Circuit Spotlight: Sault Ste Marie, UP

The first thing I visited upon arriving in Sault Ste Marie or "the Soo" was the Soo Locks. I was lucky enough to arrive just as a large ship was making its way through the locks heading west. Thereafter, I toured around town on my bicycle and visited Harmony Foods, the Soo Coop Credit Union, and the site of the old Soo Food Cooperative. I learned from Mary Lynch at the credit union that the Soo Food Cooperative, which was part of the century-old Finnish system of cooperatives in the Upper Midwest, had shut down within the last year, due in part to the opening of a grocery section at the area Walmart and a road construction project that lasted around a year and made it incredibly difficult to get to the cooperative. The Soo Cooperative Company that held the food cooperative also holds the credit union - the Board continues to function and they do not have definite plans yet to liquidate, though the credit union is pursuing its own Charter application to become independent. 

The closed location of the Soo Food Cooperative, which had a Soo Cooperative Credit Union branch within it.

In the Soo, I connected with two awesome young people working in agriculture and food distribution in the UP. Kathryn is working with the new UP Food Exchange and educated me about the realities of working in agriculture in the area, as well as trends in food production and distribution (e.g. local food demand went down with construction of major highway, but is now increasing). Larry is building a course through Bay Mills College to help Native entrepreneurs in his community to start their own agricultural businesses in the area – we discussed using some of the Youth TCI curriculum in the course to present cooperatives as one business model option. They both told me about the work of the Intertribal Agriculture Council to create mobile farmers markets and to increase the food sovereignty of Native communities throughout the Great Lakes region. I was so impressed by the knowledge of and vision they have for the UP's agricultural sector and appreciate their insights as to how the cooperative model could be relevant. I greatly look forward to staying in touch with these two folks and working with them in the future – Bay Mills College is definitely on the circuit list next year!