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Amish Cooperative In Second Year Of Business
When a mattress company went out of business and abandoned its factory in Bertha, Minn., Bob and Mary Larson saw the empty building as an opportunity.
"We didn't have the ways or means to do anything when the factory first closed," Bob says. But when Mary inherited some family money, they started to seriously consider the idea of turning the building into a place for local Amish farmers to market their crafts and produce. He was acquainted with several Amish farmers who came into his store. He'd seen them and their families selling baked goods and crafts from roadside stalls. He knew it was a struggle to be out there rain or shine.
Bob met with local farmer Amos Yoder, Jr., and kicked the idea around. Amos thought it could work. "We had an initial meeting with the Amish clans from Bertha, Clarissa and Staples," Bob says. He had sign-up sheets ready and the families, who had traveled up to 30 buggy miles to be there, formed a cooperative.
The Amish families rent display space and determine their own pricing. The Co-op is staffed by three part-time non-Amish employees, as well as Bob and Mary. The enterprise opened August 5, 2010. By the time it closed at the end of the growing season, 50 families had profited from the cooperative effort.
"Twenty-seven families from five communities are selling now," said Bridget, one of the part-time employees, at the end of May. "We'll get more later in the summer when the vegetables are ready."
The Amish Country Co-op, as it's now known, sells everything from handmade spoons to complete bedroom sets; potholders to quilts; and pies and candy to pickles and potatoes. A greenhouse is the latest addition and Amish green thumbs have filled the space with hanging flowerpots as colorfully arranged as the pieced quilts.
The building has several rooms of display space as well as a community event center. "It's open to anyone for weddings, anniversaries and private functions," says Bob Larson. Folks in Bertha are happy to have a place to congregate and the Co-op has increased traffic to the small community.
The plan is for the Co-op to be open from mid-April through the end of October each year. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. As is the Amish way, the store is closed on Sundays.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Amish Country Co-op, Bob and Mary Larson, County Road 23, Bertha, Minn. 56437 (ph 218 924-2520;www.amishcountrycoop.com.)

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2011 - Volume #35, Issue #4