An Open Letter to F&F Membership

What I heard and said at the Annual Membership Meeting in November focused on improved member-board dialogue, and a desire for increased member input regarding the future of Friends and Farmers. Addressing those topics is essential for the success of the co-op. This is the most crucial year to date for F&F, and the relationship between the Board (BOD) and the membership could not be more important.

It is, in my opinion, unproductive to evaluate past board-member interaction, and simply to say that the BOD has guided the co-op to this point, accomplishing much. The demands have changed, and the current BOD is dedicated to moving F&F closer to a grocery store. We strive to perform our duties with the same professionalism and care of the previous BOD.

I make the above observation because in December six new board members took seats at the table, creating a small information vacuum. Much of the time until now has been spent evaluating the current position of the co-op and how it relates to our objectives going forward. The Board is committed to establishing improved communication with members concerned about finances, the future of the Online Market, and the overall goal of this board and the organization. Members want a venue for their opinions and ideas to be heard and we are attempting to streamline a process for that interaction. This letter is a first step.

I am writing as a member, and am expressing my opinions on the current state of the coop and its projected future. These opinions have been voiced at BOD and Executive Committee meetings, and there has been spirited, far ranging discussion on the state of F&F. Board members understand that member input is critical, and, as large decisions are looming, the need is immediate.

It is my opinion that the Online Market should continue operation, but that:

  • Product type and selection should expand, including dry goods, and the co-op should be looking more broadly for vendors who can help us achieve reduced costs.
  • The co-op must rethink its cost structure and work with vendors who are willing and able to help facilitate a strategy of larger scale purchasing. This should include vendor deliveries, and could incorporate contract buying for select items. Vendor contact should be made in January in anticipation of spring purchases.
  • The co-op must pursue a marketing strategy for increased membership from the ‘undecided’ demographic. Even the ‘unaware’ sector. Use of PSU marketing classes or part-time marketing help is necessary.
  • F&F must ascertain the reasons many members do not shop and why non-members who do, don’t join.
  • We must recognize and partner with employers and student groups who will function as conduits to prospective members.
  • The organization must precisely define paid employee roles and expectations so they mirror current co-op needs; and closely monitor progress.
  • We formalized lease agreements for the coming year, with expansion in mind. (This has begun)
  • Business plan and financing discussions with SPECU should begin. The bank’s input is important.

The Online Market is a means to an end. The co-op’s ultimate goal has never changed or wavered; but if we cannot operate the market successfully, we have little chance to recover and/or operate a store, which is exponentially more difficult and complex. We have until September, when the USDA grant expires to show marked improvement. The Online Market certainly needs large increases in revenue, and ways to reduce cost must be found. Indeed, improvement must be evident earlier, and changes to the current model must be conceived, communicated, approved, and acted upon. Now. Which brings us to the hard decisions, and why we need to hear from our members. Do we continue to spend equity? How much is acceptable? Do we expend more energy on the Online Market? Or shift gears?

I will not speak for the entire board, but I assure the membership these issues are being discussed. The Executive Committee, which met on December 22nd, supports many of these concepts.

What the co-op needs from its membership is manpower. Volunteers for committee work, for outreach events in which F&F may be involved, for work shifts, to transcribe minutes and reports for dissemination, and more. To be effective any BOD must focus on the future, but the F&F reality is that the Board spends large blocs of time running the present. The co-op needs volunteers, and the BOD wants member voices to speak. We are hoping to streamline and speed the mechanisms of contact and communication, but please, give us a little more time.

I am certain of the following: if the F&F organization calls for volunteers and cannot entice enough participation, what does that say about our co-op? I think I know.

I can be reached at jeanes9961@gmail.com. However you decide to contact the Board or other members, use your voice. The F&F future depends on it.

 

Daryl Sinn


Love Pie!

For owner-member Julie Meiser, pie is the way to go anytime of day! She shared with us a little essay depicting her love of pie.

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By Julie Meiser

I do. I really do love pie. Any day of the week, practically any time of day, I could go for a warm, gooey slice of pecan pie, a la mode. I know I’m not alone in this general sentiment either; whether you are a savory taker or sweet, a fondness for tender, flaky layers of butter and flour wrapped around some jewel of a filling is, some might say, universal. Considering the sheer proximity and rich bounty of our local farms, orchards, and berry patches here in central PA, one can’t help but fall for one pie or another. Sour cherry or shoofly, chicken or mince, there truly is no better place to grow, make, share, eat, and love pie.

Certain foods connote certain occasions, and for a community with such great agricultural heritage as ours, nothing says holiday, family, and friends, like pie. But even more than that, this simple (yet elusive in its perfection) dish is a symbol of giving. Pie’s ancient beginnings as a means to preserve a meal for sailors, soldiers, and miners, tells the story of food being made by someone back home, for someone far away—working, fighting, suffering. It is the original comfort food, and is not made (easily) on the road or over a fire. It requires a hearth, an oven, and thoughtful, caring hands.

