Buying food cooperatively is nearly two centuries old; human cooperation itself is older than civilization.

Before there were consumer co-ops, cooperative producing and fire insurance societies formed in the United States and Europe. In the late 1700s, flour was being milled and baked cooperatively in England. In the U.S., the first cooperative venture was a mutual firefighting society, formed in Philadelphia in 1836.

The first consumer cooperative as we know it was founded in 1844 on Toad Lane in Rochdale, England. The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers had enough capital (equivalent to U.S. $140) to rent a small store and stock it with a few staples. In a day and age when there was much less regulation of businesses, this group of 28 pioneers established a code of cooperative principles they planned to follow, and which most co-ops still recognize and follow today:

  1. Open membership
  2. One member, one vote.
  3. Limited return on investment.
  4. Return of surplus.
  5. Continuing education.
  6. Cooperation among cooperatives.
  7. Concern for community (added in 1995).

Immigrants from Finland, a country with a strong cooperative heritage, settled in northern Minnesota and began the first co-ops in this state in the early 1900s. Gas and oil co-ops followed in the 1920s. In the 1930s, farmers organized their own electric power cooperatives.

The most recent wave of cooperative activity has roots in the political, cultural, and social changes of the 1960s. These values, often described as counter-culture, included a new awareness of food and nutrition. Co-ops were part of the same thrust as day care centers, women's centers, and alternative producer cooperatives (carpenters, garages, free presses).

In the early 1970s food co-ops opened in many Twin Cities neighborhoods. The initial effort was People's Pantry on Riverside Avenue in Minneapolis, which became North Country Co-op. Small cooperatives proliferated in the 1970s, but by the mid-1990s, many of these had closed. The more successful cooperatives expanded and added storefronts. There are now over a dozen food co-ops in the greater metropolitan area, as well as housing and transportation co-ops.

St. Anthony Park Foods (located across from the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota) organized as a nonprofit store in 1972. In 1979, SAP branched out and acquired Green Grass Grocery, located at the current Hampden Park Co-op site. Green Grass was renamed SAP TOO, and then became Hampden Park Foods in 1990 when the two stores became separate corporations. In June 1993, Hampden Park Co-op was legally formed.