The Wedge, A Different World

 Barth Anderson, The Wedge

It’s always amazing what you learn when you go to a new place – or an old place.

When I was young, I’d get to Minneapolis/St. Paul quite often. I was an intern at The Farmer Magazine in St. Paul, in what was the big Webb Publishing Co. stable of ag publications.

Out of college, I d often make trips to Minneapolis for weekends from my life as a reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe, in the southwest corner of the state.  I had a number of friends in the Twin Cities from my days working at the Wilderness Canoe Base at Grand Marais, Minn. Lots of my friends were college students or seminarians at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul.

Since then, I’ve mostly kept my nose to the grindstone in Fargo. My life is mostly here, or to the south, and west. Still, I get to the Twin Cities from time to time to see some relatives or family friends. There’s always work, but it rarely takes me to the downtown/uptown area.

A couple of weeks ago I accompanied a group of young ranchers from North Dakota to The Wedge, a consumer food cooperative. While the Njos family and others talked up their “natural” ground beef in the Country Natural Beef program, I was taking pictures and generally trying to sense what a place like this is all about. (An extensive story appears in Agweek’s Feb. 26 edition.)

At the Wedge, I met Barth Anderson, research and development coordinator for the store. He’d started out there as an organic certification coordinator. He also handles marketing, writing, website-editing – you know, the “outside” worker.

Anderson says  The Wedge has been serving the “uptown/downtown area” since 1974. It is the largest “single-site, consumer co-op in the country.” It has 13,000 members that pay $80 for lifetime memberships and grosses over $30 million a year.

“We’ve got members all over the Upper Midwest now,” he says. “People drive in from upstate Michigan.” Then, as if on cue, there was a lady from Michigan walking around with not one, but two shopping carts filled with groceries.

People at this store get an $80 lifetime membership.

The place has a “lot of local, direct contact with farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Barth says. Many are organic, but there are the “natural” beef suppliers who “grow responsibly and produce food in a sane manner.”

Anderson – speaking figuratively – says The Wedge has a “schizophrenic profile.” There is a very wealthy neighborhood nearby, called Kenwood – full of community business leaders and professionals.

Then there’s the working crowd who come on foot and load up for the week.

Prices on Country Natural beef was $3.49 a pound on chuck roast and $3.39 a pound on ground beef the day I was there.

This crowd is willing to spend more than I am for certain things. Organic, heirloom tomatoes can be $5.99 per pound. The produce aisle is about 98 to 99 percent organic in season, Anderson says, but this time of the year it’s maybe 90 percent organic. “Especially with the freeze,” he says.

The Wedge had the first certified organic meat department in the country, Anderson says.

The Wedge is seeing new competition. Whole Foods is coming downtown. There is another Whole Foods about two miles away that opened in 1996. Trader Joe’s is another chain-type competitor. “The chains are smart to move inn here,” Anderson says. “There’s really enough room.”