A co-op is an independent organization owned, operated, and financed by its members. A cooperative acts in the interest of its members and the community it serves.
Friends & Farmers Cooperative aims to open a member-owned, cooperative grocery store in State College, Pa that will specialize in local, sustainably produced products, be open to all people and strengthen the community and local economy with good food.
Though similar in some ways, a food co-op and a CSA are different:
- Food co-ops: These involve the cooperative efforts of a group of people or organizations all with the aim of providing food for all members. Food co-ops sell food from many different sources, including regional farms. Friends & Farmers Cooperative will be a brick and mortar store.
- Community Supported Agriculture: CSAs involve a consumer (you) purchasing a share from a farmer. In exchange, you receive a weekly box of local food, grown seasonally on the CSA farm. Benefits of a bumper crop are shared equally among CSA members, as are the challenges of a less productive year.
Existing stores carry very few local products. Even though our local farmers produce wonderful meats, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and other products, they are primarily found at farmers markets or in harvest share (CSA) programs. There is no single place where people who want mostly local, natural, and organic foods can shop. Friends & Farmers will actively seek out local products and increase both the quantity of local foods already produced and the range of products not yet produced locally.
Buying local provides two important benefits. First, members receive fresh products that are nutritionally superior to food shipped long distances over time. Second, the co-op supports our local economy and increases our food production, and thereby our community’s security. Lastly, there are local environmental benefits as the local co-op’s buying practices can be geared to support farmers who are conscientious stewards of our land and water resources.
To strengthen our local economy, we will seek to source products as close to home as possible, relying on Centre County producers and other farmers who currently sell at area farmers markets and offer harvest share (CSA) programs. Transparent labeling will detail the producer, its location, and growing methods (organic, natural, low spray, etc.).
When you become an owner-member you will:
- Help create a store that emphasizes local food, helps local farmers survive, strengthens our local economy and transforms our local food system. You will make the strongest possible statement as a consumer – - voting with your dollars to remove food from the profit margin, to participate in and transform a community, and live by your ideals
- Have a voice in what products the store stocks. Your preferences help guide what the store puts on the shelves: local, gluten-free, free-range, raw, organic, vegan, fair-trade.
- Vote on the Board of Directors (or serve as a Director) and have a say in the general organization of the co-op.
- Get the most buying power for your money and receive discounts on certain products.
- Support locally owned businesses and help create economic opportunities close to home.
- Be eligible to receive a patronage rebate. Annual profits that are not reinvested in store improvements will be distributed as a rebate to members.
- Belong to a worldwide co-op community.
- Have access to a commercial kitchen that we hope to include in the store where member card holders can prepare surplus foods (for example, tomato seconds or basil for pesto) for their own use or for the co-op to sell. Fulfilling part of the co-op’s mission to educate the community on healthy food choices, members would also be able to attend cooking classes and demos.
Membership in Friends & Farmers may be shared by a household, with the owner-member receiving one vote at membership meetings and a year-end patronage dividend of net profits and up to three additional household member card holders receiving all other member benefits, including special members-only promotions and discounts.
There are three options for becoming an owner-member:
- Full equity payment of $300. (This option is best for the co-op with no processing fee for you, when paid with cash or check, online processing fee will be applied)
- Three annual installments of $100 plus processing fee. (Your first installment signifies your support for the co-op and your intention to complete your membership.)
- Ten annual installments of $30. (Seniors, students, and others with demonstrable limited income are welcome to apply for membership on this payment plan.)
The co-op will focus on basic food products, including a wide variety of high quality, seasonal, locally and regionally produced foods such as:
- heirloom fruits and vegetables
- pastured antibiotic free meats
- eggs, fresh milk and aged raw milk
- freshly roasted fair-trade organic coffee
- artisan breads and other baked goods
- natural and organic prepared foods such as soups, salads and sandwiches
- soap, flowers, and locally produced arts and crafts
- bulk grains, flours, nuts, seeds, cereals, and pasta
- pestos, sauces, salsa and jams, pickles, and preserves
- teas, juices, and kombucha
I already shop at local farmers markets and/or belong to a CSA (Harvest Share Program). Will the co-op be competing with these established local food sources?
The co-op will work collaboratively with our area’s established food sources. Our goal is to expand the market share for local producers by providing more convenient access to local food and a reliable market for farmers. Many co-ops nationwide host farmers markets in their parking lot or very close by. The co-op might also work with farmers by serving as a CSA drop point or late pick-up spot for CSA members who cannot get to their share distribution point. The co-op may also be able to help farmers with excess produce left over after market.
We want to offer products at prices that are fair to both the consumer and our local producers. Unlike buying clubs or some co-ops, our main goal is not to charge the lowest possible price because it does not support a healthy food economy in which farmers can survive and grow. However, because of the unique structure of cooperatives we can offer lower prices than we otherwise could, and we will return profits to members as a rebate.
The Keystone Development Center conducted a feasibility study and concluded that a co-op is feasible. Questions remain about the nature and size of the co-op that will ultimately determine its success. We will have a better understanding of the store’s prospects after our marketing study is completed. We believe that there are more than enough people in the Centre Region who value healthy, high-quality food produced by local farmers to sustain a thriving co-op.
Our research found that it typically takes three to four years to start a successful co-op. In the past three years, we have incorporated, formed an interim board, passed bylaws, defined our mission, examined the feasibility study, launched our membership campaign, elected a Board of Directors, launched an Online Farmers Market and hired two part-time employees. The next steps include:
- Grow membership!
- Continue to work with local farmers and producers to secure access to local products for our Online Market
- Exploring potential sites for the store
Though we cannot predict just how long this will take, we hope to open for business no later than 2016. The timing will depend in part on how quickly we grow our membership. Please reference this timeline as a general guide to the relationship between membership and when the store will open.
The feasibility study showed the customer base was fairly evenly distributed throughout the State College area. The marketing study will help us make a final determination as to location, as will the availability of an affordable site.
Become a member! If becoming a member is not feasible now, the co-op is gratefully accepting donations (not tax-deductible) to help with various promotional and start-up activities. Your donation can be mailed to:
Friends & Farmers Cooperative
PO Box 491
State College, Pa, 16804
We are also looking for volunteers in the areas of membership recruitment, education and outreach, event planning, and communications, business and finance. Please e-mail us at: email@example.com if you would like to get involved.
Anyone can shop at the online market, but members save 10%. So, now that you are a member, you need to change the type of shopper you are: from a "General Shopper" to a "Friends & Farmers Member-shopper". You can not make that change on the website, but we can! Please email Stacey, our Membership & Outreach Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell her that you are already registered for the online market, but just need to change your shopper type. She will go into the system and change it for you.
Ordering opens noon on Fridays and goes through noon on Mondays. Be sure to give Stacey a day or 2 to make the change.