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Local food cooperative in the works

by on April 24, 2013 8:26 PM

STATE COLLEGE — In an effort to enhance the local economy, offer wider nutrition choices and connect the community around food, a group of area enthusiasts have initiated Friends & Farmers Cooperative.

In its early stages, Friends & Farmers is a food cooperative in State College committed to showcasing the “best local products in support of a strong local economy,” according to a press release by its board. The goal, according to the release, is to open a member-owned community grocery store that operates seven days a week.

Sarah Potter, Friends & Farmers board president, said the first few steps have been achieved in the startup: Friends & Farmers became incorporated in March, a board has been established, and officers have been elected. Now, a feasibility study is in the works to help determine location options for the store and associated costs. Additionally, a community survey has been released that asks participants what their location preferences are, and what they’re hoping to get out of the cooperative, Potter said. The board is hoping for at least 500 survey participants.

“That (information) will help us move forward with the best efforts,” she said.

While there are plenty of grocery stores in the State College area, the idea behind Friends & Farmers is to offer a one-stop shop that caters to the local community by featuring produce and products from area farmers and producers in the Centre Region, Potter, of State College, said.

“We really want it to be a community venture,” she said.

The cooperative would operate on a member system, she said, though people don’t have to be members to shop. Paid members would contribute a one-time lifetime fee that could be paid in installments, Potter said, and then would be able to vote on decisions and contribute to the effort in a variety of other ways, she said.

The idea behind membership, in which a fee is undecided, she said, is for members to “feel empowered about (their) food choices.”

So far, Friends & Farmers is in contact with a variety of area farmers and producers who are interested in partnering, she said, and the community response has been positive, according to initial survey feedback. There are more than 300 interested people on the email list, plus a variety of others willing to volunteer.

“People are definitely excited about this and want to see it happen,” Potter said.

However, the real challenge will come when it’s time to get commitment from the community, she said.

Potter said she is hopeful in Friends & Farmers’ ability to bring people together around food, afford an outlet for greater and deeper connections with area producers, and encourage healthier eating.

“(The cooperative) will be unique and really be a special place,” Potter said.

The idea behind Friends & Farmers was sparked in December 2011 at a community potluck held by Spring Creek Homesteading, a Pennsylvania nonprofit that supports local self-sufficiency within the Spring Creek Watershed. During the potluck, a group of area families, friends, farmers and students shared ideas for improving the community. The topic that generated the most interest was the creation of a food cooperative in State College, according to the Friends & Farmers website.

According to the press release, Friends & Farmers board members include: Potter; Maureen Ittig, treasurer; Carolyne Meehan, secretary; Elizabeth Crisfield; Dave Cranage; Jim Eisenstein; Christine Least; Michele Marchetti; Mark Maloney; and Michal Rybacki.

For more information email info@friendsandfarmers.coop or visit www.friendsandfarmers.coop.



Staff Writer at The Centre County Gazette
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