by Catherine Jozwik, photos by Jan Christensen What began as the East Kane Street Food Co-op in 1970, a small store completely owned and staffed by volunteers, became Outpost Natural Foods, Milwaukee’s main place to buy local, organic foods and other goods. With three store locations in Riverwest, Bay View, and Wauwatosa, Outpost has thrived and become an important community fixture. Margaret Mittelstadt, Outpost director of communications, has some ideas about the importance of buying locally and how local commerce has a positive impact on the community. What are some advantages to buying locally? When you buy local, most of your money stays in the community because we buy from local vendors. Managers of local stores have a lot more flexibility in offering greater diversity in products because unlike corporations, no one is telling them what to buy. This diversity also helps build character in the community. And since Outpost is a co-op – owned by the community – with about 14,000 members, many of whom live in the area, it’s very democratic. People have a say in what happens and what’s being sold at Outpost. The people on the board also live in the community, unlike other companies where board members live miles away. Another advantage to buying locally is greater food security, which is an issue these days. People want to be assured that their food is safe. The chances of getting a food-borne illness from a local vendor is almost zero. With a local business, you can go to the doorstep if you have a problem, but if factory workers are rushed and animals aren’t treated all that well on farms, food contamination is more likely to happen. Which local vendors does Outpost buy from? We buy from over 100 different vendors, from produce to meat. Sprecher, Stone’s Throw Winery, Sassy Cow, to name a few. Sugar River Dairy has the best yogurt! We’ve been buying from some vendors for awhile, like Simple Soyman. We’ve been buying tofu and soy spreads from them since the 1970s. We get our breads and bakery from the Wild Flour Bakery in Bay View and La Campagna, and we just started selling a line of 100% grass-fed Wisconsin-raised beef in a cooperative effort to support local farmers. Products with stickers with a little red barn on them symbolize that they are from Wisconsin or the Great Lakes region. How does Outpost positively affect the Riverwest community? The people of Outpost understand its community’s needs, especially the pain of the economic recession. Finding a place to feel secure in tough times is really important. Outpost is really a throwback to the days of Mom and Pop stores, but we’re seeing it through a different lens by maintaining that broad sense of camaraderie that comes along with shopping locally yet offering a great selection. From September 1-15, 2009, we will be partnering up with four local organizations – the Urban Ecology Center, Fondy Food Center, Slow Food Wisconsin, and Friends of Real Food for the Eat Local Challenge, an effort to get people to shop for and eat as much local foods as they can. The goal of the challenge is to shift the focus to what happens locally, and how your dollars affect the community. More information will be in the Exchange magazine and on our website, outpostnaturalfoods.coop ED. NOTE: Like most cooperatives, Outpost honors memberships in other co-ops. If you have a membership at the Riverwest Co-op, be sure to mention it when you check out at the Outpost.