by Cerrisa Snethen
I want to start off by telling you how I first met Karin Martin-Hiner. My first interaction with Karin lasted for several hours. As she sat by my side, I neither said “hello” nor looked her in the eye, in so far as I remember. Karin arrived at my bedside last April in the middle of my three-day-long labor with my son Eben. She came to help give my caregivers some relief, and she did the selfless and tiresome job of urging me on at a time when I was physically and emotionally kaput. A doula, or birth assistant, is just one of the hats Karin wears. This particular hat appears to me as a bit more of a halo. This woman put up with me insisting that I could not drink the water or take the nourishment she was trying to get into my body. I’m not sure whether I was whining or growling at her the majority of the time. However, I am quite sure that I wasn’t the easiest patient.
Getting caught up in baby-land the past several months, Karin’s thank you letter has been constantly on my brain but hasn’t worked itself out into hard copy. You know what they say about good intentions. So, I am extending this public thank you to Karin for not only being there for the Co-op but also for me.
It should be noted that the story I just relayed truly isn’t the reason Karin was chosen for this piece. Honest! She just so happened to meet all of the criteria we had for this specific issue of the Scoop.
Karin and her family live sixty miles south of Decorah in a town called Strawberry Point. Her Co-op ventures require planning and preparation that far exceeds my throwing bulk jars into a bag, hopping on my bicycle and travelling the several blocks from my home to the Co-op. I sat down with Karin in the Cafe and talked about how this busy mom juggles life on the homestead, teaching music when she can, and her momfulness, which includes Co-op shopping to stay true to her family’s values.
Living on the homestead her parents built in the eighties, Karin and her husband Jason, six year old son Gabriel and four year old daughter Mikayla do as much gardening and home food processing as possible. Though they’re not a farm per se, they keep chickens and try to keep things simple. Karin knits and looks forward to engaging in her artistic pursuits in her spare time. She also loves helping women to birth their babies by serving as a doula where she’s needed. While her hometown is small and lacks a co-op, Karin has strong ties to the Decorah area. Not only did she attend Luther, but she has family who lives here and has directed the Oneota Valley Youth Choir with her musically-inclined mom and sister for four years running.
Directing the choir and visiting family have been bringing Karin to Decorah where she’s often stayed overnight for her children to attend Kinderhaus. While the kids learned and communed with nature, Karin spent a good deal of her time volunteering for projects around the Co-op. Her help identifying gluten-free foods in the store has gone a long way toward helping us be more useful to shoppers who need quick and accurate information about ingredients. She says she always liked the idea of being a member owner, not just to be part of a group or earn a discount – although those were certainly contributing factors. Karin loved the Co-op’s atmosphere and people, and taking a step further to become a working member made her feel like more a part of the organization. She acknowledged her family’s participation in the Co-op as a commitment and felt that it was one well worth making.
While Karin’s work and the activities of her children have certainly incentivized her Co-op shopping, next year the kids won’t be Kinderhaus-ing. Karin says she’ll still be an active member even though it’ll require extra planning. “All of our staples come from here,” she said. “At least what we don’t grow or make ourselves, and I can’t imagine going back to shopping elsewhere.” When I asked Karin what appeals so much to her, she put an emphasis on the cooperative model, the trust she has in the Co-op’s membership and workers, and the local and organic options available. It seemed incredibly valuable to her that the Co-op serves as a place where local farmers and producers can sell their goods.
I asked her what she thinks the store brings to the larger Decorah community. I was particularly interested in hearing an answer to that question from someone whose community doesn’t include a cooperative grocer. “Oh it’s everything,” she said. “There’s an entire community here formed around local food and farmers, the farmer’s market, and CSA’s. There are outlets to buy and sell. It’s young and hip and artsy – that whole community’s grown up around it. Young people with families gravitate here because of it.”
I asked Karin what she thinks the cooperative model can teach her kids. She spoke thoughtfully, saying essentially that, by working together, we can do something different for our community to make it more of a place