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Michele Marchetti: Friends & Farmers Working Toward Member-Owned Grocery Store

by on October 10, 2012 6:00 AM

A few weeks ago a 5-year-old boy carried a crayon-scrawled picture around the community room of the State College Municipal Building.

“It’s the new grocery store,” he said to anyone who would listen.

His rendering wasn’t inspired by Trader Joe’s, the recently renovated Giant, or even our beloved Wegmans. The subject of his picture was the Friends & Farmers Cooperative, a new initiative by an energetic group of friends and farmers committed to opening a member-owned grocery store in State College.

Perhaps (hopefully) you’ve heard something about Friends & Farmers, or maybe even seen its T-shirts. More than 200 people have signed up as prospective members; the organization has an active Facebook site; and an upcoming event (more on that later) is quickly gaining momentum.

The idea behind this particular co-op is simple: to build a member-owned community grocery store stocked with fruits, vegetables, grains, oil, baked goods and other items grown or made in central Pennsylvania. A place where, in October, you can find a locally grown squash any day of the week.

But the upshot is more than an abundance of high quality, healthy food. Food-coops connect our kids to real food. They create jobs, support other local businesses and are founded on the shared goal of improving their communities.

As the name suggests, Friends & Farmers is committed to a segment of our economy that nourishes us with delicious food. By partnering with local farmers, the goal is to make them stronger.

“Our aim is for farmers and producers to have a reliable outlet for produce and goods,” said Carolyne Meehan, a member of the co-op steering committee. “And maybe this would allow them to do more than they are currently able to.”

Those of us (like me) who are particularly excited about a member-owned grocery store will have to show some patience. The group doesn’t expect to open its doors for at least two years and plans on using that time well. It has enlisted the help of the Rural Economic Development Clinic (REDC) at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law and is forming a “street team” in order to demonstrate community support.

(If you want to join the team and help build the organization’s growing list of prospective members, e-mail [email protected].)

Another focus is fundraising. Friends & Farmers is holding its first serious event, the Harvest Dinner, on Oct. 20. Hosted by Greenmoore Gardens, the dinner will feature seasonal fare — including vegetarian options — Otto’s beer, a bonfire, pumpkin carving and live music. Tickets are $20 (kids 12 and under are free). The Harvest Dinner and other fundraisers will help offset early expenses, primarily an official website that will serve as a communication hub. Learn more about the event here.

Friends & Farmers isn’t a radical idea. According to the “International Year of Cooperatives,” a publicity campaign sponsored by the United Nations, one billion people are members of cooperatives worldwide, and the 300 largest cooperatives have combined sales of more than $1 trillion. As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said, “Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility."

It’s often said that how and where we buy our food is one of the most important consumer decisions we’ll make. Supporting Friends & Farmers should be one of the easiest.

Recent Columns:

Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at or contact her at [email protected]
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