7Gen: Charli Mills is marketing communications manager at Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville, MN. She talks to 7Gen about her cooperative. How did Valley Natural Foods get started?
Charli: In 1977, a group of parents who were concerned about what their children were eating decided to start a "natural food" co-op serving the Twin Cities and suburbs with the mission of keeping the community healthy.
7Gen: Tell us what makes Valley Natural Foods so special.
Charli: There are many reasons to love running a natural foods cooperative, but my top reason is also a cooperative principle: concern for community. Customers say we are a friendly place to shop. We have a very strong community outreach program and we have just initiated a community development program built upon gardens. It's a way to truly engage our community with understanding where food comes from and it gives us the opportunity to grow food for education and donation to the local food shelves.
7Gen: What questions do customers ask you most frequently?
Charli: How were the animals raised? How do you prepare this?
7Gen: What questions do you wish they would ask more often?
Charli: I wish they would ask more about the people and process behind the items they buy.
7Gen: Why do you love Seventh Generation products?
Charli:We love Seventh Generation products because they are a great value. Often, the household cleaner section is where I find shoppers deeply contemplating their choices. They want to reduce chemicals in their homes but they also want the product to work. Seventh Generation works. I would know; it's what I use in my home.
7Gen: What is your favorite Seventh Generation product?
Charli: My favorite Seventh Generation product is the laundry detergent. When my oldest was a toddler she developed a rash that turned out to be from our laundry detergent. From that moment on, I was struggling to find a detergent that didn't cause my daughter to react, but also cleaned our clothes. We have used Seventh Generation laundry detergent for years.
7Gen: What else should we know about Valley Natural Foods?
Charli: Because of our commitment to knowing where our food and products come from, we are getting more involved in partnering with local farmers and even creating our own niche wholesale operations. Down in the Valley is a label we put on our meat. We are HACCP certified which means we are safety inspected and allowed to cut, grind, package, and resell (to other stores) our own pork, beef, and turkeys. Ninety percent of our meat department is Down in the Valley and we work with numerous farm partners, demonstrating that there is a viable option for meat production other than the industry feed-lot standard. Under this label, we have developed a floral warehouse, selling Fair Trade floral bouquets to other stores.
Valley Natural Foods is located at 13750 County Road 11 in Burnsville, MN 55337. 952-891-1212 www.valleynaturalfoods.com
photo: Susie Hessburg