Friends & Farmers Co-op – UPDATED x2

The food cooperative team last night picked a working name for the grocery store project:

Friends & Farmers Cooperative

As the co-op committees get down to work, Sarah Potter (peacepotter@gmail.com) will be the team leader for the Finance/Legal committee, and Elizabeth Crisfield (ecrisfield@gmail.com)  will be the team leader for the Membership/Marketing committee.

There was a lot of discussion about our vision for the store – our ultimate, pie-in-the-sky ideas about what it could be and mean for the community. Elizabeth will be taking the big list of ideas and shaping it into a draft vision statement for discussion at the next meeting.

Here’s a photo of the whiteboard where she took notes last night:

vision ideas

And here’s a photo of Mark Maloney‘s vision for the store:

mark’s draft vision statement

Upcoming meetings will probably be at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe, in the meeting room,  from 7 p.m. to 8:30 or so, on…

  • May 16
  • June 6
  • June 20
  • July 4
  • July 18

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UPDATE MAY 4

SURVEY OPEN: The survey designed by CED-475 students has been re-opened to gather additional information on local consumers shopping habits and interest in food cooperatives. Please click the image below to participate. Thanks!

Local Data: Information gathered from the first round of survey responses, collected during February and March 2012 and collated by students in PSU’s CED-475 class during the Spring 2012 semester. (This is raw data, without narrative/interpretive summary. Will try to obtain the summary write-up and post shortly.)

Case Studies: Descriptions of new cooperatives in communities with demographics similar to State College, collected by students in PSU’s CED-475 class during the Spring 2012 semester.

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UPDATE MAY 7

Excerpts from the CED-475 students’ final presentation document (11 page pdf file – well worth a click-through…)

——————–

During beginning discussions about potential locations for Friends & Farmers Co-op, Mark raised the considerable hurdles to ownership, including the high market value of the Railroad Avenue real estate (given its downtown proximity) and multiple current owners – complicating legal issues involved in consolidating it into one parcel.

Zoning Map of Railroad Avenue block

Parcel ownership info:

  • 118, 124, 134, 140 N. Atherton – owned by PSU
  • 124 Coal Alley – owned by SC Sun Corporation
  • 119, 123 N. Barnard – owned by SC Sun Corporation
  • 129, 133, 139 N. Barnard – owned by Veteran’s Club of State College
  • 130 N. Barnard – owned by GC Investments.

A few weeks ago, I read a piece called “From Ownership to Stewardship,” in which British writer Andrew Curry  argues for a shift in cultural habits about land and property, particularly pushing for a new class of property – “a stewardship category.”

Curry notes that “the question of ‘best value’ for whom is itself a political question…in areas of high demand…community bidders are usually priced out of the running…”

And he concludes by observing that much of the legal framework to make these cultural shifts is already in place:

“There’s no legal definition in English law of a ‘trust’, but there is a clear understanding of what they are: an entity that holds assets on behalf and for the benefit of others. There are legal forms for organisations which range from charities to community interest companies to cooperatives. Restrictive covenants are well understood as a means to limit the future conduct of others. The legal elements can clearly be configured. What is needed, though, is a deeper change – about the responsibility of public bodies to the future, rather than the present.”

Local food system-builders clearly don’t have huge piles of money to buy up centrally-located commercial real estate.

But under an alternative legal framework of stewardship rather than ownership, we might instead manage underutilized property for as long as the owners don’t have another economically viable purpose for it, under contractual arrangements exchanging  upgrades and maintenance for access to and use of good locations for local food infrastructure like grocery stores, community kitchens, farmers markets, and the like.

Under the stewardship model – if the landowners are willing to make such arrangements – local foodies’ main hurdle becomes figuring out how to make capital investments that meet our needs but are relatively portable, and how to draft contractual provisions that compensate us and other investors for any improvements we make that will have to stay with the building when the local food enterprises move on to new digs.

One example of this “local-food-property-management” or stewardship approach in action is the management plan currently in place between Spring Creek Homesteading and the State College Friends Meeting House. We’re getting access to land owned by the Meeting – and the opportunity to improve the land and gain experience while preparing it for community gardening. The Meeting is getting maintenance services (labor) and some minor capital investments (compost, hay, switchgrass, fencing and tools).

Combining the Friends’ land with Spring Creek Homesteading’s labor and investment, we’ll be able to jointly offer the fertile land next year to eager community gardeners, giving all of us an incrementally stronger local food system over time.

Of course, the inputs are relatively inexpensive for a community garden. Gutting, wiring, plumbing and renovating a vacant building to create a friendly, welcoming atmosphere for shoppers and comply with food safety codes and other applicable laws is a far more expensive proposition. So, projects would have to be designed so as much equipment as possible — sinks, refrigerators, shelving and furniture — could be easily moved to a new location, and the management contracts would have to include formulas to pro-rate or otherwise share the costs of non-portable improvements between the building owners and the management team.

Still, I think the stewardship concept might scaleable and is at least worth exploring further.

[NOTE: I’ll be on break from the blog until May 10 7, except I’ll update this post with a copy of the CED survey report if I get a copy in the interim. -KW]

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