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Previous scholarship winners Creaking Tree Farm. | COOK COUNTY WHOLE FOODS CO-OP
Along the Shore

Nurturing growth: Support for local producers

For years, the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op has remained steadfast in its mission to support local producers in the small town community of Grand Marais and its neighboring areas.

The Whole Foods Co-op features home-grown or small-scale produced goods from over 100 farmers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Iowa, and our northern neighbors in Canada.

While the Whole Foods Co-op ventures beyond the Cook County line, there is a strong presence of local producers in Cook County. The Whole Food Co-op carries products from 19 Cook County producers at any given time, ranging from lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, rhubarb, herbs, maple mustard dressing, baked goods, and fish.

Locally produced food has emerged as a beacon of stability in recent decades, assuring sustenance and resilience during periods of supply chain disruptions and climate instability. Furthermore, locally produced foods hold immense value as they contribute and bolster overall health by offering fresh, nutrient-rich options directly from farm to table.

Among its various endeavors to support local producers and farmers, the Whole Foods Co-op offers a local producer scholarship each spring to foster the growth of the essential local contributors to the Grand Marais community and economy.

“Producers are such a big part of our community,” Ahren Grunow, the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op general manager, said.

Erik Hahn of Leaping Greenly Gardens, one of the 2023 scholarship winners, with the rototiller he purchased using the money. | COOK COUNTY WHOLE FOODS CO-OP

Recognizing the vital role of local producers and farmers, the Whole Foods Co-op launched the scholarship opportunity more than five years ago to provide financial support to producers to expand or improve their operations, invest in necessary equipment, or pay for education related to sustainable production.

Since its creation, Grunow said that the scholarship opportunity has continued to grow and evolve. In 2023, the Whole Foods Co-op awarded five Cook County producers $500-750. In 2024, the Whole Foods Co-op will award three scholarships for $1,000 each.

The previous scholarship winners have benefited from the financial assistance and, in turn, increased production. The 2023 winner Erik Hahn of Leaping Greenly Gardens purchased a rototiller and increased his production level throughout the year. Grunow said, “He told me directly that it was incredibly helpful.”

Ian and Rachel Andrus from Creaking Tree Farm, who sell lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and more at the Whole Foods Co-op, are former scholarship winners. They have significantly benefited from the financial support as they underwent gardening education and land improvements.

For 2020 scholarship winners Brian and Laura Wilson, the financial assistance contributed to the expansion of their strawberry operation. “Every year, [Brian] has told us that those funds helped him build a bigger fence or more fencing,” Grunow said. “Overall, it helped with their business development.”

Many former winners sell their products or produce at the Whole Foods Co-op, but Grunow said that is not a requirement for scholarship applicants. A few of the only requirements are that applicants must reside and have a farm established for at least six months in Cook County before applying. The scholarship requirements also state that Whole Foods Co-op staff members and the previous year’s winner cannot apply.

This year, the local producer scholarship applications are due by April 30, and the Whole Foods Co-op will select winners by May 31. Grunow said preference will be given to producers whose mission, values, and practices demonstrate the need for financial support in a one-page description. The description must also display an implementation plan and tell how the assistance will enhance the local food, floral, or CSA system in Cook County.

Grunow said he is looking forward to reading through the applications in May. “I think I certainly enjoy seeing how important local production is to people.”

“Just seeing the local growth and knowing what it can do to help the overall community, too,” he said.

Grunow said the local producer scholarship aligns with the overall mission of the Whole Foods Co-op because it “helps with the overall food autonomy and creates additional availability through that aspect.”

With the vibrant and diverse group of Cook County local food producers, Grunow said the Whole Foods Co-op is committed to helping local producers. “Producers are such a big part of our community, and we’re trying to do whatever we can to support their development.

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