Tallgrass Grocery emphasizes local connections

Carlyn Crowe, School of Journalism and Mass Communication Internship Coordinator

With an average of 18,000 people attending the Downtown Farmers’ Market every Saturday from May through October and hundreds more attending smaller farmers’ markets throughout the city, there is obvious enthusiasm for local foods and products in the Des Moines area. But even Carlyn Crowe, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s internship coordinator and adjunct instructor, and her business partners were amazed by the passionate response they received when they opened the Tallgrass Grocery Co-Op in West Des Moines last September.

“We met with consultants and they told us we would be lucky to get 200 members before we opened. We had 500 sign up in the first month. That was a sign that people were really interested in this entity,” says Crowe.

Nestled in the Valley Junction shopping district, Tallgrass Grocery Co-op provides locally grown, organic and hormone-free items to shoppers year-round. Crowe believes the enthusiasm for the co-op is derived from a desire people have to “know where their food comes from and support local producers.” Because of the plethora of farmers’ markets and roadside stands, people in Iowa are used to getting their food directly from the suppliers. Crowe says the co-op is simply an extension of that concept.

Since opening, the member-owned store has continued to add to the number of items it offers. It sells fresh produce, meats, dairy products and other merchandise from more than 80 local producers, including well-known operations such as The Homestead and Grinnell Farms as well as local artisans who make crafts like soap and teas at their home.

“We have more producers that are local than we ever thought there would be,” she says.

In addition to providing another avenue for Des Moines shoppers, the store has served as a learning opportunity for Drake students. This semester, Crowe used the co-op’s business plan to teach about small business ownership in her Business Fundamentals for Communication Professionals course. Last fall, the advertising capstone course, taught by Sandy Henry, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, developed several conceptual creative plans to promote the co-op, and students in Crowe’s introductory public relations course developed public relations plans around those concepts. The project gave students at various stages in their Drake careers the chance to collaborate on a real-world project.

While Crowe is pleased with the opportunities her undertaking has given Drake students, she is also happy with the support the organization has received in the Des Moines community.

“I wanted to help create this entity to give people more access to fresh, healthy, local foods,” Crowe says. “I like the idea of having a community of people who support locally grown food.”

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