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Discount grocery program to start in Cottage Grove

For Jen Peterson, a trip to the grocery store is no quick chore, not with the coupon clipping and comparison shopping that come with stocking her family's fridge and cupboards.

"It's a huge time commitment, doing that," said Peterson, a Cottage Grove City Council member. But, soon, area coupon clippers will have another way to save on grocery bills thanks to a non-profit, low-cost grocery buying program that is headed for south Washington County this spring.

Fare For All, a fresh food buying program operated by the Emergency Foodshelf Network, is set to open a monthly site at a Cottage Grove church in April to offer those looking to get their groceries for less a place to buy pre-packaged meats and fresh vegetables at deep discounts.

Peterson, who said she has purchased some of her family's groceries through Fare For All for years, approached the program's directors last year and pitched a Cottage Grove pick-up site. Currently, the Fare For All location nearest south Washington County is in South St. Paul. But, with a busy schedule, that can be a little out of the way for local grocery shoppers, Peterson said.

So, Peterson began lobbying Fare For All and its program manager, Sophia Lenarz-Coy, who said south Washington County had been on the program's radar in recent years.

With no income restrictions, Lenarz-Coy says many of the program's customers are people who wouldn't ordinarily go to a food shelf for assistance. And demand is rising: the program "grew exponentially in 2009 and 2010," Lenarz-Coy said, thanks largely to an influx of customers seeking more affordable groceries amid tightened budgets and economic concerns.

"It's for people really needing to find a way to stretch the grocery dollars they have that might be limited," Peterson said. "They can get more buying power for their buck."

'A mini grocery store'

Peterson said she sees the program as a supplement to the Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park, an organization that has seen the number of individuals it helps balloon by thousands in recent years.

Lenarz-Coy agreed. Fare For All customers can pick up frozen meat and fresh produce -- two items often not in abundance at food shelves, which typically stock non-perishable foods.

"When you go to the store, produce and meat - those are the things that are most expensive," Lenarz-Coy said.

Fare For All operates two types of drop sites: the program's traditional drop site requires pre-ordering packages of food for pick up. The express site at All Saints Lutheran Church in Cottage Grove will operate more "like a mini grocery store," Lenarz-Coy said. Shoppers can arrive to buy the pre-packaged meats and produce from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month and pay on site.

"At the food shelf you get a lot of canned food and boxed food," Peterson said. "At Fare For All, you get a lot of meat and fresh vegetables. With Fare For All you're really well-stocked for some really good meals."