6 Questions

for Don Olson

Don Olson has been behind the wheel at Co-op Partners Warehouse (CPW) for more than a decade, delivering produce to the four corners of Minnesota and beyond, rain or shine. He’s the reason fresh local treasures like Hoch Orchard apples and Rochdale sharp cheddar cheese are always just a short trip away at your neighborhood co-op. But it’s not easy getting all that food where it needs to go. We wanted to know, at 65 years of age, what keeps Don in the truck?

Q: How did you get started at CPW?

A: Well, I started when I was 50 with Roots and Fruits when no one would hire me to do anything else. This isn’t a job most people want to do. I move tons of produce by pallet and jacks or by handcart over frozen sidewalks when it’s 15 degrees below freezing and across melting parking lots when it’s 105 degrees. I think it’s easy for people to not think about thow their food gets onto the shelves or in their carts, but it’s important to remember that anything that goes out the front door has to come in through the back. People just see the front. They don’t see all the work that goes on behind the scenes.

Q: What are some challenges that you face, besides the physicality of the job?

A: Well we’ve got these trucks that are 28 feet long and they take wide turns, and we can only see what’s in our mirrors. So we need people to be understanding as we navigate loading docks that are in high-traffic areas. And the other thing is juggling schedules. Some places you can’t show up before 6 a.m. Restaurants don’t want you there during the lunch rush. You cna’t be in the alley at the Wedge for more than 20 minutes. It’s a lot to keep track of, plus I probably get a new stop once a week, without instructions, so you’ve got to figure theses things out for yourself.

Q: How do you keep yourself entertained on the road, any favorite podcasts or music you listen to?

A: (Laughs)I can tell you’ve never seen inside one of these trucks before. Some, maybe have cassette players, if you’re lucky. But there’s no fancy technology hook-ups for your phone or CD players. I listen to public radio.

Q: What about favorite places on the road to stop for a snack?

A: Oh there’s no time for that. Today I headed out at 5:45 a.m. and went to Eastside co-op, then Fresh & Natural in Shoreview up to White bear Lake, then Stillwater, Lyndstrom, Cambridge and back to the warehouse at noon before I went out again and hit the Seward stores in the afternoon. We’ve got to record the time when we arrive and when we leave each location. You can’t just stop off for a cup of coffee; this is hard work!

Q: What’s the farthest you’ll ever go on a delivery run?

A: We won’t do anything further than 100 miles outside of Minnesota, it just doesn’t make sense economically to drive an empty truck back that far. So we’l hire out other drivers to take a load with them when they head out for more far-flung pickups.

Q: What about the job do you find most rewarding?

A: I’ve been around long enough that I’ve seen CPW really grow and Tom Rodmyre is the reason for that. He’s the one who came up with this cross-docking, and why we’ve been so successful. You know, this business is kind of like a family. I’ve been around long enough that I know everbody. People move around; sometimes folks I know from one co-op shows up two or three years later at a different co-op or as a chef at a restaurant where I make deliveries. So you might not see them that often, but when you do, it’s like magic.