Food co-op calling for community support

Likely, you’ve heard the buzz by now that area residents and Rockford City staff have been working on bringing a food cooperative to town. This has been a year-long-plus effort that has required many, many volunteer hours dedicated to research, formation and public awareness.

The momentum has grown significantly since the initial meeting, and a lot of the background work has been completed. The next step, however, is a big one. It requires a commitment from a larger segment of the community.

Coops are community owned, so a majority of the financial backing required to open the doors and maintain inventory, as well as covering operating costs until it becomes self-sufficient, comes from the community in the way of membership dues. Coops are not new, but this is the first of its kind in the area, and members of the coop committee would like to communicate clearly to the public on the matter of dues.

The Crow River Food Co-op has established membership dues of $200 per household.  This is a one-time membership payment, and is not like Sam’s Club or Costco, both of which require annual membership dues in order for shoppers to partake in bulk purchasing cost savings. Members and non-members can shop at a coop, although there are incentives to those who “buy in” with specials and discounts. The membership dues amount is also considered a “stake” in the business, and may result in dividends if, or when, the business becomes profitable enough to distribute.

Fresh veggies from local farmers are one of the advantages a local food coop can deliver.

Fresh veggies from local farmers are one of the advantages a local food coop can deliver.

Doug White, a longtime Rockford resident and coop committee member, says that he would like area residents to know this:

“From the research available, the startup of a food co-op includes raising at least 60% of the capital needed to open the doors on their store from members, the rest may be a bank loan. The capital is raised by membership dues, loans from members, fundraising, grants, etc. The membership loans are paid back over a period of time with interest.

Join Sept. 15, at Riverside Park on Main Street, from 7 to 11 p.m. at the membership drive.  To lure you out, will be serving appetizers prepared by local China Buffet, local wine, beer, music by local DJ and a silent auction to raise some money

The Crow River Food Co-op’s feasibility study, prepared by KWA Associates, provided the coop with estimated sales projections for the first three years and the best location to lease for our operations for the first five, or more, years. We are working on fine-tuning a start up budget and will be meeting with the CEO of Bank West in Rockford, who is willing to assist us with all of our capital needs. The Crow River Food Co-op has received some numbers on a potential lease, which includes equipment and build out estimates for the store.”

White, who once owned a pharmacy in Rockford, has witnessed the loss of local grocers in Rockford and, like many others, would like to see a viable contender available to residents that would bring, or keep, them home to shop. It’s good for the city on many levels, expected to help promote additional local retail and service operations. The Rockford City staff and council have worked hard on this issue for several years, and at the urging of residents, obtaining a detailed market study and contacting commercial grocers.

There has been interest, but the sluggish housing market and economy has left the community in limbo on this issue. The option of starting a food cooperative has breathed a little well-needed life into the effort and, in many ways, seems a great fit for this bedroom community. Community owned, board run, a coop has the advantage of tailoring its stock to meet the needs of the community. It also has the flexibility of buying from local vendors, something less common to big-box stores, resulting in fresh and familiar grocery staples and local support to area farmers and businesses.

Tickets are available at the event.

To find out more about the Crow River Food Coop, go to www.crowriverfoodcoop.com.

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