A Grocer. A Community. A Career.

By: Kristin Evenrud, Grocery Manager
Let me tell you the story of how I fell in love with the Oneota Community Food Co-op. When I was a young college student at Luther, I would come down off the hill and poke around town – checking out the local businesses like Ben Bear, The Family Store, Rambo Pharmacy and the Oneota Co-op.

What a great “hippie” store, I thought – referring to the Co-op of course. At the time, I bought henna, “round” oatmeal (rolled oats), aloe soaps and Nature’s Gate shampoo and conditioner. My hair was thick and shiny and I smelled so good.

Although I didn’t admit it then, walking into that small store at 521 West Water Street was pretty intimidating. At that time most of the food was in bins and I wondered how a young college kid was going to cook rice and oats and stuff. Even though I was warmly greeted by a super cool and smiling hippie chick in a long skirt and peasant blouse – and I loved the “idea” of the Co-op (especially that wonderful smell and the sweet people) I wondered if I would really ever be health-conscious enough to shop for food at the Co-op on a consistent basis.

Lucky for me, Decorah became the place I felt most at home and after graduation, I stayed. I got married and over the next few years I shopped intermittently at the Co-op, still buying shampoo and soap, every once in a while some herbs and spices, and on one adventuresome shop I splurged on buying the “Joy of Cooking” cookbook. I am sure I was offered the chance of becoming a member/owner various times over the years, but I remember this instance in particular and that the timing just wasn’t right for me – not enough extra cash and quite frankly the thought of potlucks scared me.

Many years later I came back to the Co-op in earnest. Like many folks who explore the Co-op but are not regular shoppers, I was having a health emergency. I was having migraines that just wouldn’t stop. After exploring traditional options, including an MRI and many doctor visits, we came up flat. With the advent of the internet I discovered the MSG (monosodium glutamate) connection to headaches. As you may or may not know, MSG can come in many forms. Such as the ingredients yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or textured vegetable protein just to name a few. These ingredients are common in processed foods.

At that time, I started to buy food at the Co-op – real food, whole food, and especially food without those ingredients added to it. It tasted different, sometimes looked different, but I got used to it. I appreciated not only the foods available at the Co-op, but the dedication the staff had to assisting me. The staff provided me with knowledge and expertise I couldn’t find anywhere else in Decorah. It’s a level of service that we continue to strive towards today.

Though my eating habits changed and I was feeling better by avoiding MSG, my family still wanted to eat Dorritos and drink Diet Pepsi. Meals at home became a battle. I remained diligent about my diet. I made food for them and food for me and that worked for a while.
A little later we found out our oldest child had food sensitivities. He was tested at Allergy Associates in La Crosse, Wisconsin and was found to be sensitive to dairy, wheat and eggs. Even though I was a pretty good label reader by now, I was still pretty scared. How was I going feed my kid?! I doubled down my efforts at the Co-op and discovered soy milk, alternative cheeses and dairy free ice cream. They also had wheat-free noodles and I learned how to cook (and pronounce) quinoa (keen-wah) and we started to eat differently as a family. My “Joy of Cooking” cookbook was getting pretty well worn.

At this time I also decided to make the investment and become a Co-op member/owner. It now fit into my budget and I wanted to support the organization that had supported me. For a $20 per year investment over 7 years, I could help ensure the organization was around for the long term.
Well, to make what could be a really long story short, I eventually applied for a job and was hired at the Co-op in 2006. I started as a cook in “the old store” – 415 West Water Street. After holding several other positions in the store, I became the Grocery Manager in 2010. This current position includes oversight of staff that purchase and fill the shelves of our coolers, freezers and other grocery and bulk areas. A job which our buyers and I take very seriously.

When I started working at the Co-op I fell in love with it all over again. Not only was I in love with the products on the shelves, but I found the people. People that loved food and wanted to know where it came from. I found farmers that were passionate about their animals and devoted to providing the freshest local vegetables. I found member/owners and customers looking for soda without high fructose corn syrup or aspartame and asking what “GMO” meant. Once I looked behind the curtain and I knew I wanted to play an even bigger part in the mission of this cooperative: to build vibrant communities and ecosystems by providing organic, locally produced and bulk foods, as well as other products and services that are sustainable for those who consume and produce them.

I urge you to consider becoming a member/owner of the Oneota Co-op the next time you are in the store. And if you already are a member/owner of the Co-op – thank you for your continued commitment to this community-focused, member-owned, cooperative grocer.