• Rachel Munson & The Bemidji Pioneer

Harmony Celebrates Forty Years of Service


Harmony Natural Foods Co-op – a full-service grocery store, cooperative and community innovator – has been working with its customer-owners for more than 40 years to empower each other and create sustainable soil-to-shelf relationships. ​ “In a co-op your business has real community feel,” says Colleen Bakken, general manager. “When you walk in the door someone is going to greet you. We enjoy knowing our customers.” Bakken, who has been managing the co-op for more than 20 years, describes Harmony in its simplest terms as a full service grocery store filled with local and organic products including beauty, vitamins and health. Harmony also houses both a shared-use community kitchen and The Good Food Deli which serves affordable and healthy meals daily. ​ “Our values dictate how we strategize and grow the business, and that’s why we are successful,” Bakken says. “It’s about providing healthy and safe products to our community.” ​ Harmony Co-op makes decisions about their everyday operations according to their end statements; six guidelines describing their business practices and services. In January 2016, Harmony Co-op created its first sustainability committee; in September, they installed a solar awning. ​ “At the time, we really didn’t have the capital to purchase the solar awning because we were in a period of expansion with the business,” Bakken says. “But installing the solar awning fit so perfectly with our end statement to promote sustainable practices, we decided to bring the idea to our owners.” ​ Together with its owners, Harmony Co-op raised the funds to facilitate the solar awning project.

“When you see this happening, it’s so synergistic that you feel like you can make a difference in the world,” Bakken says. “And you can do it with a business.”

Stories like this at Harmony are common. In an effort to increase the circulation of local foods in the region, Harmony built a state-certified commercial kitchen within it’s premises to encourage future food entrepreneurs. Harmony regularly offers cooking classes at its Community Kitchen; the ‘shared-use’ kitchen open to the entire community, groups also use it to host classes. Producers and entrepreneurs use the community kitchen to make products that use local ingredients to create revenue for the community. Currently, entrepreneurs use the community kitchen to produce such products as pineapple-habanero salsa, barbecue sauce, locally grown pickled asparagus and so much more. ​ “Having a commercial kitchen where we can do soil-to-shelf products with growers and entrepreneurs is really a cool thing that no other co-op has,” says Lisa Wesikopf, Harmony Co-op’s product manager and community kitchen director. ​ Anyone who creates a product which meets Harmony’s product policy guidelines has an opportunity to sell their products in the store. ​ Harmony’s Good Food Deli serves home-cooked meals with fresh ingredients, offering healthy and locally-sourced meals to the community. The Good Food Deli includes both a “Grab-n-Go” cooler and made to order sandwiches with gluten free options from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Harmony Co-op started as a buyers club and became an incorporated co-op in 1977. Supporters argue a co-op is the most democratic way to own and operate a business where everyone gets an equal vote. Though Harmony is owner-based, you do not need to be an owner to shop. In fact, Harmony’s logo features a tagline of “Whole Foods. Community Owned. Everyone Welcome. For every $1,000 spent at a food co-op, $1,604 is generated for the local economy, according to a 2012 community impact study. ​

On April 23 Harmony Co-op marks 40 years of whole foods and community-owned inclusiveness with a special celebration. The Good Food Deli will serve a free, fresh and delicious meal starting at noon with the Annual Ownership Meeting at 12:30 p.m. Come early as local Irish band Caleigh will play music from 10:30 a.m. through the community meal. ​ “People see that Harmony Coop has so many local products, a shared-use kitchen, The Good Food Deli and a solar awning and they wonder why Harmony has that,” Bakken says. “It’s because of our community.” ​ The people at Harmony are excited to connect with the greater community to talk about how they can empower each other through sustainable relationships, continuing to evaluate options for consumers and producers. ​ For more information, visit harmonycoop.com or connect with Rachel Munson, Harmony’s marketing and outreach coordinator at 218-751-2009 to learn more about the 40th anniversary celebration.

“We have end statements that drive our ‘how’ and ‘why’ we grow. They are really value-orientated and are about putting value back into the local economy,” Bakken says.

  1. Harmony Coop supports vibrant local commerce in the community with retail business to provide an outlet for local growers and producers.

  2. Harmony Coop strives to promote and restore healthful, sustainable and environmental practices.

  3. Harmony Coop provides and promotes healthy eating options in the store and deli for its customers.

  4. Harmony Coop provides our community with educational opportunities about the benefits of locally and organically-sourced products, cooperative principles and nutritious eating.

  5. Harmony Coop actively engages staff in the organization’s decision making process, and provides them with a competitive compensation package.

  6. As a profitable business with ever increasing ownership, Harmony Coop returns economic value to the community and grows according to community needs.

302 Irvine Ave NW 

Bemidji, MN 56601

(218) 751-2009

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