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Building a Co-op in Iron County

Economy, Find Local Food, Get Involved, Melissa Orzechowski, Retail

Darren Mercier didn’t imagine he’d be spearheading the effort to establish a natural food cooperative. But, when he moved to Iron River on the western border of the U.P. seven years ago, he and his wife missed the easy access to the healthy foods they were used to eating. The Merciers aren’t the only people in Iron River who want more healthy, organic, and local options. More than 50 people have already become members of The Co-op of Iron County before the doors have opened and many people have told Darren when the store is open, they plan to become members as well.

A year in the making, those co-op doors will be opening very soon, likely within the next two months.

“We already have the building, what we’re waiting on is the State of Michigan.”

Darren explained the co-op will be a non-stock holding cooperative which has made the incorporation process a little longer than expected but the cooperative model has been a huge asset in working through process.

“Because we are forming as a co-op, I’ve been able to work with and learn from other co-ops.”

When drafting the bylaws, Darren was able to look at other co-ops’ bylaws and use them as references. The General Manager of the Marquette Food Co-op, Matt Gougeon, met with Darren Mercier to offer guidance as they establish.

The Iron County Food Co-op isn’t the only new business focused on local in the area. Mark Bjork and Stu Creel are working to open the doors to the Alpha Michigan Brewing Company in the next several months. This will be the first brewery in Iron County adding to the existing coffee roasters in the area. The Bearded Apple began roasting coffee in 2013 and two years ago Contrast Coffee began roasting and brewing coffee in downtown Iron River.

The towns of Iron County are small where everyone still knows just about everyone. Many people assume small towns like Iron River with roots in logging and mining are slowly decaying. The upsurge in local businesses, however, is a testament to the vibrancy and life in the town. With the hundreds of miles of forest, inland lakes, and hiking trails of the Ottawa National Forest in the backyard of the county, combined with the local businesses, Iron County is an incredible place to visit or live and soon with more healthy and local options.

For updates on The Co-op of Iron County follow their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/thecoopofironcounty/

The Co-op of Iron County, 225 N 4th Avenue, Iron River, MI 49935

Melissa Orzechowski is the local food coordinator for the Upper Peninsula. Contact her at melissa@localdifference.org 

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