There’s no question that what we eat has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Namely, much of the national focus has shifted to eating local. The mere existence of co-ops and farmers markets is a major indicator of that, not to mention the major grocers adapting to incorporate more local and organic sections. But here in the Chippewa Valley our co-ops and markets haven’t just survived, they’ve thrived.
In 2004, Crystal Halvorson and Jordan Wolfe (along with Aaron Ellringer and Lissa Ziehr) founded Just Local Food, a community-supported worker-owned food cooperative in Eau Claire. Just Local now has nine worker/owners, but Crystal isn’t one of them. Shortly after helping start Just Local, she became general manager of the other co-op in the Valley, Menomonie Market Food Co-Op. Though Menomonie’s has been around for 39 years, it really took off in 2001 when they relocated their operation downtown, where they now serve about 1,500 members. Deidra Barrickman is the manager of the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market, and has been for five years, but she started in 1998 as a mushroom vendor (which she still is) and member of the board of directors.
In the early 90s, there were about a dozen vendors serving patrons out of a parking lot. Then-manager Phil Chute reached out to the Hmong farming community (namely Teng Xiong), and rapidly increased the number of vendors. The timing was perfect, with interest in local food quickly increasing and the advent of Phoenix Park providing amazing new accommodations. Now located in the pavilion, there are about 75 vendors (40 of them Hmong) and people regularly lining up by the thousands. With a half dozen other farmers markets in our area, plus CSAs, pick-your-own farms, and community gardens, the Chippewa Valley’s food scene is getting more local by the day.