We love it here in Bemidji - and while we shouldn't really pick favorites, because it's beautiful all year round, with all kinds of fun, safe, outdoor activities no matter the temperature, we have to admit summer in northern Minnesota is something very special. Swimming, boating, fishing, or just admiring the lakes; the variety of wildlife, like the iconic loons and bald eagles; wildflowers galore in a dizzying array of colors, plus the butterflies and other pollinators that depend upon them; hiking, biking, paddleboarding, trail running, and just being outside in general make living in the Northwoods a dream come true. So why are we so obsessed with keeping it local? We love it here, for one! Harmony Co-op has been a part of Bemidji for 42 years, starting from a small basement bulk buying group to our current location as downtown’s only grocery store, and we’re so grateful to be here. It’s not just civic pride, though.
Local food is:
better for the environment. It makes sense—products that aren’t shipped as far don’t take so much fuel.
better-tasting. Produce that doesn’t travel far can be picked close enough to the point of ripeness that it’s perfectly ready right when you need it. That means the fruits and veggies can get ready the way they’re supposed to—on the vine, in the sun and fresh air! If you’ve ever bought a big box chain store tomato out of season, you’ll know the flavor isn’t nearly comparable; that’s because the fruits are picked when still green and ripen on the way in climate-controlled bins. You’d feel sad and stale too!
better for the community. These are our friends and neighbors—literally! For every dollar spent at the co-op, a thousand dollars goes back into the community. We pay our farmers for their produce, they can pay their bills and employees and suppliers who can then do the same, and that money will recirculate throughout the local economy.
For the past two summers, we at Harmony have been lucky enough to host tours out at Merry Gardens Farm in Bagley.
Jill even has a blog with tips on gardening, organic produce, and all things ecological here: https://www.harmonyfoods.coop/post/tips-with-jill-from-merry-gardens-farm
Merry Gardens Farm isn’t our only local producer, though—we have many, everything from meat and eggs to honey and pancake syrup. There’s too many to list here, so you’ll just have to come into the store and see for yourself, but here are a few:
You’ve probably seen Clearwater Produce around town—but if you don’t recognize that name, you’ll definitely know “Ivan’s farm”. Clearwater Produce in Leonard, MN is a longtime partner of Harmony Co-op's and we are glad to carry their produce all year round. Ivan is a staple in our community. He and his family are based out of Leonard, MN and raise a thousand+ acre farm.
They grow everything from corn and onions to peppers and potatoes (the heirloom tomatoes are a particular favorite) without artificial pesticides or fertilizers, relying on traditional farming methods like crop rotation and cattle grazing. Read more about Ivan and his farm here on our blog: https://www.harmonyfoods.coop/post/fresh-deal-features
Vibrant Farm grows our fresh local shoots and microgreens, and Danae and her family do an amazing job! Vibrant Farm is a family-run, independent farm offering the best quality produce from sustainable and eco-friendly farming projects. Vibrant Farm is located in Laporte, Minnesota and carries a mission to provide healthy, nutrient-dense produce to Northern Minnesota communities. Their desire is to connect with people and be apart of a bigger purpose. Read more about Danae and her family here on our blog: https://www.harmonyfoods.coop/post/fresh-deals-farm-feature-vibrant-farm
Split Oak Farm brings us delicious duck and chicken eggs
We also get local eggs from Harold Frenzel and eggs and chicken from Larry Schultz; they’re not just delicious but free-range, so you know the chickens are treated humanely and given the best lives possible.
We get local honey from Bar Bell Bee Ranch—and what’s really great about that aside from the taste is that consuming local honey can actually help relieve symptoms of seasonal allergies! As if we didn’t love bees enough, right?
Speaking of sweet treats—we have delicious local maple syrup from Maple Island Syrup in Tenstrike, just a few minutes up the road, and Native Harvest maple syrup and wild rice from the White Earth reservation. We have an assortment of local wild fruit jams and syrups (and pancake mix to put them on) from Red Lake Nation Foods; they are Native American-owned, locally grown and hand-harvested, and contain no preservatives or artificial sweeteners—plus, they’re delicious!
Wild rice isn’t just a part of our local economy, it’s part of our local culture. All the wild rice Harmony sells is wild-grown and traditionally hand-harvested, reflecting its historical importance to the Ojibwe community of northern Minnesota. As a locally owned cooperative we celebrate the history of the diverse cultures around us that have shaped who we are as a community, particularly the local food system, ways of sustainable living, and respect for the land. Harmony also has been pleased to expand the Ojibwe Language Project; you’ll notice around the store a number of signs in both English and Ojibwe, both items we sell and also directional signage. The Ojibwe Language Project aims to reaffirm Bemidji as part of the traditional homelands of the Ojibwe Nation and recognize the Ojibwe people as an important part of the Bemidji community and an important part of Harmony Co-op.
This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the amazing array of locally and regionally-produced goods at Harmony Co-op. We have a selection of books from local authors, from illustrated children’s books to memoirs and collections of poetry. We carry organic and fair-trade Peace Coffee from Minneapolis and Ferndale Market turkey from Cannon Falls, Minnesota; Fox Farm pork chops and sausage come from Browerville and Kadejan chicken from Glenwood, Minnesota. Zeller’s in Blackduck produces a natural PMS/progesterone cream that’s been a favorite at Harmony for years, and Natural Way Mills flour and grains are grown and milled right in nearby Middle River. If you’d like to contact our growers directly, we maintain a Local Connection Facebook group and list on our website; even if we don’t sell what you’re looking for, I bet we can find you someone that does!