They came from the south, bearing organic bok choy.
New Pioneer Food co-op announced Tuesday that it’s opening a Cedar Rapids branch in early 2015. The co-op, which specializes in local and organic food items, from asparagus to zinfandel, is setting up shop in an empty former sporting goods store on Center Point Road. Where locals once bought kayaks, they’ll now have access to cardamom pods, in bulk.
This seems unusual. Most of the time, folks on this end of Iowa’s “Creative Corridor” look toward Iowa City and wonder whether they’ll ever get excited about this long-sought regional relationship. When, oh when, will they see the true, unlimited potential of this hummus-goulash alliance?
In return, we get bemused looks over their fair-trade, half-caff soy lattes.
But now, the People’s Republic is establishing an embassy here, one with fresh produce and a bakery. I’m predicting diplomatic relations improve considerably. I bet New Pi bakers will even learn to speak Kolache.
New Pi folks say they’ll have a year to get to know Cedar Rapids, its culture and customs. The co-op already has thousands of members in the metro area, and it plans to sign up more. There will be educational programs, school gardens and other outreach efforts before the 10,000-square-foot store opens.
“This is a really exciting day for the city of Cedar Rapids,” said City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, a card-carrying New Pi member since his kids went to the University of Iowa. He held up his card at Tuesday’s media confab.
It’s a nice win for the city. A commercial corridor in Cedar Rapids that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention gets a new, attractive retail draw. The store is expected to employ 50 people and buy from local producers.
I can joke about hummus and goulash, but the truth is, a city that processes food for the whole world is becoming a more interesting place to shop and eat locally. People want more choices for all sorts of reasons, from taste to health, and the marketplace here is responding. New Pi is coming. The Fresh Market, a North Carolina-based specialty grocery chain going toe-to-toe with the likes of Whole Foods, will open on Collins Road. Traditional supermarkets, where I spend an astounding amount of time each week, are jammed with more choices than ever. Farmers markets draw thousands.
As someone who does the cooking at my house, this is all very good news. Now, what do I do with bok choy?