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FOOD CO-OP: Members buy local food online to help economy and environment

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The local food movement is gaining interest in Iowa. State lawmakers are even looking at a plan to boost the local food economy. Members of one group say they're already helping Iowans buy local and will expand the effort soon.

Lisa Bean says, "I look forward to coming every month." Bean says she looks forward to coming to a space in Merle Hay Mall every month. It's not your typical food store. It's a food cooperative. She says, "We're a cooperative of producers and consumers, and we use the internet for our commerce."

Gary Huber is the manger of the Iowa Food Cooperative. Farmers from around the state sell meat, cheese, eggs, produce and more to members wanting to buy it. He says, "There's no inventory. Everything that comes in is pre-sold and we just handle the money behind the scenes and we make it happen for our members."

He says members shop online at www.iowafood.org. All the food is brought to the distribution site. It's then sorted and put on the shelves for each of the members. It costs $50 to be a member. Huber says only twelve cooperatives like this exist in the country.

Huber says they started with 100 members in 2008. They now have more than 500. Huber says, "We have a goal to be at 1,000 members a year from now. We want to keep increasing our size, making it more convenient by having other locations in the Des Moines metro."

Current locations are located in Merle Hay Mall and in West Des Moines. Huber says they plan to add more soon. He says, "Right now we're looking at a location in Pleasant Hill. We're looking at Ankeny on the north side, then we're looking down on the south side. We're trying to figure out how to add more places where people can go to get what they ordered."

Bean says she joined six months ago. She says the food is a little more expensive, but feels buying local is worth the extra cost. She says, "I do it to support the local economy. I think it's really important to buy as much local as we can. The taste is a lot better, and I know the quality is good."

Huber says they're helping another group start a similar food cooperative in Iowa City.