Dubuque Food Co-Op offers community an alternative experience to traditional food shopping

The Dubuque Food Co-Op offers Dubuque a unique shopping experience with its wide variety of locally produced and organic products, stocking its shelves with everything from vegetables to frozen pizzas to lip balm.
The Dubuque Food Co-Op offers Dubuque a unique shopping experience with its wide variety of locally produced and organic products, stocking its shelves with everything from vegetables to frozen pizzas to lip balm.

DUBUQUE — The Dubuque Food Co-Op began as a hope and dream in 2009. This dream became a reality in May of this year when it opened its doors to the public. Since May, it has been providing the Dubuque community with local, natural and organic products. Although the store is member-owned, anyone from the community is welcome to shop there.

There is no limit to the number of member-owners that the store can have, and in fact, the more members the more financially stable the store will become. Members have the opportunity to vote for candidates for the Board of Directors, or even to become one. Their suggestions and comments are also weighed heavily by the Board, which directs the growth of the Co-Op. In addition, members receive patronage rebates in years that are profitable. Also, free and discounted admissions to events that are Co-Op-sponsored are another perk. Additional discounts and other promotions are offered to members as well when available. A lifetime membership costs $100 and is refundable if the member moves or changes his or her mind.

The Co-Op prides itself on providing locally-grown food and products to the Dubuque area. They define “local” as anything within 90 miles of Dubuque. However, it does costs the store more to stock local products than imported ones, which means that some of the prices are slightly higher than they would be in a normal grocery store. The store stocks everything from homemade salsas to gluten-free cake mixes, organic lip balms, chakra-aligning perfumes, and much more.

The store occupies the old CARADCO Warehouse space on the first floor of the current Schmid Innovation Center. Loft-style apartments reside above, which add to the urban-hub feel of the spot. It is located on the corner of 9th Street and Washington in the Millwork District.

General Manager Patrick Brickel has previous experience working in Iowa City co-ops and is enthusiastic about sharing his experiences with Dubuque. Brickel remarked that the Co-Op is indeed thinking of college students, and has a plan in mind for how to better cater to them: “We’re in the process of launching student memberships. These would bring all of the financial benefits of being an owner, but instead of a one-time lifetime fee of $100, students would be able to buy an annual membership for just $10. That student membership won’t allow folks to elect Board Directors or earn patronage refunds like full owners, but will provide full access to discounts and events, as well as the ability to support a community-owned organization.”

Because the store supplies many fresh produce and other grocery items, a challenging issue arises regarding what to do with the produce when it begins to get old. The store avoids throwing anything away, and instead tries to use the still viable products in homemade salsas, casseroles, etc. In addition, they are donating to the Mission and Opening Doors’ Maria House and Teresa Shelter. The store wishes to give back to the Dubuque community as much as possible, and puts forth the fact that it could not exist without the support of the Dubuque citizens.

Sophomore Sarah Homan has shopped at the Co-Op, and likes the location and variety that the store features.

“I think the Warehouse District is such a cool spot for it,” said Homan. “Although the prices might be a little higher, it offers some great alternative options that you wouldn’t find in the grocery store and that are still feasible for college students to afford.”

Even just browsing the shelves offers a taste of a healthy and locally-grown lifestyle, and gives a taste of the variety of products that Dubuque grows and makes.

“Natural, organic, and local foods are not staples within a store full of conventional products. We will not knowingly carry products with artificial additives, preservatives, colors or flavors, high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fats, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). And we hope to educate folks on alternatives to industrial food,” Brickel said.

This is one of the main concerns of the Co-Op. Although not every student may be interested in becoming a member of the Co-Op, shopping there offers a unique Dubuque experience, healthy and alternative cuisines, and a sense of the strong community that backs it.

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