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One of America's Largest Food Co-ops, The Wedge Buys Organic Farm in Minnesota

  • One of America's largest food co-ops buys organic farm for $1.5 mil'
    The Wedge complements organic, natural food retail operations with production at Garden of Eagan
    Sustainable Food News, October 8, 2007
    Straight to the Source

The Wedge gets into the organic farming business

The Wedge Co-op, one of the nation's largest consumer-owned food cooperatives, said Monday it has agreed to buy Gardens of Eagan, a 100-acre, certified-organic farm in Farmington, Minn., for $1.5 million.

The Minneapolis-based natural and organic food cooperative has more than 13,000 member-owners and posted sales of $37 million for its fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

In its 33-year history has grown to become the largest single store, consumer-owned, natural food cooperative in the United States.

"Owning an organic farm, particularly one so close to the city, will allow us to broaden our outreach through organic farming internships, tours and other learning opportunities that help people better understand organic farming," said Lindy Bannister, general manager of The Wedge.

Bannister also noted the Wedge's purchase of Gardens of Eagan, located about 40 minutes away, helps secure an indefinite supply of organic produce for the Wedge, its fellow area co-ops, and other Twin Cities outlets. Gardens of Eagan's fiscal year ends Dec. 31, and they are estimating about $500,000 in annual revenue.

The Wedge said it will continue to purchase produce from other farms, and "continue working in cooperation" with Gardens of Eagan's existing accounts.

Gardens of Eagan owners Martin and Atina Diffley have been selling their farm's produce - sweet corn, tomatoes, melons and a variety of other crops ­ at The Wedge and other Twin Cities' natural food co-ops and other stores for the past 35 years.

The decision to sell was seven years in the making and centered on how the integrity of the organic farm could best be protected from development or conversion to conventional farming without owning it.

"We started by looking at traditional transfer models and quickly saw challenges for GOE," said Atina Diffley on the company's Web site.

A year and a half ago, the Diffley's approached its largest customer, The Wedge, and suggested the co-op buy the farm in order to preserve its organic heritage from future development and utilize that spirit to educate the community about organic farming and its benefits.

The Wedge said it wants the purchase to serve as a model for other co-operatives looking to preserve organic farmland.

"We'd like to think it's much better for a co-op to purchase an organic farm than a conventional farm corporation or ­ heaven forbid ­ a condo developer," the company said in a release.

The ownership change will begin Jan. 1 with a two-year lease during which The Wedge will exercise its option to buy.

The Diffley's will continue their ongoing organic farming research and educational and community outreach at the farm as part of the deal.

Meanwhile, Linda Halley, a 20-year veteran of farm management in Wisconsin and Southern California, will be Gardens of Eagan's manager once the lease kicks in.

Previously, Halley co-owned and operated Harmony Valley Farm in Viroqua, Wis, an organic produce and Angus beef operation.

In 2003, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service named Halley Farmer of the Year.

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