Local Love: A Celebration of Community
Summertime isn’t just lake cabin time up here in Bemidji. It’s carnival season, from the Jaycees 4th of July waterfront fireworks to the Beltrami County Fair in early August. The county fair is a definite must-see for anyone interested in the full country summer experience, whether visiting or staycationing. It’s a sensory wonderland: from the aromas of hot metal, fried food, and livestock, to the joyful screams of roller-coaster riders and the engines revving at the motocross. That’s where Harmony Co-op was this past weekend, stationed at our commercial building booth and spreading the joy of co-operative community; we had several prize drawings as well as guessing games for kids, and between the 4-H animals, quilt exhibitions, and all the beautiful fruits, veggies and pies, the creativity and skill of our friends and neighbors was truly amazing to behold.
“The County Fair is a showcase and celebration of local agriculture; at Harmony Co-op we have a wide range of local products for you to enjoy.” We’re quoting our general manager Colleen Bakken here (from our fair exhibit booth) to illustrate not just why we like to have a presence at the fairgrounds (besides the animals, the rides, and the food, of course—it is a lot of fun), but the importance of our local community to our store in general.
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. Not only is it a fun, free adventure but it’s an excellent reminder of how lucky we are to have the local community we do. Our first tour of the year was July 20th at Merry Gardens, and we were joined by a group of international students on an exchange program with Bemidji State University—a group of middle-schoolers from Shanghai, China! As Shanghai is China’s largest city—in fact, the largest city in the world—the students were very excited to see a real working farm.
Our tour was so popular, in fact, that we’re doing a second one again this weekend!
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 Woodcraft around town—but if you don’t recognize that name, you’ll definitely know “Ivan’s farm”.
Ivan and his family farm out in Leonard and 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.
Vibrant Farm grows our fresh local shoots and microgreens, and Danae and her family do an amazing job!
Split Oak Farm brings us delicious duck and chicken eggs—plus, Jeff and Angie teach classes for our education department! Jeff is a homebrewing wizard, and Angie’s International Street Food series always has a full house!
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!