About 10 years ago, our community of 12,000 people lost its last remaining gas station on the south side of town. The west side of our city is bordered by a beautiful recreational lake; so no gas stations on the west side either. The east side of town has a large John Deere dealer, which is great for parts and repairs, but also bad for me because sometimes I spend too much money there. Our last downtown gas station was closed four years ago, citing high cost of replacing worn out gas pumps. All of the local gas stations and convenience stores are on the north side of town on the main drag close to the interstate.
    Three years ago, Minnesota Department of Transportation completed the reconstruction of Highway 60 which angles from Omaha, Neb., up through Sioux City, Iowa and all the way to Minneapolis. This beautiful four-lane highway is now a busy route for both travelers and regional truckers. This highway bypasses around the east and south side of our town, and is only 2.5 miles north of our house. There are many people who live on acreages and in the small towns south of Worthington that waste a gallon of gas driving across town to get gas.
    Some local farmers, businessmen and myself got together informally and started talking about building a convenience store/gas station south of town next to the four-lane highway where it intersects with a busy county road that leads right into downtown. The meetings we have had every Tuesday remind me of what it must have been like 100 years ago when a few dairy farmers got together and decided to build a local creamery. We, as they did, see a need and are willing to get our check books out to answer that need, not knowing if we will ever see our money again. We, as they were, are unpaid board members trying to make our community a better place for all. We, as they did not, do not have highly paid managers wining and dining us, making us a rubber stamp board.
    Over the last three years of meetings, some members have changed due to financial and other reasons. We are now down to seven investors who have invested heavily to get this project off the ground. The foundations are poured, and the concrete will be poured this week. The fuel tanks are buried, and the building will go up soon. We hope to be open by next March in time for spring break and the start of the busy travel season.
    Besides the gas and diesel pumps, we will have a complete convenience store and hopefully a good dairy display. No more driving all the way across town for a bottle of Tylenol or a gallon of milk when everyone is tired and the kids are crying. What our group is really excited about is we are putting in a Godfathers Pizza and Caribou Coffee. We are going to be able to make a pizza in seven minutes, and hopefully we will offer delivery at some point. I am not big into fancy coffee drinks, but I am told most of them utilize a lot of dairy. Between the cheese on the pizzas and the milk in the lattes, I can justify my investment as value added.
    I brought my daughter, Kia, into the group to bring a younger female perspective. She actually looks at the color schemes that our general contractor proposes. Another thing she really pushed for was drive-up service for pizza pickup and especially coffee pickup. Our group consists mainly of guys in their 40s and 60s who are the type to walk in to the store, buy a cheap cup of coffee and sit down and talk about the weather. Kia said there is no way she is getting three kids out of car seats, walking into the store just to buy a cup of coffee. However, even if pressed for time on a busy morning of getting kids to daycare and getting on the road for her first sales appointment, she would swing through the drive through and spend the $5 on a fancy coffee. Texting orders in and our pickup could be good for us, especially with a large elementary school nearby that employs many teachers and aides.
    In 2014, when conversations first started about this station, dairy farming and farming in general was profitable. It was easy to say yes. Now times are tougher, but I still believe in the project, and even if it only breaks even, I will consider it a success. I have learned so much about grassroots investment, community banking and how people handle their finances. Hopefully in a year or so, I can write a follow-up on how we are doing.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at davevkooi@icloud.com. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.