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  • Kate Egelhof

Harmony Past, Present, and Future: Growing Community Together for 42 Years

It’s been 42 years since Harmony Co-op first opened its doors—and what a fantastic 42 years it’s been! From humble beginnings as a buyers’ bulk co-operative in a basement to a small downtown storefront and now a full-service grocery and health store with a thriving outreach program, Harmony has certainly come a long way. We began as the Bemidji Buying Club in 1976 as a bulk ordering group; after that disbanded, the Harmony Cooperative Grocery came into existence in the spring of 1977, and arrived downtown as the Harmony Natural Foods Co-op in 1991. From those humble beginnings we evolved to a full-sized grocery, arriving in our current Irvine Avenue location in 2011, where we boast such amenities as a fully-certified commercial kitchen where we can now help other small local businesses succeed (like Bemidji Brewing, which began here and now has a standalone brewpub and restaurant). We’ve made some exciting changes around here lately, so let’s take a virtual tour through the store and point out a few of the highlights!

The first change you probably notice when you walk into the store is literally the first thing you see! We have all new produce displays courtesy of Evolution Fixtures --instead of the racks, we have low, wide handmade bins and trays—so it smells really fresh, too! This means that the bins are more accessible as well as opening up the aisles (and so many nice, neat, visually appealing rows of produce too—after all, you eat with your eyes!). There’s brand-new signage too, putting us on the standard template used by the other National Co-op Grocers; in addition, we are phasing out the purple “Harmony Deals” signs for greater simplicity. The sale signs will now either be green “Co-op Deals” or orange “Owner Deals”, so it’s more easily discernable which sales apply to everyone or owners only. We’ve got a whole new shelving rack in the bulk department instead of the counter next to the repack cooler—the new shelves hold repackaged, shelf-stable Tierra Farms products (like unshelled pistachios, goji berries, and some sweet-and-spicy curry cashews). Also new in bulk are hempseeds, new mixed nuts and granola blends, and coconut flour (for the gluten-free, paleo, and keto enthusiasts), while the coffee section has a few new items listed on the Co-op Basics program.

The wellness department has undergone some changes. The protein powders are at eye level under the new powdered greens and above the collagen powder—perfect for smoothies (see, we told you to grab some fresh fruit). Allergy remedies have taken the place of wintertime cold and flu, right on time for the seasonal sufferers to stock up before everything blooms. All the vitamins are together, and some new products from Andalou Naturals have filled out the facial skin care. Extra-strength CBD liquid and a second gummy flavor are in the locked cases on the desk. The biggest change back here, though, is a brand-new probiotics cooler in a brand-new spot. Instead of being all the way behind the information desk, the probiotics (and flax oil and tart cherry concentrate) are in a very shiny high-tech (it beeps when you leave the door open) new cooler tucked to the side of the cheese case next to the community kitchen door.

Speaking of the cheese case, it’s gotten a changeup too! Our Cheese Queen Mackenzie reshuffled the lineup a bit—now the ricotta, fresh mozzarella, and new crème fraiche are at sight level (for your summer pasta salad needs), while the various flavored cheddars and assorted blues are together (so many burgers, so little summertime). There’s plenty of new products and new taste combinations (crème fraiche plus fresh berries equals bliss), as well as the return of some old favorites (Dave’s Killer Bread is back in the bakery) by popular demand. There’s some great new items in the grocery section, too, including some on Co-op Basics; while the list is too long for a blog post and really best experienced in person, we will note that the vital wheat gluten (for home bread bakers and seitan fans) is now located next to the other baking mixes and flours by the spices, and is now a Bob’s Red Mill product.

Even the deli has been doing some adjusting, right in time for spring! You’ll definitely want to check out the new menu offerings—there’s a vegan, gluten-free herbed zucchini noodle salad, house-made fresh egg rolls, and Café Spice Indian-inspired premade dinners. We have a new digital display monitor right next to the hallway by the restrooms, and next year the deli will get a new digital menu, too. The biggest excitement, however, is part of our future plans: the Good Food Deli will be getting a brand-new Turbo Chef oven, thanks to the store’s performance in a Super Bowl sales competition put on by the NCG. The victory was even sweeter as that week was the worst of our polar vortex freeze, which had cancelled several of our truck deliveries and left us short of some items. (You could say we won with one hand tied behind our back!)

As exciting as it is to see how far we’ve come and even now how much we’re always working to improve, the future of Harmony Co-op looks even more amazing. Just in the next few months we have our 42nd Annual Owner Meeting, with 10% off storewide all day, musical entertainment, and an always-stellar dish from the Good Food Deli; our Summer Family Festival, with outdoor games and delicious food; a selection of education classes from local luminaries; and, as always, monthly free kid’s activities with the Harmony Co-op Explorers. We’ll have farm tours for both adults and children so you can see where your food comes from and make friends with the farmer who grew it, and we’ll have our outreach table at events around town from Bemidji’s first Kid’s Resource Fair to the Women’s Expo and the Beltrami County Fair. We’ll have even more excitement coming up than we can possibly fit here, so keep an eye on our website and social media—and don’t forget to stop in the store and see for yourself!

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