Even since the blueprints were drawn for the new Menomonie Market Food Co-op, there have been massive changes locally and nationally in food distribution. Wal-Mart made a million-dollar investment in its Menomonie store. Aldi expanded, Woodman’s moved into Altoona, Gordy’s shrank and was replaced by Festival. Amazon bought Whole Foods, and continues to eye Target. Staying competitive in a global food industry is just one of the challenges Crystal Halvorson, general manager of the co-op and a driving force behind its multi-million dollar expansion in 2015, faces.
“I hope that we can show the Chippewa Valley that there is an alternative to chain grocery stores – that you can make some food choices that help to keep your dollars local,” she said.
Halvorson knows that food is the heart of a healthy community, and dedicates herself to keeping that heart beating strong. Over the past 14 years, she has expanded the mission of the market to include more than just food distribution.
Along with a full-service grocery store with a deli hot bar and a place for customers to sit, eat, and talk, the new building also features a community workspace that hosts food demos, finance classes, and yoga sessions.
Halvorson also aims to make the co-op a caring place for employees to develop their skills. She believes workplaces should encourage decision-making, respect, fun, and appreciation of each other. Workers at the co-op can often be spotted giving each other “kudos” for a job well done.
“When I see somebody put food in their mouth and see their eyes light up – when I see that smile come across their face – that’s what I live for.”
All this has a meaningful impact on the Chippewa Valley economy. For every dollar that is spent in a food co-op, $1.60 is returned to the community, Halvorson said. This return allows local farmers to expand their businesses, which in turn gives people more opportunity to buy local. The dollars spent on goods produced in the Valley grow the local economy, instead of moving money out of our community through grocery chains.
But she’s not done yet. Halvorson is working with many local agencies to expand the services the co-op offers to Menomonie. She has big plans to develop the farmer’s market pavilion into an even more vibrant space and to improve food security and accessibility for struggling families in the Valley.
Halvorson’s holistic approach to managing the co-op reaches Chippewa Vallians at every point in their lives, from health and sustenance to work and opportunity. Her work toward maintaining a regenerative, hyper-local economy is what makes her one of the area’s most important emerging leaders.