I have written recently about eating locally, and where to find local food sources. In that post, I also mentioned that if you don’t have a local food supply, it is time to build one in your community. Many of you have expressed an interest in learning more about how to do that. So I have a story for you!
Last week Evan Cece wrote on the Riot For Austerity listserv about her experience setting up a local food supply in Wimberly, Texas. I was inspired by her story, and asked if I could share her words with you all. She then went to the board of The Bountiful Sprout, and found they were completely delighted to have their story told.
The following is an excerpt of Evan’s words…
Building A Local Food Supply
I’ve been looking forward to fall. I sure hope it gets here some day! I do have something to celebrate, though.
For more than the past year, I’ve been working with a small group of very dedicated people to build some sort of food security here where I live. We met late last summer in a coffee shop to figure out how we could create a source for locally grown, organic food and household products. We’ve had many obstacles and a few failures, but last week we had our first official and successful order. Thanks to the Nebraska and Oklahoma Food Coops, The Bountiful Sprout, LLC is helping our community secure food options for the future. I’m sharing this with you in the hopes that you will get something like this started in your own communities.
How It All Began…
The first thing I did was google words like sustainability, food coops, local harvest, etc. I found a website by a like-minded person, and then found out she was managing a very small farmers market in a neighboring town. So I called her and asked if she would be willing to help me with the project. She had a newborn and said she couldn’t, but offered some ideas.
Then I went to an organic coffee shop and talked to the owner. I asked him if he would be willing to place bulk orders for the group, and offer his location for meetings and breakdowns of orders. He was willing, and we scheduled a group meeting where we invited folks we thought might be interested. The first meeting had about 14 people, and we brainstormed ideas.
Next we placed a small order with a large organic food distributor and it turned out to be a fiasco. While we were figuring out what to do next, the coffee shop closed and we lost our meeting place and method for ordering through the larger distributors. During this time, more and more people heard about what we were attempting through word of mouth, and someone offered us a space to meet and receive orders.
So we held a meeting with an attorney to find out about liability for forming a coop. She suggested for insurance and tax purposes that we form an LLC. We held another meeting with members to elect a board and flesh out bylaws under the direction of the attorney. The board then took up the rest of the leg work and began meeting to figure out our plan of attack.
I contacted the larger food distributors, who all said they wouldn’t sell to a coop or buying club within 50 miles of any competitors. That ruled us out completely. Meanwhile, our members were assembling their shopping wish lists!
We met again and decided to only work with local producers and farmers. We canvassed all the farmers markets and CSAs in our local area and got people interested in selling to us. We collected a small capital contribution from our members to pay for the attorney, and to pay a webmaster to get our website up and running.
A Life Of Its Own
I think that pretty much covers it. At present, The Bountiful Sprout has 60 member families and a dozen or more producers, but we’re growing every day and this has spread only by word of mouth. This is giving me hope. I have to tell you, when I made that first phone call, I was totally clueless as to how this was all going to come together and it just took on a life of its own. It began with a desire and talented people just started falling out of the wood work. I promise you that there are like-minded people like you even in your own neighborhoods.
I have met so many people in the last year that don’t even blink when I tell them I am a no “pooer”, or who nod in understanding about military showers, or have even less garbage than our family of three each week. We have a lovely lady in our neighborhood that picks up recycling for all the families here for a small fee. When you live in a rural area, recycling pick-up is not an option. It’s a long distance to drop off your recycling, so we saved ours for six months and made one trip. She’s now made a business of it.
I love seeing the entreprenuerial spirit coming back to life in a smaller non-greedy, but service-minded way. We’re all on a boat and it’s sinking unless we plug the holes. We need more than two hands to do that, and that’s where community comes in. If we share, there’s more to go around and the burden is less. We can all work together to create viable local ecomomies with less dependence on oil. We have to do it for ourselves.
What Were Your Start-Up Costs?
We didn’t really know what type of start up costs we would need. We discovered things as we went a long. We ended up creating an LLC which required an attorney’s input and filing fees. This will vary from attorney to attorney. Our attorney was able to give us a huge discount, as she is also a member.
We asked our members for a capital contribution of $40, but this fell a little short of our needs. Some members donated some cash to help get us started. Our website was a big cash hog for us. Oklahoma and Nebraska offer their software for free, but we needed to tweak it for our use and we had to pay a webmaster for his time. Also, there are grants out there to help coops get started. We don’t qualify for them since we opted to become an LLC.
How Long Did It Take To Set Up?
It took us about a year to get everything into place. I imagine if you start smaller, you can begin placing orders right away.
How Big Do You Expect To Become?
We have 60 members at the moment and several pending. The word is spreading so we think we’ll be doubling our size by the end of the year.
Do You Make Any Money?
We did not begin this as a money making proposition. Our goal was, and still is, to provide good quality organic food and products produced locally. We want to create food security and provide a sound marketplace for local farmers and producers. We’re breaking even right now and that’s all we hope to do, unless we expand into a storefront.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Remember, we were clueless when we started and it has taken awhile, but we’re finally up and running. My best advice, is not to get discouraged. We’ve had many obstacles and failures and we’ve had to redirect many times, but none of us gave up at the same time, that helped.
Even if you begin with just five people, you can increase your buying power and grow. Now, we have farmers that are prepared to grow just for our 60 families. We have one farmer that is looking for additional land to lease to increase his CSA so that he will have more surplus to grow for us. In this way, we’re creating job security for him and he’s creating food security for us. It’s a total win-win for everyone.
Please visit www.bountifulsprout.org and then make something happen in your area. I hope you get started asap.
If anyone has any suggestions on how we can make our project better, I would love to hear them. If you are local and want to become a member or producer, we would love to have you.
Thanks for reading.