There’s something to be said about a food, often with a fairly short list of ingredients, that our world of grocery-shelf short cuts can’t come close to in quality—and even I will admit that some boxed brownies aren’t half bad. And while there are a few tricks and techniques that can improve the end result, pie making is for everyone. I remember watching, and assisting when called upon, my Nana make a peach pie when I was about 7 years old. There weren’t any fancy gadgets or special tools, and in fact, she didn’t even use a cutting board for the fruit; a paring knife in one hand and a peach in the other, the juice just dripped into a bowl she’d then pour over the top before baking. There wasn’t anything fussy about her crust either, which I recall needed some patching up once it got to the dish. However simple her method, her peach pie was perfectly luscious. She always joked that her secret was using the ugliest, most bruised peaches she could find! I tend to think it was the odd-shaped cuts of fruit that came from her unconventional style of knife work, each one a perfect bite.

As someone who has made food for a living, desserts in particular, I can honestly say there is no more satisfying (or therapeutic!) act than rolling out pie dough, and there is no more delightful gift than a pie for someone dear. I count myself extremely fortunate to be part of a community that values our farms and farmers, and treasure the fact that everything I need to make a pie can be sourced locally. That’s awesome. It also means more pie, which I love, and want you to love, too. So go make some, share some, eat some pie!


Broccoli Casserole for Kids

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This recipe from Real Simple magazine calls for gruyere, but you can use any of the delicious cheeses from our Online Market.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Steam two large bunches of fresh broccoli, roughly chopped, until tender.

Melt 1/2 stick of butter (4 T) over medium heat.

Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and cook, stirring for two minutes, ensuring it does not turn dark.

Whisk in two cups whole milk and simmer until slightly thickened, 3 - 4 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in one cup of the cheese, 1/2 t kosher salt, 1/4 t black pepper.

Toss with the broccoli.

Transfer the broccoli mixture to a shallow 3-quart baking dish.

Sprinkle with the remaining cup of cheese.

Bake until bubbling and golden brown, 35 - 40 minutes.


We Can Do It!

Leading Food Co-op Firm Reports Enough Sales Potential in State College to Support a Full-Line Natural Foods Co-op

When our "founding mothers" first began discussing a food co-op in State College, they knew in their hearts that there was sufficient support in the community to succeed. After all, nearly every University town already had a member-owned food co-op (Ithaca; Madison; Champaign-Urbana; South Bend; Pittsburgh and Harrisonburg, Va. - to name a few).

We did not have a firm empirical basis for this belief. True, an unscientific online survey conducted in July 2013 obtained results from 651 people. It showed hundreds of people who wanting a store that featured local products and supported local farmers. The Keystone Development Center pulled from this survey in the feasibility study it conducted for Friends & Farmers in November 2013. It confirmed that a co-op in State College was indeed feasible.

Now we have further basis to report that we can indeed open a successful co-op here. Our $10,000 "Seed Grant" from Food Cooperative Initiative funded a market study that drew on a proprietary database of existing food co-ops throughout the United States. The report's bottom line:

"Based on the population size, demographic composition, and the competitive environment of the State College market area, combined with the experiences of other natural food co-ops in similar market situations, it appears there is sufficient sales potential to support a full-line natural food co-op."

The market study will be an essential component of a loan application package for banks and other financial institutions, and will help the co-op in its efforts to sign a lease for a future location for its store.


Momentum toward the opening of a physical store is accelerating. The co-op now has more than 400 households signed on as members, and is poised to double its membership to the 800-member "tipping point." It isn't that hard for each member to recruit one more member.

Friends & Farmers are broadcasting its message far and wide. It received a $92,000 grant from the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service to grow its retail Online Market and to start a Wholesale Online Market where local producers can offer products to restaurants and institutions. The board has hired a grant administrator and a marketing manager, paid for by the grant, to grow both Online Markets. We have established working relationships with local vendors that few existing co-ops can match. And Friends & Farmers played a major role in organizing a successful food summit on November 20.

The co-op has made important strides, and the market study gives us reason to believe that the hard work will be worth it.  This is Big News folks. It confirms what our membership thought was true. We can do it!

Some key findings of the recently completed study:

  • Growth in the natural food market has been occurring at a rate of 5 to 10 percent yearly, and is expected to continue.
  • The co-op store will serve a relatively large-sized trade area in terms of geography, extending between 15 and 25 miles.
  • The demographic composition of the proposed co-op's trade area is fairly comparable to the co-op database store average with respect to the key demographic characteristics that correlate positively with natural food co-op sales performance levels.
  • The Market Study suggests a store comprising 10,000 square feet, with 6,250 square feet of retail space in the store. Recommended features include a relatively "broad selection" of natural and local foods, including pre-packaged fresh and frozen meat, poultry, and seafood; a deli counter with made-to-order sandwiches, prepared foods (including a selection of value-added meats), self-service hot/cold food bar, grab and go foods, a specialty drink bar, and an indoor cafe/seating area; a bakery; classroom/meeting space; and a demonstration kitchen.

