Seeking Sustainability and Community at Seward Co-op

Exterior shot of the Seward Co-op in Minneapolis.
Photos courtesy of Seward Co-op

Walking up to the Seward Co-op on Franklin Avenue, you are first greeted with a wavy green overhang that reads “Everyone Welcome” above the doors. Upon walking through said doors, you are surrounded by the delicious smell of spices filling the seemingly meticulously cleaned aisles.

While it is evident immediately upon arrival that the Co-op is a great place to find organic and locally sourced food, what is less immediately apparent is the community they are cultivating behind the scenes.

Natalia Mendez, Seward Co-op’s marketing and communication manager, said their favorite part about working for the Co-op is the opportunity to use food and groceries as a tool for equity.

“We try to allow our community to feel like they’re a part of our stores and they’re a part of what we’re building here because, as a community-owned grocery store,  we wouldn’t be able to operate without them,” Mendez said.

Seward Co-op has a lot of LGBTQ+ owners and employees, according to Mendez. They also said almost 40% of Seward Co-op staff identify as BIPOC, a rarity among similar Co-ops.

This focus on community within the Co-op itself extends to the rest of its operations in the form of the cooperative ownership system, which allows employees to gain ownership of the Co-op after working 1000 hours, as well as different community-focused classes and support for local non-profits, according to Mendez.

These classes are often led by BIPOC community members and, while many are understandably centered around food, these classes often specifically focus on community feeling, according to Mendez.

Seward Co-op employee stocking produce shelves.

The SEED program, which allows customers to round up their grocery bill to donate to local non-profits, raises over $10,000 every month, according to Seward Co-op’s website. Mendez said the non-profits that receive funding are chosen by those working in the store itself.

Recipients of these donations include the Cultural Wellness Center, the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, The Aliveness Project and many more.

The Co-op donates $1000 annually to organizations that promote bicycling as an alternative mode of transportation, according to their website. Mendez said 60% of the Co-op’s staff lives within biking distance of their location, making this an initiative that both supports their internal and external communities.

Every year, Seward Co-op organizes the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Fair to promote the local food system, according to their website. This year’s CSA Fair, which is in April, will showcase more than 30 local farms.

The CSA Fair is held in the Seward Co-op Creamery parking lot and offers a plethora of customizable options for those interested in CSA shares, according to their website.

The Seward Co-op also heavily prioritizes the intersection of sustainability of both food and community, Mendez said. After all, one of the primary goals of the Co-op in its Ends Statement is to “sustain a healthy community.”

As more people seek Minnesota as a state of refuge—whether it be from Climate Change or oppressive regulation against trans-rights—Mendez said sustainable practices in food production will strengthen this growing community.

“When you think about the health of people and the health of our community, I do feel that it is related to the health of our local food systems,” Mendez said.

While these regenerative methods of food production support the community and local farmers, this can sometimes mean higher prices on the shelves. However, the opposite can also be true.

According to Mendez, in times of decreased supply, as we saw in the egg shortage of recent memory, Seward Co-op was at an advantage due to their access to local farmers.

Seward Co-op's Natalia Mendez teaching a tortillas class.
Natalia Mendez teaching a tortillas class.

“Because we work with so many small, local farms where the chickens are happy and active and spread out, we have access to eggs in a way that commercial grocery stores didn’t,” Mendez said.

In cases where those prices are higher, though, you can walk away knowing that the extra cash you spent is supporting workers and making sure they are being treated and paid fairly, according to Mendez.

Speaking of workers, it is important to remember those who make the Co-op function to begin with.

Seward Co-ops and United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW) came to an agreement October 2 which established a plan to increase wages by $5 an hour over three years and at least $2.15 immediately and retroactively upon ratification, according to the Co-op’s website. By August 2025, the starting rate at the Co-op, regardless of experience, will be $20.50 an hour.

This came after UCFW voted to authorize a strike last September, according to KSTP. At the time, Union members had been working without a collective bargaining agreement for over a month.

However, according to Mendez, the $5 increase met UCFW’s original demands and then some. They said it is important for the Co-op and the UCFW to be collaborators to ensure workers feel respected and happy at work.

Considering a majority of the staff lives within a mile and a half of the Co-op and are often the ones deciding which non-profits are receiving funding, Mendez said fostering community and being mindful of the workforce is essential.

The Seward Co-op offers a place where community is always near the top of the priority list. While prices can be higher at times, the Co-op offers high-quality products sourced locally and sustainably, according to Mendez.

If you are looking for a grocery store that prioritizes equity and sustainability in its practices, the Seward Co-op might be for you.

Seward Co-Op
2823 E Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
317 E 38th St., Minneapolis

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