Potential for local food co-op gains momentum

The momentum for Guelph and Wellington County’s local food co-op is taking another step forward to provide homegrown food to a homemade audience.

On March 22 at the Guelph Community Health Centre, growers, stakeholders, and the general public were invited to discuss potential benefits of a local food cooperative.

The incentive was prompted by Allison Mitchell, Laurie  Malleau, and Mike Driscoll, each actively involved in local food organizations. Having studied various models of co-operative food ventures and seeing the community and economic benefits of successful organizations, Mitchell and Malleau applied for a grant from the Ontario Co-operative Association.  That successful funding bid allowed them to do a feasibility study to start a food-hub as a co-operative model for Guelph and Wellington County.

The March 22 meeting was an open venue to explore how a co-operative could enhance the existing local food initiatives, such as the Guelph Wellington Local Food Map and Taste Real campaign, the Guelph Wellington Food Round Table, the Guelph and Elora Farmers’ markets, Guelph Health Centre’s Garden Fresh Box, and numerous community shared agriculture projects.

Drawing an audience of approximately 50 growers, producers, and consumers was the first step.

“Distribution is a major barrier to having access to the food, getting the food to the people who want it,” said Mitchell. “The farmers are growing this wonderful food but don’t’ have the time to get their product to market, so distribution would be key to what this co-op would have to look like.”

Funding is also a concern, with an understanding that the successful examples of functioning co-operatives are those that are financially self-sustaining. “This is a challenge all co-ops have,” said Mitchell. “We cannot rely too heavily on volunteers. It’s important to build an income stream in so that you can generate an opportunity for paid staff, to have a consistent flow in the organization.”

The benefit to consumers is obvious, said Mitchell.

“The increased access to fresh, local food, to organic options, and the knowledge they are supporting the local food economy means that their dollars are staying here, in their community. A co-op would offer convenience, accessibility, not to mention the great taste and nutrition.”

Participants were asked to complete a survey, expressing their opinions and ideas around what a local food co-operative should be.

“It’s exciting because we can create a plan to suit our own co-op because that’s what co-operatives do; they are designed to serve the community as the community needs it. We can make our own model our own way,” ,” Mitchell said.

The community is invited  to offer ideas, by requesting to participate in the survey. For details, contact the event organizers at Guelph.local.food.co.op@gmail.com.