There’s a temporary new blog for the Friends & Farmers Co-op, just until the marketing & membership committee gets more settled and sets up a new website for the member-owned grocery store in the works.
The information formerly posted at the “Food Co-op” page up top here at Spring Creek Homesteading has been moved there and filed under headings for easy reference. It’s not super-organized yet (still under construction) but hopefully still useful.
I’ve also put up a button —
— in the right sidebar here, so readers can get to the new site easily to check in on progress and get involved.
By way of orientation, here’s the Friends & Farmers Co-op story so far…
January 26, 2012 – Spring Creek Homesteading’s monthly potuck at the Borough building…
For the featured idea, Daryl Sinn gave an overview of his experiences with the Our Store Food Co-op that operated in State College between about 1975 and 1980, in the basement of what’s now Kranich’s Jewelers.
He said during the last full year, the co-op had more than 200 members and $250,000 in business. There was also a cooperative bakery – organizers sold shares to family and friends and members put in labor and were paid in bread. The bakery also sold bread to Weis Markets and the food co-op, and a natural food store called New Moon Cafe. Later, one of the members kept the bakery going for awhile in Bellefonte.
Daryl said he thought the Our Store Food Co-op folded for two main reasons: a difficult credit market (interest rates on loans in the late 1970s were 18-20%) and a split among the membership over whether the store should sell only to members, or also serve non-members using a variable pricing system.
Daryl and other potluck participants emphasized everal key features of co-ops:
- Unlike informal buying clubs – whose members loosely coordinate bulk orders from distributers like Frankferd Farms– cooperatives are legal entities: formally incorporated; with bylaws and annual meetings; decisions made by a board elected by the members; and specific legally-required accounting standards.
- Successful co-ops that thrive over time generally have members willing to make long-term commitments to the project; usually sell to any customers, even if members get a price discount because of their work for the co-op; and usually use market studies, formal business plans, and clear corporate structures to support their deeper social goals of building community spaces and supporting local farmers.
People seemed to have one key question about the potential for starting up a new food co-op:
Given that State College residents have access to several farmers markets, CSAs, community gardens, and high-quality produce at Wegman’s, plus strong bulk food offerings at Nature’s Pantry, the Granary and Wegman’s – is there enough of an untapped market that a co-op would find a customer base?
To work toward answering that question, Sarah Potter offered to coordinate some smaller group discussions about the challenges and opportunities. Some Penn State students may be interested in doing market research to support that small group’s discussions with data.
The group consensus was that before we make any moves we need to asses the market demand for a co-op. This means surveying and talking to the community. A group of Penn State students (myself, Itha Cao, Cierra Freeman, and Sam Jawn) from the Community, Environment, and Development major will be working on a draft of this survey over the next couple of weeks, as well as figuring out the logistics of how to go about administering it.
In two weeks we will reconvene with the whole food co-op group to give feedback and streamline the questionnaire.
In addition, the group focused on compiling as much information and first-hand accounts as we can about what works, and what doesn’t (case studies).
Lastly, we talked about the need to create a strong sense of identity throughout this process.
- What would make this food coop special?
- Does it bring the community together?
- Is it a fun and interesting place to be?
February 29, 2012 – Survey Launched; scheduled to close April 1.
April 18, 2012 – The group met to:
- Look at survey data and case study tables;
- Discuss how we will use the survey and case study data to guide our next steps;
- Identify writer(s) for a 500-word column about the survey results and next steps for food co-op team.
Report from Sarah Potter – 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.
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:
- Subcommittees — We created two subcommittees to get organized with our list of next actions. The Membership & Marketing Committee will work on defining what membership entails — the benefits, the cost and the “brand” of the store (name, logo, etc.). The Legal & Finance Committee will continue to look at feasibility, incorporations, finances, bylaws, business plans, etc.
- We agreed that we should have regular meeting times for ease of planning – alternating subcommitte meetings with full steering committee meetings – on first and third Wednesdays every month at 7 p.m. at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe. If you are ready to commit to this exciting project we would love to have you.
- 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 on Wednesday May 2.
May 3, 2012 –
The food cooperative team last night picked a working name for the grocery store project: Friends & Farmers Cooperative
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.
- Local Food Vendor Needs Assessment (Interview summaries)
May 15, 2012 – Elizabeth Crisfield emailed the group her draft mission and vision statements, along with a schematic diagram organizing the ideas brainstormed on May 3:
Draft Vision – The Friends & Farmers Cooperative offers State College an inviting community grocery store committed to showcasing the best local products in support of a strong local economy. We are member-owned and strive for transparency in every aspect of our operation.
Draft Mission – The Friends and Farmers Cooperative aims to
- support the local economy by giving local producers priority on store shelves
- offer convenient, healthy and delicious locally prepared foods
- inspire healthy eating habits through education and transparent labeling
- draw the community together in an inviting atmosphere
- become a one-stop shop providing everything a family needs in a grocery
May 16, 2012 – Subcommittees met at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe
- Review vision or at least share vision and we can follow up in the next full meeting
- Make To-Do lists in subcommittees and then start checking things off!
People volunteered to complete tasks, due at the next meeting Wednesday, June 6 at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe:
- Sarah will research what other cooperatives are doing, especially about how memberships are structured (i.e., lifetime, annual, dues, membership levels, work v. investment, equity shares, etc.) and whether/how to sign up members and raise capital before the store opens.
- Daryl will look into bylaws templates, calling Tim Bowser about professional help via PASA
- Maureen will look into business plans and SCORE (retired business executives who may be able to help with business plans, etc.)
- Mark will gather info about applicable food co-operative food safety laws and send an email to Centre County Bar Association and law school students about possible pro bono legal help.
- Katherine will register the co-op with the PA Department of State and create a temporary blog for use until the marketing group gets their new website up and running.
- Elizabeth, Doug and Carolyne (Marketing/Membership team) will research what co-ops do in the early phase to get new members: (what benefits to offer, how to frame the pitch, and how many members to aim for); and will work on soliciting logo designs and setting up a website.