Walk into Seward Community Co-op today on 29th and Franklin and take a stroll down the vegetable aisle. One of the first things you’ll see is a shelf piled with Lutz beets, and a sign explaining what Lutz beets are. They look like mace heads, but the sign suggests they’re the sweetest red beets around. The sign wraps with “Don’t fear the giants. They beat any other beet.”
Abby Rogosheske handles educational outreach and the coordination of cooking classes at Seward. She estimates around 15 farm trucks will drop off produce and meats on a typical Friday during peak seasons. That’s not the case right now, of course, but you’d be a fool to think there’s no fresh local produce. You can scoop up some horseradish from Ramsey’s Garden Farme; burdock root from Wisconsin is in plentiful supply; the Co-op stocked with celery root, if you want to play catch with one in the aisle; and these Lutz beets are here, the pride of Zumbro Falls, Minn.
Rogosheske grew up in St. Cloud, and lives in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn neighborhood today. She joined Seward back in 2013, first as a demonstrations coordinator, after previous work with agricultural non-profits and time spent living on three different continents (she lived in Chicago, Uganda, and Japan previously).
When perusing the aisles of Seward’s flagship location, I recognized a number of local food-and drink-makers I’d met at farmers markets and small business get-togethers. You can get Sara Hayden’s iconic Tipsy Pies here, as well as the unfamed but addictive gluten-free muffins from Brody’s 579. Seward also works with local farmers for their meat selection and makes whole-carcasses animal purchases. That’s not necessarily atypical of a co-op, but Seward’s bratwursts are made in-house … and you should see these things.
The selection at Seward doesn’t rival bratwurst kingdoms like Grundhofer’s or New Bohemia, but their creative space is pretty large and they make it count. A beer and onion bratwurst is made with Town Hall Brewery’s Hope and King scotch ale, onion, lard, salt, and black pepper, coriander, and nutmeg. It’s juicy, peppery, and bites with a snap. It’s made with Hope and King, but this brat really makes me thirsty for Town Hall’s IPA, Masala Mama.
Their current special is a spring chicken brat made with local honey from The Beez Kneez. The flavors stand their ground if you want to just knife-and-fork one, but they’re subtle enough that they won’t disrupt a crock pot of maraconi and cheese if you were to, say, mix in two pounds of them. They also serve a fresh bratwurst with pork, half and half, egg, salt, and black pepper. You can eat these with a bun if you want to, but good luck finding one for a sausage this size. If you want a good laugh, use a bread slice.
Rogosheske says these brats are her go-to dinner, and added “I probably eat more than my gut should handle.”
Two blocks up the street is the Seward Co-op Creamery Cafe, which opened in 2015 at the former site of the Franklin Creamery Co-op Association plant. The cafe space was renovated during the summer of 2016, which Seward’s brain trust used as an opportunity to collect feedback from the community and apply that to its new look. Katie Nielsen heads up the program as Executive Chef after stints at the Union Restaurant, Sea Change and the Third Bird.
Kappra says they keep the menu fluid and change it up regularly.
“It’s kind of an incubator,” he says. “We’re a little bit more nimble, so we test things out and try different things.”
During one of last week’s frigid afternoons, I settled into a bowl of chili with a pint of Steel Toe Dissent. I glazed over the word “vegan” when placing the order, and didn’t live to regret it. It was hearty even without meat, and warmed me up the way chili is supposed to. If you measure a chili’s worth by how spicy it is, this won’t be for you – even for Minnesota spicy, it’s on the mild end – but it’s a good, home-style rendition worth walking out of the cold for.
The Creamery Cafe offers an all-day brunch with chilaquiles, a French toast bake, a scrambler, and a sandwich; curried vegetables, a baked macaroni and cheese, and sandwiches are offered at lunch. If you look at the menu and everything looks priced $2-3 more than it should be, that’s because tips are built into the prices.
It’s not a loud space, which is nice. The staff takes care of you, but they’re not invasive. If you’re looking for a quiet place to wait out rush hour traffic and play stupid games on your phone, I can tell you based on experience that Seward’s Creamery Cafe is good for that.
Seward Community Co-op has been operating since 1972, adding a second location – called the “friendship store” – in South Minneapolis in 2015. Per Seward’s latest annual report, a total of 18,253 people “own” the co-op.
Ownership can be had for a one-time purchase of $75 and provides discounts on food and classes, as well as a vote when the board of directors are elected. Ownership also includes profit-sharing when the business is profitable, which Rogosheske says hasn’t been the case over the last couple of years as the business has expanded.
“All of our investments are recirculating into our community,” she says.
Rogosheske says the co-op places an emphasis on hiring within the community. In fact, the percentage of staff within walking and biking distance is brought up in their annual report scorecard (58 percent). Other scorecard metrics include the percentage of staff identifying as people of color (35), square footage dedicated to bike-sharing programs and bike parking (1,890) and staff hours assisting other co-ops (133).
Assisting other co-ops? Well, “co-op” does mean “cooperative,” after all. Rogosheske admits there is competition between Seward and the other major co-ops in the area – think Wedge in Minneapolis, Mississippi Market in St. Paul – but says they’re mostly collaborating and willing to share ingredients.
After all, the “Co-op” Rogosheske said is the real concern is the one Amazon just bought.
“More folks are seeing that natural foods is a selling point, but they’re not doing it in an authentic way,” says Rogosheske. “I think it’s better for us to work together to make sure the coops survive.”
Perhaps the most impressive number Seward has been hanging has come simply by asking customers if they’d like to round up their purchase to the nearest dollar. Introduced in 2011, the SEED program was iniated to provide food to patients suffering from conditions such as Diabetes and Heart Disease through a “prescription CSA.” As of January 22, the initiative had raised $13,301.” That’s just January.
“I talk about being a cooperative and I think that’s the best illustration,” says Rogosheske.
You can find more information on Seward Community Co-op on their website.