I was thrilled to find this article right after we had Sam Pearson come in to speak to us about her co-op. The whole time she was telling us about how it evolved, I was thinking about whether co-ops could be run on a business model successfully, and if so, how? Now, the same model discussed in the article may not be viable for a small community with limited interest, as there is in Lewisburg, but it sure did work in Montana!
The co-op they discussed, Community Food Co-op, has over 20,000 members! Just recently they started producing mostly local food. I was interested to see that the co-op had previously relied on out of state produce for the most part. I suppose I just always assumed that co-ops supported the 100-mile radius local food model. The person they interviewed, Christina Waller, mentioned the reason for this: it is more risky and labor intensive to work directly with farmers. When she did make the switch to local foods, it was really the relationships with the farmers that were most important. I could tell this was true from Sam’s discussion about the Happy Cow farmer, who they needed to maintain a good relationship with, but it just wasn’t working.
The article also discusses how much better local food tastes (it does!), and how there is much less waste because of it. I was amazed to read about the 20 lb bags from Cisco where the bottom 2-3 lbs were useless because they got so crushed. And somehow, she managed to spend around $2 a pound for the produce! The customers bought $12,000 worth of local pumpkin pie, much more than they had spent during a previous year on non-local pies. Amazing. Christina is also planning to buy freezing equipment so vegetables can be flash frozen and used in the winter as well! What a wonderful implementation of a local food system (with major community support).