Co-op as Incubator

Co-op organizers have dreamed that the reality of a convenient retail outlet for local products would not only increase the market share of products that are currently available, but would also provide innovative entrepreneurs with enough assurance of sales potential to branch into new products.

The week before Christmas, two co-op suppliers did just that. Co-op shoppers bought some of Clover Creek’s first holiday cheese balls. (I ate most of ours… very tasty.) Eden View also offered to help with holiday parties by preparing appetizer trays.

Who knows, maybe a chef and a farmer met over one of those appetizer trays last week and hatched a plan to grow soybeans and produce tofu?

It’s just the beginning folks. And the beauty of the co-op is that its future isn’t up to chance or some anonymous person’s profit motives – it’s up to us.

Elizabeth

(I am a former co-op board member, and a current co-op member and shopper!)


Stuff Your Stockings the Local Way

Support your favorite cooperative and its Local Loyalty partners by stuffing a Friends & Farmers tote with these fun gifts.

To purchase a Friends & Farmers tote bag, $15, e-mail info@friendsandfarmers.coop

You can find complete contact info for our local loyalty partners here.

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Kids Tote

  • Animal Kingdom – Green Toys
  • Animal kingdom – stuffed animal
  • Webster’s – kids books

Wellness Tote

  • Center for Wellbeing – yoga gift certificate
  • Jennifer Spence Massage – massage gift certificate
  • Nittany Valley Organics – bath products
  • Turtle Moon Garden – skin care products
  • Philipsburg Massage – gift certificate
  • Inspired Holistic Wellness – gift certificate

Sweets & Treats Tote

  • Good Seed Baking Co – cookie/muffins/pie
  • Webster’s Café – coffee beans and cook books
  • Brazilian Munchies (available at Friday’s State College indoor farmers market in the borough building, or at the Millheim Indoor Farmers Market on Saturday, Dec. 20)
  • Kitchen Kaboodle – baking supplies

 

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The experiment is paying off

When F&F members considered opening an online market last summer, there was a big checkmark in the “pros” column next to “learn how to source local food and distribute it”. The board had heard a lot of warnings from national co-op leaders that co-ops can’t source more than a small percentage of local food without losing a lot of money – and that’s bad news for a co-op. But sourcing locally was always central to F&F mission, so giving up on that wasn’t an option.

The online market is giving the co-op a chance to develop real relationships with producers (we wrote checks totalling $487 to producers during our first week), but it’s also giving  consumers a distinctly different shopping experience.

There are a lot of differences when shopping on the online market as opposed to a farmers market. For starters, it’s easier to plan a week’s menu while I’m shopping, making sure that I’m using what I already have with what’s available to buy. I can weigh who’s in and who’s out of the house on different nights and how much time we have for preparations. (Eden View offered stuffed pitas and other prepared foods this week – and that fits a busy holiday season quite well!) It also seems easier to fit these local offerings into my grocery budget. This week, I made a sweep through all the offerings, throwing everything I wanted in my “cart” and then went back and thinned it down to what I could afford. (I couldn’t give up the Red Kuri squash, so I had to put the turnips back.) The carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes I already have will go well with the beets and celeriac I ordered for an amazing root roast planned for Wednesday night. Yay!

If you haven’t ordered yet, you can do so until noon tomorrow, Monday, December 8th. https://www.localfoodmarketplace.com/friendsfarmerscoop/

Elizabeth Crisfield

(I’m a former F&F Board Member and a scientist, so naturally I’m loving watching this experiment unfold.)


First orders

This weekend 24 of us placed our first online market orders. It’s the first week of December, so it certainly feels like a gutsy time for this young co-op to act as matchmaker for producers and consumers, but that role is central to our mission. “Now” is always a good time to get started on ambitious projects.

We logged on and were delighted to find the full line of Clover Creek’s cheeses, and several cuts of beef from Mountain View Farm. We chose from a complementary array of organic vegetables from Tait Farm and Jade Family Farm, two local leaders in ultra high quality produce. Byler Goat Dairy offered their cheeses, but not their milk (yet?). Way Fruit Farm entered applesauce, but no apples or cider (yet?) and there was a lovely selection of sauces from Sweet Heat Gourmet.

The local food marketplace website works intuitively for anyone accustomed to online purchasing. I placed the order on my phone, actually. Entering payment was a cinch. (Price check time…I’m pretty sure we paid the same for our stalk of brussel sprouts as I paid at Trader Joe’s a couple weeks ago – but this time the $ goes strait to Tait!)

Tomorrow we pick up our arugula, spinach, brussel sprouts, and cheese. With Thanksgiving leftovers still in our fridge we had a smaller than normal order, $18. We are looking forward to meeting the volunteers and our fellow shoppers in Grays Woods tomorrow!

Elizabeth Crisfield
(I am a former co-op board member and forever aspiring to eat more veggies)


5 Questions About the Online Market

OLM Opens SLIDER

1. I would like to be a customer! What should I do?

Anyone interested in becoming a customer should go to the REGISTER page to create a customer account.

If you are a Friends & Farmers Co-op owner-member, select the option “Friends & Farmers Member-Shopper” when you sign up.

Use the ‘General Shopper’ option if you are not a co-op member.

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After registering as a shopper, be sure to explore the other pages of the online market website for complete details. When the site goes live for customers at 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 28, you can begin to shop!

2. Why did you choose Good Shepherd Church in Gray’s Woods as the pick-up location?

We looked into approximately 20 sites around State College, considering costs, availability, space, and facilities. Good Shepherd was the best fit—they have a brand new certified kitchen, plenty of space for packing orders, and were the only location with access to the needed freezers and refrigerators for storing temperature-sensitive items.

