MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It looks like every other grocery store from the outside. But for nearly 40 years, Valley Natural Foods has been doing things differently inside.

Kirsten Shabaz is the co-op’s “Fresh Food Educator.”

“You wouldn’t be able to walk into a big-box store and find dandelion greens or even ramps probably for that matter,” Shabaz said.

Some people who stop in to the co-op might not be sure what to do with some of the unique ingredients.

“They’re not sure what to do with it, how it tastes. It may be something new they heard about on TV,” she said. “My role here at the store is to educate people.”

Co-ops are owned by their members. Valley Natural has 10,000 owners, and they get profit sharing and discounts. All the Twin Cities co-ops have about 91,000 member-owners.

Non-members shop at co-ops too, and learning about grains like dandelions and freekeh, which is one of the hottest trends in grains for 2014.

I was skeptical, but tossed with a local maple syrup dressing, the freekeh salad was tasty.

Local product makes up about 30 percent of co-op sales. Don runs the deli, where I watched him make the “Raw Deal” salad, with lots of antioxidant-rich Swiss chard. Prepared foods are a growing part of the business.

“We do about 30 different items a day,” Don said. “We got to crank it out.”

Valley Natural’s co-op is about great local and/or organic products, and empowering people to use them.

“Take one thing a week and introduce it to your diet that you’ve never tried,” Shabaz said. “We get stuck in ruts all the time.”

They even have even a drive-up juice and smoothie bar! Click here for more information about Valley Natural Foods.

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