owners Gail Francis and Shane Dickey, both of Duluth, create Localburgers at their production space in the basement of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Superior. The Superior-based business was granted $7,000 in 2021 through the Whole Foods Co-op's Grow Local Food Fund.
Clint Austin / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribune

Recipients span northern Minnesota and Wisconsin: Superior Small Batch; Baby Cakes Wild Rice Bakery in Cloquet; Agate Acres in Two Harbors; Safe Haven, Men as Peacemakers and Hartley Nature Center in Duluth; Uffda Organics in Wrenshall.

Launched in 2017, the Give Program asks shoppers to donate to a different nonprofit per month, and it quickly gained ground.

Sarah Hannigan.jpg
Sarah Hannigan
Contributed / DanSan Creatives

“Within a few years, the program was generating over $2,000 per week — far exceeding our expectations,” said Sarah Hannigan, general manager.

Hannigan said this is thanks to the community and the stores’ cashiers. “Every penny raised is a direct result of their work,” she added.

Up this month is the Duluth Community Garden Program, which manages 21 community gardens in neighborhoods from Endion to Chester, Lincoln Park to Riverside.

This funding helps to cover infrastructure materials and staff time to keep the spaces well-maintained and accessible, said Megan Wylder, Duluth Community Garden Program manager.

Aaron Peterson looks at a cash register behind the counter as Josephine Lepak lifts paper bags at the Whole Foods Co-op Hillside location.
Aaron Peterson tends to the register as Josephine Lepak lifts bagged items at the Whole Foods Co-op Hillside store.
Contributed / DanSan Creatives

Whole Foods’ shoppers donated $5,715 for the Duluth Community Garden Program in July 2021, and this general operating support is huge because it can be used for expenses and projects they may not have specific grant funding for. “We are grateful,” said Wylder.

Same goes at Duluth's Life House, where grants are often tied to hitting a certain number of counseling hours or youth served. These shopper donations allow flexibility to support youth through basic baby needs, move-in kits, programming or relationship-building, said Jordon Johnson, executive director.

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Shoppers donated $11,797 to Life House in 2020 and another $4,761 in January.

Asked if it’s common for businesses to raise funds, Johnson noted Tommy’s Express Car Wash and Apostle Supper Club, both in Duluth, are among other businesses to show support.

“These are the young people that are potentially working with them or have some engagement for them," Johnson said. "these are our future generations, future leaders.

“Giving through the co-op is giving back to the young people in our community,” said Johnson.

In July, WFC will begin the application process for 2023, said Strack.

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Ginga Beleza Newton, right, of Duluth, gives Liza Williamson a sample of kombucha during the Lincoln Park Farmers Market on Sept. 23.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Ginga Newton, of Duluth, was able to scale up her urban organic farming operation after receiving more than $5,600 through the Grow Local Food Fund.

“The support meant we were able to scale our operation up this year," she said. "Growing more food for me required cold storage, it was so critical for the small size of the business, and we could not have grown this year without it.

“This was an extremely huge deal,” she said in November.

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The Grow Local Fund began in 2021 and is modeled after programs at the Chequamegon Food Co-op in Ashland and Lakewinds Co-op in the Twin Cities, said Hannigan.

Regional operations are selected by a diverse group of community members, staff and past grantees.

In total, 11 grants and $62,600 has been awarded to Minnesota and Wisconsin growers and food producers.

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Britt Johnson picks out broken and discolored soldier beans in the shop on her property outside of Moose Lake on Nov. 29.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

Out of 22 applicants, four were announced as recipients in April: Native Wise, Farm Lande, Rising Phoenix Community Farm and Polish Farmer .

The Grow Local Food Fund focuses on emerging and established operations — each with very different needs.

In development, co-op leadership specifically wanted to include both because producers often source from regional agriculture operations, and the success of one helps the other.

The pandemic highlighted that failure in a supply chain can wreak havoc on the system. The distance between the farm and table is short when we’re relying on regional agriculture, she said.

“Supporting the local food economy was a no-brainer,” Hannigan added. “Growers and producers are the backbone of our local food economy.”

To learn more

Visit Whole Foods Co-op's Give nonprofit support program page at wholefoods.coop/give and the Grow Local Food Fund page at wholefoods.coop/growlocalfoodfund .

MORE BY MELINDA LAVINE

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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