curney“Find us some real yogurt!” was my admonishment from Lori Zuidema, who was then a manager at Seward Food Co-op.

In 1974, the only yogurts on a Minneapolis grocery shelf were “Glamour” and “Dr. Gaymont’s.” They were both “dead” yogurts with no beneficial bacillus. I had recently convinced Schroeder Dairy to set aside one of their giant stainless steel milk vats to hold one batch a week of unhomogenized whole milk. We cobbled together a label for the new “People’s Milk” and the resurgence of “cream top” milk made its way into local culinary awareness. I was therefore the logical person for Lori’s “real yogurt” request.

As an established distributor of natural foods, I sent for samples from around the country of existing yogurts and had a delicious time tasting Continental, Nancy’s Honey Yogurt, Columbo, and a few other live yogurts while trying to discern shipping viability, shelf life and price concerns. We settled on Alta-Dena yogurt, which was a hardy, single-strain bacillus palate pleaser and tried desperately to keep up with the demand.

Tim Hansen was just starting to ship his pasteurized “real juices” around the country at that time. His uncle had been selling bottled fresh juice in Los Angeles for years. Tim agreed to ship us his new wonderful drinks. Apple-strawberry, apple-raspberry, and many more flavors of actual juice took the place of “flavored water” in local food stores. We added more natural yogurts, kefir and honey ice creams from our new friends in California.

My dad used to make homemade root beer for the family and a few close friends, so when Health Valley called and offered us a franchise to sell “sarsaparilla root beer,” “old fashioned root beer,” plus a long product line of wonderful, well-researched natural foods, we jumped at the chance. We offered potato chips with safflower oil and sea salt, pure acidophilus, kefir, organic tofu, real ginger ale, and on and on. Most of the items were still waaaay too far out for the mainstream, but the co-ops loved them.

The co-ops grew by leaps and bounds in the ’70s. The co-op wholesalers did, too. Distributing Alliance of the North Country (D.A.N.C.e), Roots and Fruits, the first local purveyor of organic fruits and vegetables, Gentle Sky Natural Foods (that’s me) and for a time the Amalgamated Cheese Rustlers and Joy of Soy were all housed in a big old warehouse. D.A.N.C.e was the “big dog” and was more instrumental than any other group in bringing natural foods to Minnesota.

I walked into a Holiday Station store today and bought a half gallon of organic milk. To an old natural foods guy, this was a joy. The middle of middle America is slowly becoming naturalized. We’ve come a long way in the last forty years. We still have a long way to go.

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