Feel free to contact the Board of Directors with questions regarding our Market Study. You can reach us at info@friendsandfarmers.coop. We'd be happy to share our excitement with you!


They said YES!

They said YES! 

And by that, they meant-

- we believe in your co-op

- we think an online market is a smart way to manage a local food supply chain

- we want you to show us how to get more local food into restaurants and institutions

We demonstrated our potential and explained our rationale and approach. And we won a tremendous investment in our co-op and our community from the most influential funding source in agriculture:

$92,000 from the USDA's Local Food Promotion Program!!!

I outlined our plans for this grant when we applied in May (see original post). Unfortunately, money doesn't spend itself (much as you may think it does based on personal experience!) 

It is going to take a tremendous amount of work, primarily by volunteers, to accomplish the ambitious goals described in our grant proposal and to maximize the growth of the co-op made possible by this grant. 

It's a great time to become a member. If you are already a member - recruit another by inviting them to one of these meetings, increase your investment by contributing to our event budget (not funded by this grant) or start volunteering.

There's never been more life in this movement. Take a moment to feel great about this milestone! Let your mind run wild with infinite possibilities for local food in central PA! Then decide what you can do to help. : )


And the Winners Are...?

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Here are the results from the FarmFest 2nd Annual Pie Contest! 

We had a wonderful turnout for the Pie Contest during the Pennsylvania Certified Organic FarmFest.  2015 was the 4th year for FarmFest and the 2nd year for the F&F Pie Contest.  

Sixteen pie bakers donned their aprons and baked 22 pies.  Stacey, Mairi, Mike, Sara, Suzanne, Michele, Sarah and Catie volunteered to serve pie slices to 113 pie tasters! 

We had the most entries in the Sweet category.  They ranged from Classic Apple Pie to Wineberry Pie (last year's winner) to Peach Melba Pie to Derby Pie.  
The Savory Pie category had 3 entries: Vegan Pot Pie, Caramelized Onion, Spinach and Cheese Quiche and Beet, Carrot, Apricot Pie.  Our newest category, Gluten Free Pie had 2 entries this year.  There was a Peach Pie and an Avocado Pie.  

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Why We Shouldn't Be Intimidated by Pie

14919503751_44804b2901_z.jpgAs the entire world seemed to be embracing cupcakes—dedicated shops popping up, crazy combinations abounding—my heart and business eye said, “trend.” I wondered, what about the old American favorite? Apple, pumpkin, blueberry…what if we put our efforts toward pie?

Whether you like it à la mode, warm with a puddle of cream, or simply placed on a plate, pie satisfies with a lightly salted crunch of crust against yummy, local when possible, good-for-you, not-too-sweet fruit!

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Kohlrabi fritters and Canadian Bacon

kohlrabi_pic.jpgIt's been awhile since I made anything inspiring for dinner. Just worn out I guess. It's kind of amazing what 30 minutes at dinnertime with no kids can mean for the menu.

Because my usual situation is to take care of two exhausted kids while I make dinner, I only permit myself one interesting food item per week - the rest has to be able to be prepared practically in my sleep. This week I ordered a kohlrabi from Jade Family Farms. Kohlrabi isn't exactly radical, but it isn't a standard in my culinary repertoire. With the first 3 minutes of my 30 minute vacation I googled "kohlrabi recipe" and picked hit #2 which led me to this: Kohlrabi Fritter with Avocado Cream Sauce

 

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A Vote of Confidence from Food Co-op Initiative

2012-2015Development_Highlights.jpgIt's been a long road for Friends & Farmers... when we started in January of 2012, most of us realized achieving our vision would require years of research and fundraising. A full-service grocery store focused on local products is a novelty, and raising capital and building a community of members takes time.
There are nearly 500 cooperative groceries in the U.S. to learn from, but few have a mission of promoting local food. Co-op advisors and store managers of analogous stores (like Friendly City in Harrisonburg, VA home of James Madison University) have cautioned that produce is one of the most difficult departments of the grocery to manage, and stocking more than ~20% from local sources is not feasible.
Friends & Farmers is committed to "connecting consumers and producers in central PA" and 20% of inventory is not what we mean!
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Grant funds for the F&F Online Market?

We did it! On May 14th Friends & Farmers submitted a proposal to the Local Food Promotion Program (USDA AMS) for nearly $100,000.

 

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