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Twin Cities PBS’ Minnesota Experience Series Premieres 'The Co-op Wars'

Documentary Exploring the Unique History of Co-ops in Minnesota Premieres in October 2021

October 4, 2021

The Co-Op Wars

ST. PAUL, MN – Twin Cities PBS (TPT) announces the release of its newest documentary as a part of the Minnesota Experience series. The Co-op Wars shines a light on the history of food cooperatives in the Twin Cities, a history many residents are unaware of, and the conflict initiated by a secretive Marxist group. After three festival screenings at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, Just Film Festival and Duluth/Superior Film Festival, The Co-op Wars premiere will be broadcasted locally on TPT and available for streaming on Oct. 4, 2021.

The Co-op Wars shares the unique story of the region’s food cooperative sector. It’s the largest in the nation, boasting seventeen locations, tens of thousands of member-owners and hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. It also has a unique history. In the 1970s, young people in Minnesota radicalized by the Vietnam War created a unique alternative economy featuring dozens of food cooperatives, but a shadowy revolutionary group used conflicts over class and race to try to seize the movement. The ensuing clash pitted friends and comrades in a sometimes-violent conflict over the future of the counterculture. Long after natural foods co-ops have become mainstream institutions, the question of who the co-ops are for finds echoes in the struggle for food justice today. The Co-op Wars tells this story in the participants’ own words and links it to the more recent controversy around the opening of Seward Co-op’s Friendship store in South Minneapolis.

“The germ for the film began around 2014. Our producer, Erik Esse, has a long history working at co-ops and at the time I was involved with supporting a new start up co-op, Wirth Co-op, in North Minneapolis,” said Deacon Warner, Director of The Co-op Wars and a local independent filmmaker. “Erik brought up the idea of a short film on the Co-op Wars and made me aware of Craig Cox’s book on the topic, ‘Storefront Revolution.’ I read the book and was hooked by the story and its relevance to contemporary conflicts over food and social justice.”

The Co-op Wars features several well-known Minneapolis personalities:

  • Willie Murphy: The soundtrack of The Co-op Wars is largely made up of songs from Minnesota music legend Willie Murphy.
  • Gary Cunningham: Now a leader for racial wealth equity as CEO of Prosperity Now in Washington, DC, Cunningham, as a teenager, helped his uncle, former Black Panther Moe Burton, start Bryant-Central Co-op.
  • Dean Zimmerman: Known more recently as a Green Party member of the Minneapolis City Council and for serving prison time for corruption, Zimmerman began his career as an organizer in the community by helping to found North Country Co-op and many other co-ops in the region.
  • Peter Coyote is the film’s narrator and an Emmy-award winning narrator of documentaries. He was a prominent leader in the California counterculture of the 1960s, including as a core member of The Diggers, a community action group that helped inspire the founders of the first Twin Cities natural food co-ops.

A press kit including photos and the trailer for the documentary can be found here.

To learn more about TPT’s Minnesota Experience series and the upcoming documentary, visit


About Twin Cities PBS
Twin Cities PBS (TPT)’s mission is to enrich lives and strengthen our community through the power of media. Established 64 years ago, TPT now operates as a public service media organization that harnesses a range of media tools to serve citizens in new ways — with multiple broadcast channels, online teaching resources, educational outreach and community engagement activities reaching more than 2 million people each month. Over its history, TPT has been recognized for its innovation and creativity with numerous awards, including Peabody awards and national and regional Emmy® Awards.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2021. All rights reserved.


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