Sarah Potter on Food Co-op Progress, plus Railroad Avenue brainstorming – April 25, 2012

Sarah Potter

Sarah Potter writes:

We had a great food co-op meeting last week (April 18). The dedicated CED students shared some of the key data from the survey (interest, current shopping habits, co-op niche, membership and more).

They also presented some highlights of the case studies for newly developed and successful co-ops with similar demographics to State College. To find out more about their results, look for an article in an upcoming Sustainable Centre County CDT (or visit the Spring Creek Homesteading Co-op page for updates).

All in all things are looking hopeful and I think we are ready to start laying some foundations. On that front here are some of our actions from the meeting:

  1. Subcommittees — We created two subcommittees to get organized with our list of next actions. The Membership committee members will work on defining what membership entails — the benefits, the cost and the “brand” of the store (name, logo, etc.). Strategic Planning members will continue to look at feasibility, finances, bylaws, etc.
  2. Meeting Times — We agreed that we should have regular meeting times for ease of planning. The first Wednesday of the month will be when subcommittees meet. The third Wednesday of the month will be for full co-op steering meetings. We will plan to hold all meetings at 7 p.m. in the State College Borough/Municipal building at 243 South Allen St. If you are ready to commit to this exciting project we would love to have you. Upcoming meetings will be May 2 (subcommittees); May 16 (steering); June 6 (subcommittees); June 20 (steering); July 4 (subcommittees); July 18 (steering).
  3. Naming —  We are ready to give a name to co-op and need your ideas!! We plan to pick a name at the next meeting. 

[Note: Name suggestions can be posted as “Comments” on posts and pages here at the blog and I’ll keep a running list of suggestions at the Food Co-op page, for use at the May 2 meeting. – KW]

So mark your calendars for Wednesday, May 2 at 7 p.m. in the Borough Building. We will be holding our first subcommittee meeting and trying to come up with a name for the co-op. It will also be celebratory as we say farewell and thank you to the CED students for all their hard work and dedication. Bring some yummy food, your ideas and a friend. Help us grow!       –  Sarah

“Railroad Avenue Marketplace” – Brainstorming from Katherine

Earlier this week (on April 23), I had a really fascinating meeting with Kari Sorensen. Her Landscape Architecture class project this semester (LArch App – Indoor Farmers Market) was to interview farmers market managers and others about their thoughts regarding an indoor farmers market, and then do some site analysis.

The piece that really grabbed me is that she spent quite a bit of time walking around, taking photos and thinking about a mostly vacant area bounded by Atherton St., Barnard St., Clay Ave. and Railroad Ave., near the bus depot, the antique store and the Vietnamese restaurant, close to the corner of Atherton St. and College Ave.

Based on her market manager interviews and site considerations, her project proposes a multi-use space involving some of the existing buildings, much of the existing parking, and some modular kiosk-type farm stalls — made of recycled wood but with a brick look — that can have plumbing and electrical to help farmers meet the Act 106 requirements for refrigeration, sanitation, sinks, etc., which she found (through her interviews) to be one of the outdoor market farmers’ key concerns right now.

It feels like a puzzle piece falling into place, for me anyway. The site has historical significance, since the original railroad station was there and some of the tracks might still be under the pavement. It’s very centrally located – with good pedestrian and car access, but also very underused – it’s almost invisible even though it’s sitting right there almost in the precise middle of downtown, but not so invisible that good signs couldn’t bring people in. Several of the existing buildings have large garage doors, making deliveries from farmers easier.

I also really liked her emphasis on flexibility. She was mostly thinking of it in terms of physical space, so that there could be a year-round indoor market in one of the buildings, but also a large pavilion of seasonal outdoor kiosks to offer the social/festival feel of outdoor markets. And the physical spaces could be linked to each other to meet the needs of different vendors and different shoppers at different times.

Another flexibility aspect that seems important is in the business relationship side of things. This site could be developed by a community organization to offer farmers the option to sell their produce directly to a cooperative that would handle presentation, convenient store layout, sales and inventory –  freeing up the farmers’ time to be on the farm, or to rent a kiosk outside for direct sales when the farmers are available to staff the booths, or some combination of the two.

In any case, I asked her to finalize her presentation under the name “Railroad Avenue Farmers Market,” and she’ll probably send along the overview document and raw data within the next few days.

In the meantime, I’m mulling over different types of business structures that could bring a lot of these different threads together. For example – a community-owned “Railroad Avenue Marketplace, Inc.” with relatively independent subdivisions for the food cooperative, an outdoor farmers’ market pavilion, on-site cafes, Dave Cranage’s food hub idea (his column will run this Thursday in the CDT), community kitchen/teaching facilities along LaCreta Holland’s vision, a small outbuilding with a tool library, performance space for entertainment/music, and so forth.

What’s especially intriguing about the site Kari found is that it’s largely vacant and abandoned, physically laid out in a village-type feel, with existing small unused buildings that could renovated to house different components around a central open pavilion-ish thing, and existing businesses that are already creating a great, funky vibe – Northampton Gallery Pianos/antique store, the cafe next-door to it (formerly Terminal Cafe, can’t remember the new name), Rainbow Music, the Asian grocery store, Pho 11 Vietnamese restaurant, etc.

I think that block has a lot of potential to someday be very much a destination for townies, students and out-of-town visitors, and it could also be put together in manageable phases, rather than trying to do a big capital campaign to create one big building from scratch.

Anyway, just brainstorming from Kari’s excellent foundation proposal, and wanted to share…  -KW

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2 Responses to Sarah Potter on Food Co-op Progress, plus Railroad Avenue brainstorming – April 25, 2012

  1. anne burgevin says:

    Katherine – This sounds not only promising, but very exciting. You are right about the invisible nature of the that area. So many people drive and walk by it daily, and yet, it has a ghost kind of feeling to it. I love the idea of revitalizing it. Thanks for all you’re doing.

  2. Bobby Raggazino says:

    I think this is an awesome idea and location. I live on Barnard street and agree that this little section of town has so much potential to be a center of activity for those living on the west side of campus. There’s also space behind the antique shop with a little grass that’s begging to be gardened/permablitzed!

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