Heidi Demars is the Outreach Coordinator for the BisMan Community Food Co-op. She was selected by the Bush Foundation as a 2013 Bush Leadership Fellow and is working to increase food literacy in the community and to create connections and strong relationships between consumers and producers in the region.
Growing a food cooperative from the ground up
Throughout the last decade the demand and production of local food markets has increased substantially. The number of U.S. farmers’ markets rose 200% from 1998 to 2014, and the number of community supported agricultural organizations nearly tripled from 2001 to 2005. More and more people want a connection to their food source. Additionally, the demand for organic, whole, and minimally processed foods is growing rapidly.
Food cooperatives can be a great solution to address these growing demands. But what if your community doesn’t have a food cooperative? Start one!
Food cooperatives are on the rise throughout the U.S. with over 120 new start-up’s in development. Co-op developers are calling this the “second wave” of food co-op’s, the first of which began in the late 60’s and early 70’s as part of the counter-culture.
Food co-op’s are owned by consumers or “member-owners” and are governed democratically. Each owner has one vote and a voice in the direction of the co-op including what foods they carry, policies, etc. They exist to fulfill the needs and aspirations of the members and provide the members with benefits including member discounts and patronage refunds in profitable years.
The BisMan Community Food Co-op in Bismarck, ND started as a conversation among a diverse group of people wanting more convenient access to good food. That conversation turned into monthly meetings, which turned into a core group of talented and committed community members willing to serve on the board of directors. This group found several resources including the Food Co-op Initiative, a non-profit based out of MN, and several other food co-ops across the country that were willing to provide information and support to create the BisMan Community Food Co-op, of which I became the Outreach Coordinator.
Following a positive feasibility study, we decided to incorporate and began selling memberships to the public. And as it turns out, the community was behind us in a big way! In just a year’s time, we grew our membership to 600 households and are planning to hire our first General Manager in the next few months. We are in the process of establishing a site and plan to open in 2015.
This process has taught me a few things:
Gandhi was right. We need to “be the change” and roll up our sleeves if we want to make a difference. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.
People are amazing. We have had so many amazing volunteers and they have given their time selflessly. Whether it was developing our brochure, creating our website and marketing plan, photography, fundraising, graphic design, or a member stepping up to spread the word, I am so proud of our community. This co-op is literally being created by the community for the community, and that is pretty special.
Go for it! Whether it’s creating a co-op in your community or following your dreams, there will always be uncertainty and doubt. But the key is to do it anyway and have faith in your abilities. And if you don’t know how to do something, just ask for help. You’d be amazed at how many people will step up and want you to succeed