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Friends and Farmers Looks For New Members To Help Open Grocery Store Co-Op

by on March 01, 2014 8:10 AM

With the goal of establishing a sustainable, member-owned cooperative grocery store in State College, Friends and Farmers Cooperative will be hosting a membership kickoff celebration this weekend to showcase the benefits of locally-grown food.

"This is a chance to invest in the community in a new way," says Sarah Potter, the cooperative's president. "Member-owners of the co-op will have the ability to shape a store from the ground up. What is on the shelves, how business is conducted, how the local economy is affected — all of this can be directed by cooperative members."

Different from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), in which you purchase a share from a farmer in exchange for a weekly box of food, Friends and Farmers will bring together a group of people with the goal of providing locally-grown food for all members. Dues-paying members will have a voice in deciding what products stock the shelves, voting for food with their hard-earned dollars while supporting the local economy.

Those who sign up will receive exclusive benefits, including special offers and discounts from fifteen area businesses, such as Shaver's Creek and Webster's Bookstore and Cafe. In addition, members will be handed a year-end "patronage dividend" of net profits, based on how much they shop at the store.

On Sunday, March 2, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County at 780 Waupelani Dr, in State College, the co-op will be offering free food, music, entertainment, and prizes for anyone who's interested in joining the organization. State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham will provide the opening remarks, and there will be a question and answer period.

The membership fee of $300 can either be paid in full as a lump sum, or spread out over three installments of $100 or ten installments of $30. Anyone who purchases a membership in March will be considered a founding member-owner of the cooperative.

Fourteen individuals have already committed to become founding members of the cooperative, including Spat's Cafe owner Duke Gastinger.

"Flavor is all about freshness and natural nuances," says Gastinger, "and there is no better way to recapture that fullness of flavor in our memories than to always buy from trusted sources and as local as possible."

In order to take the next step, the cooperative needs 42 members to pay $300 in full in order to initiate a marketing study. Earlier in the year, the organization completed a feasibility study to assess the economic and social sustainability of the cooperative. Information and data obtained from the marketing study will allow Friends and Farmers to seek additional funding and best decide an affordable location for the store, which is expected to be complete in 2015.

Grace Emmerling, a senior at Penn State studying community and environmental development, says the cooperative is a "strong gateway" to building the community in a number of different ways.

"Economically, it keeps money in the area by benefiting farmers, food producers, and members of the co-op itself," says Emmerling, who has volunteered at the co-op. "Socially, its nature relies on and builds strong social ties. Environmentally, the cooperative has the potential to support organic and sustainable agriculture, as well as educate consumers about sustainable food."

Along with establishing a healthier, localized approach to produce, Potter says improving the community is equally important for Friends and Farmers.

"Creating access to fresh, local food is huge," says Potter. "But the cooperative vision is bigger than that. Eventually, we want everyone in our community to feel like the co-op has affected them in some positive way."

For more information or to sign up for the free event, click here.

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C.J. Doon is a frequent contributor to Onward State and is a former intern. A Long Island native, Doon is studying print journalism at Penn State.
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