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Midwest co-ops raise call for relief to farm flood victims

Organic farmers in southwest Wisconsin and neighboring Minnesota lost much or all of their crops in flooding .

Several Twin Cities-area natural food co-ops Tuesday announced a community relief effort to assist regional organic family farmers, who have seen their annual harvests literally washed away by historic floods that have devastated portions of the Midwest over the past week. Organic farmers in southwest Wisconsin and neighboring Minnesota lost much or all of their crops in flooding along the Kickapoo River. "This flood is particularly disastrous to farmers because they are preparing to harvest their summer crops," said Barth Anderson, research and development coordinator for the Wedge Co-op. "Some of our suppliers have lost their entire harvest, others have lost a substantial portion of it, and many have sustained damage or devastation to their homes. More important, however, is the emotional and financial impact felt by our farming partners. Our hearts go out to them." The co-ops are joining forces with other co-ops in Wisconsin and Iowa to provide financial support to farmers in need through a partnership with Sow the Seeds Fund, a project created by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy to promote local food systems in the Midwest. The recent flooding, however, focused the Sow the Seed's mission to providing flood relief to sustainable and organic farmers hardest hit by the floods.

The farmers throughout Southeast Minnesota and Wisconsin are not only business partners with the Twin Cities co-ops, they're our friends," said Kim Kusnier, marketing programs specialist for National Cooperative Grocers Association, a business services cooperative, of which Twin Cities natural food co-ops are members. "Many of our member co-ops and their customers are devotees to these farmers' brands and products. Now, we'd like to encourage the community to 'think with their wallet' by contributing to the flood relief fund." Participating Twin Cities co-ops to-date include Wedge, Eastside, Just Food, Lakewinds, Linden Hills, Mississippi Market, North Country, River Market, Seward and Valley Natural Foods. In the metropolitan and surrounding area of the Twin Cities there are 12 independently owned natural food cooperatives. At least five Wisconsin cooperatives, including Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee and the Willy Street Co-op in Madison, have joined with their counterparts in Minnesota to raise money for those farmers and a Crawford County natural foods co-op that is now struggling after the floods. Through September, shoppers at the co-ops -- 15 as of Tuesday, though new ones are joining daily, organizers said -- are being invited to donate money to the Sow the Seeds Fund at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. The money will be used to benefit the affected farmers. Because the number of participants is growing so quickly, a true tally was tough to come by Tuesday. But early estimates from just Sow the Seeds and three of the larger co-ops totaled $4,200. And an Austin, Texas, co-op is pledging matching funds. The campaign is asking individuals to give tax-deductible cash or check donations at participating co-op customer service desks. Jars will be available to collect spare change at these co-ops.

Also, anyone can donate online at; and buy a specially blended Peace coffee, $2 of which will go to Sow the Seeds. Please send checks to: IATP/Sow the Seeds Fund, c/o Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2105 1st Ave. N., Minneapolis, MN 55404.

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