This location is only about 10 minutes from downtown State College and is easily accessible from the Gray’s Woods I-99 exit.

We know that any one location will not work for everyone, and we are actively looking into additional pick-up sites in other parts of State College, as well as a possible delivery option.

3. I’m interested in using the online market, but I’m not sure how much I’ll spend or how often I’ll order. Is that okay?

Yes! That’s fine—but there are a few additional details: First, there is a minimum total order requirement of $10. The minimum order will help us cover our operating costs (credit card transaction fees, rent, insurance, etc). And we want to be sure that the producers who have signed up are receiving enough business to justify their participation.

Also, we are looking at the first weeks of the online market as a ‘trial phase’ since this is all new—both to us and to producers. We appreciate the first customers understanding that there may be some challenges in the beginning. With your patience, suggestions, and feedback, we hope to refine and reassess operational details as needed to sustain a successful launch and a successful new option to purchase local food in State College.

4. I have a winter CSA. Will you only sell the same items I get through my CSA?

While we will have some of the same items that area CSAs offer during the winter (root vegetables, leafy greens, and eggs, for example), there will also be many more items available through the online market.

We will also have fruit, meat, salmon, dairy products, eggs, bread, pasta, and prepared foods like sauces and soup.

Check out the Online Market website for current producers and products, and check back often; as we grow we will be adding new producers and products!

5. How does the Online Market fit into Friends & Farmers’ plans for a physical retail store?

Friends & Farmers is committed to opening a brick and mortar food cooperative that promotes and supports local producers, educates, and brings the community together. In order to raise the capital for a store that has the size and amenities required for our vision, we must meet our membership goals. Member recruitment and outreach activities are a priority—until we have enough co-op owner-members we will not be able to secure a site for an actual store.

Based on our research and communication with other start-up co-ops, establishing an online market appears to be a good intermediary step while we continue to grow our membership. The online market provides a tangible benefit to members—another way to access local food products while complementing the other options that exist, and offering items to members at lower prices than non-members. The online market allows us to start forming a working relationship with the producers who will be supplying the co-op, and increases their market access and sales ahead of the opening of the physical store.

For additional questions, contact us at market@friendsandfarmers.coop!


Inaugural Meeting Notes

On Saturday October 11, Friends & Farmers Cooperative held its Inaugural Member Meeting at the State College Area High School. Notes of the meeting follow. Please click on the Prezi to view the graphics while reading the notes.

After showing a video about the Lexington Food Co-op, Interim Board President Sarah Potter calls the meeting to order at 3 p.m.

“You are the co-op,” she told the members. “You are the folks who make this what it is.”

Before the newly elected board is announced, the interim board is recognized. Interim board members include Sarah Potter, Elizabeth Crisfield, Carolyne Meehan, Jim Eisenstein, Christine Least, Mark Maloney, Catie Rasmussen, Sara Carlson, Michele Marchetti, and Katherine Watt.

The newly elected board includes: Sarah Potter, Jim Eisenstein, Sara Carlson, Michele Marchetti, Joshua Brock, Meagan Tuttle, Vic Russo, Dustin Betz and Devin Mathias.

History & Mission
Sarah gives a brief recap of the cooperative’s history, explaining that the idea sprang from a Spring Creek Homesteading potluck, which challenged attendees to think of initiatives that would improve the community. One of the ideas was to start a food cooperative.

Over the course of a year, the mission formed:
* To support the local economy by giving local producers a priority on store shelves
* To offer convenient, health and delicious locally prepared foods
* Inspire healthy eating habits through education and transparent labeling
* Draw the community together in  an inviting atmosphere

Outreach
The cooperative incorporated in March 2013, and has spent this past year focused on outreach through events and education programs. We held three “Local on the Menu” fundraising events at Whiskers, Spats Café and Elk Creek Café + Aleworks. The cooperative hosted the inaugural Crop Mob, planting 9,000 garlic bulbs. Crop mobs offer community members a chance to go out to a farm to help farmers and producers with an overwhelming task that would otherwise take them days.State College Crop Mobs has now become its own organization.

Friends & Farmers took a big step in March 2014, launching its membership campaign with a kickoff party at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County. We were blown away by the initial support, amassing a large amount of members in the first three months of our membership campaign.

“It’s been hard to keep that momentum. But membership is the cornerstone and foundation of how we’re going to open a store.”

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Welcome Friends & Farmers Online

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At the Sept. 3 Friends & Farmers board meeting, the directors reviewed the results of the recent survey and the information gathered by the online market task group, and unanimously voted to launch Friends & Farmers Online as a stepping stone to a brick and mortar store. The task group will determine the operating details and report on progress to the Board monthly, and is authorized to spend up to $6,000 to establish and operate the market for one year. In October 2015 the board will then evaluate the project and determine next steps.

The Friends & Farmers Online task group is open to board members, co-op members, and producers; if you’re interested in joining the group to help launch the market, please contact Jim Eisenstein at j3e@psu.edu.

Key Survey Results:

“Interest in strengthening the local food economy” was cited by 42% of Friends & Farmers Co-op owner-members as one of the key reasons they decided to join. Another 39% cited “increased access to local food.” 68% of the respondents either supported or strongly supported the idea of a Friends & Farmers online market as a step toward a physical grocery store, with another 24% “neutral or unsure.”

Here are a few of the questions we have been hearing, and our responses.

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