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Intrigue and violence on the Twin Cities food co-op scene

It may be hard to imagine from today’s perspective but Twin Cities food cooperatives were once rife with intrigue and occasional violence.

Seward Co-op, 1975
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

It may be hard to imagine from today’s perspective—what with mainstream culture’s acceptance of organics, locally-grown produce, and the like—but Twin Cities food cooperatives were once rife with intrigue and occasional violence. During the mid 1970s, the co-op movement in Minneapolis and St. Paul split into two factions. On one side were the “whole foods” folks who wanted to provide healthful and socially-responsible alternatives to the big grocery stores. On the other side were politically-motivated activists (the “Co-op Organization,” or “CO”) who were most interested in serving the interests of the “working class.” CO adherents mocked their whole foods counterparts as “middle class college kids and health food nuts who used the co-ops to supply their own whimsical food needs.”

Minnesota Daily, January 15, 1976

Tensions between the two groups turned violent on January 9, 1976, when several CO members assaulted two workers at Minneapolis’s Seward Community Co-op in an attempt to establish control over the cities’ cooperative movement. The take-over at Seward was brief and ultimately failed. The incident helped galvanize opposition to the CO and its methods. By the end of the decade, it was clear that “hippies” had won and the “Marxists” had lost in what are now known as the Twin Cities co-op wars.

This post was written by Dave Kenney and originally published on MN70s. Follow MN70s on Twitter: @mn70s.

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