(Above a view of the store on Douglas Ave. before the expansion at that location.)
In 1974, a group of people with similar desires in food quality and whole food availability banded together to form a buying club. They operated out of what is now Alumni Hall on the ISU campus and ordered from Blooming Prairie, a natural food distributor located in Iowa City. In August of that year, the desire to make whole and natural foods available to the public and to support healthy eating resulted in the formation and incorporation of the non-profit entity known as Mutual Aid Food Association or MAFA. This was the first face of what is now Wheatsfield Cooperative. The newly incorporated MAFA moved out of Alumni Hall into a small space at 114 Des Moines Avenue in downtown Ames. It wasn’t long before more space was needed and in March of 1977 another move was made to a store-front at 136 Main Street, east of what is now the Hobby Shop. In these tiny spaces, bulk foods, some supplements, milk alternatives, and local produce were offered to the people of Ames.
In 1980, the space next to what is now Heroic Ink opened up and the store was moved to 413 Douglas in Downtown Ames. The produce cooler, bulk bins and the original walk-in cooler were eventually added and the store was able to significantly increase the products it offered in the larger 1200 square foot space. In 1985, the members decided to change the name of the business to Wheatsfield Grocery and to institute the Share Investment Plan. There were several resets and remodels in the 1990’s and in October of 2001, Wheatsfield expanded into 1975 square feet of retail space by leasing the location adjacent to 413 Douglas that had been occupied by the Ames Historical Society. The wall was removed between the two spaces and the combined store was reset from the floor up with many new products, equipment, and a small seating area. Membership and sales volume exploded in the new store and in June of 2003 a second cash register lane and a point of sale system were added to accommodate the growth.
In the same year, 2002, Wheatsfield set its future course by joining the Midwest Cooperative Grocers Association which later became the National Cooperative Grocers Association, taking a step into the cooperative world outside of Ames. Wheatsfield celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2004 and continued its remarkable growth. The Wheatsfield Board of Directors recognized the need for more space and a probable expansion outside of the current store and began working on establishing the legal identity of Wheatsfield as a cooperative in the state of Iowa. In January of 2005 the cooperative entity, Wheatsfield Cooperative was born.
In July of 2005, the Board established a patronage dividend system to take the place of cash register discounts so that profits from the operation of the business could be allocated and distributed to the members in proportion to their patronage of the Co-op. In 2006, the Wheatsfield Board was able to declare the first patronage dividend to the members.
As it continued to grow, Wheatsfield met an important milestone in 2007 as the store achieved $2 million in sales for its 2006-2007 fiscal year. This accomplishment meant that the store had surpassed a retail benchmark of $1000 in sales per square foot, which is an indicator of the need to expand its retail space.
As the limitations of the 413-417 Douglas space became more apparent, the Wheatsfield Board worked to find a site to build a larger store. In 2008, Wheatsfield signed a lease for retail space at 413 Northwestern Ave, Downtown Ames, the former Sigler Printing building. The new space offered a parking lot, loading dock, and three times the space of the current store. As the remodeling of the space progressed, Wheatsfield was able to include a fresh meat department, a deli, and a deli seating area, all new additions to the products available at the Co-op. Renovations were completed and the new store was opened on March 18, 2009.