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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupying the Food System

I've posted about the food economy a few times and told a little about our local food co-op.  As I gear up to push Occupy into the food system, I thought it would be wise to update our progress with the co-op.  The co-op idea came out of a need to have better access to local food for consumers, and better access to local markets for producers.  Our little town has 4 grocery stores, Buehlers (a regional chain), Aldis, an IGA, and a Super Walmart.  None of these stores sell locally produced food.  Buehlers makes some effort to buy a bit of fresh produce from a regional produce auction, but that's it.  We also have 3 good farmers markets that run from May through October.  They have been growing every year.  The problem for us is two-fold. First, access to local food.  The market times don't work for many people in our community, and they are closed for 6 months.  That's a long time to do without.  Second, producers can't afford to grow because they can't access the market for half the year.  No local producer had enough product to capture a contract with one of the local groceries.  None had enough product to open a year round retail space.  Without more income and market access, the producers couldn't grow.  Without more production, they couldn't break into the local grocery market.  Catch 22.  So a group of us banded together and started a producer/consumer co-op.  We each chipped in some money ($100 for producers and $50 for consumers) to fund the start-up.  The co-op takes a % of the sales to keep the lights on and pay the rent (we hope).  Members work a few hours a month to provide the sales labor and meet other needs.  So far it is working. 

Some things we learned. 

1.  Start before August.  Winter production takes some advanced planning, and August is pretty late to start that.

2.  Don't wait.  You don't need a grant, or lots of money (Some money is helpful!!!).  This is an idea you can talk about forever, plan for, and never get off the ground because there are too many unanswerables.  Just Do It.

3.  Tell the story.  Get community members to buy into the idea.  They need to be part of it.  This isn't a traditional business.  People need to change how they think, what they do, and where they spend their money.  If they become members, buy into the idea, they will change.  That is worth more than any number of grants.

4.  You need a leader, or leaders, but you have to let all the members participate.  This only works as a co-op.  That means everyone has ownership and what they have to offer, including their ideas, is valuable.

So, GO FOR IT!!!  The food system is the easies to take back.  See what you can do in your community. 

I'll be happy to answer questions and share what we are doing and resources I know of. 

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