Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative was founded in the winter of 2013/2014 by two Anglo run farms (Stone’s Throw Urban Farm and Whetstone Farm) and three Latino run farms (Cala Farm, Agua Gorda Coop, and La Familia Coop).
At the time the Latino Economic Development Center, a locally based non-profit focused on creating economic opportunities for Latinos, had recently started an Organic Farm Training Program for Latino farmers in Minnesota. They organized worker-cooperatives around the state and trained the farmers in business and organic farming management. The LEDC also worked with the farmers to access start-up loans, and coordinate rent and purchase of land.
In 2013 the LEDC’s main office in Minneapolis was based just a couple blocks away from one of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm’s main farm lots. Spring of 2013 the LEDC hired Stone’s Throw to work with their staff to develop crop planning curriculum for the Organic Farm Training Program. Through the course of the 2013 season a relationship formed between the Anglo-run urban farm and the rural Latino-run farms.
At that time, Stone’s Throw, whose sales had grown rapidly through an 80-member CSA, farmers market, and a handful of restaurants, was having trouble meeting demand. In addition, due to the poor, nutrient deprived soils, and space limitations, Stone’s Throw had difficulty growing ‘heavy-feeders’ and crops that take up a lot of space- like cabbage, broccoli, cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash, melons, eggplant, and potatoes. Agua Gorda Coop, the first farm to go through the LEDC training program had found a large market for their tomatillos through La Loma Tamales, but had difficulty breaking into the local food marketplace (like Food Coops and local food restaurants), which offers much fairer prices for produce. Cala Farm, run by the LEDC’s main farm trainer Rodrigo Cala, sold much broccoli to Coop Partners and had tried starting a CSA but had found it too labor intensive to handle the communication with CSA customers and to grow all 40 crops required for a CSA box.
The combination of the diversity of the farms’ niche crops, and mutual need to access fair paying markets was the impetus for starting Shared Ground. Collaboratively marketing and distributing, they decided, was the most effective way to access fairer markets and grow the crops each individual farm was good at growing. With help from the LEDC and coop consultants the farmers set up a producers cooperative, which is now Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative.
Today, Shared Ground collaboratively markets the five owner-members’ produce as well as produce from an additional ten farms to their CSA, thirty restaurant accounts, food coops, Minneapolis School System, and wholesale accounts.