Prices rising, time to grow our own

Idea of co-op store in Maple Ridge, could lead to a community focus place

ower companies ignored rural communities because running lines to them wasn’t profitable.

Nine out of 10 Americans went without electric light until President Roosevelt stepped up to the plate for ordinary folk.

His Rural Electrification Act (1936) allowed cooperatives to borrow cash for their own infrastructures.

The   U.S. National Cooperative Grocers Association notes that lives were instantly transformed and vastly improved. Today, co-ops account for 42 per cent of power distribution in the States.

A co-op business, owned and operated by members to address their specific needs and lifestyle, “is all about bringing people together and connecting in valuable ways,” says Kim Lauzon of Maple Ridge.

Lauzon is enrolled in  SFU’s Sustainable Community Development Program. In a co-op, she says, “there’s a feeling of responsibility for others, of caring for them, and for the community as a whole.”

The idea of neighbours collaborating for mutual benefit, and the community building that results from that, is something we’ve heard before from Gerry Pinel, chair of the Golden Ears Transition Initiative. Lauzon also heads a working group that is part of GETI.

The group hopes to help build Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows by starting a food co-op.

It’s a timely idea. Food security is increasingly at risk. This year, droughts have wiped out corn production in two-thirds of the U.S. Constant increases in transportation costs erode family buying power. Those giant carrots from China you see in local markets could be too pricey before long.

The quality and safety of food is also a concern. Some blueberry growers advertise, “no spray” but is that always true? Some folks like to visit the guy who grows his vegetables to check out the growing practices

“A co-op would increase the availability of local, sustainable, and nutritional food and household products,” says Lauzon. Most of that would be natural or organic. Co-ops pioneered the organic food industry according to the U.S. National Cooperative Grocers Association. It says organic produce sold in food co-ops now averages 82 per cent – compared to 12 per cent for conventional grocers.

Food co-ops are good citizens, too.

Among grocers, they continue to lead the way in sustainable, socially responsible business practice.

According to the U.S. National Cooperative Grocers Association, food co-ops work with more local farmers, pay employees more and provide greater health benefits. They return more money to local economies, and give three times as much to local charities. Co-ops are also models of recycling. The Grocers say they average 96 per cent for cardboard, 74 per cent for food waste, and 81 per cent for plastics – well beyond anything claimed by conventional grocery stores.

Facts like these sustain Lauzon as she begins her quest for a co-op but she knows the road ahead is fraught with twists and turns.

Still, Lauzon’s taken the first steps.

She’s formed a co-op steering committee to bring business and other skills to play. Lauzon has some of those skills herself. At SFU, she studied leadership, sustainable development, and food systems. Course work in grant writing will help finance a feasibility study.

In October, Lauzon plans to survey folks in Maple Ridge to assess public support for a food co-op. She thinks the event – a questionnaire mixed with local entertainment – will take place at a local pub, but doesn’t have a specific location or date as yet.

If the results of her research are positive, the committee will determine its next move. Lauzon says there’s a lot to learn – licencing and regulations, regular suppliers, food and product sources to firm up, the location of the distribution centre, and everything else that’s involved in the day-to-day operation of a business.

At this time, Lauzon isn’t even sure what the co-op would look like. Ultimately, it might resemble her favourite co-op in Bellingham.

“It looks like a grocery store – local meats, dairy products, produce, reusable bags, products for sustainable living. There are bulletin boards, a display of children’s art work and crafts, local, handmade goods, locally grown and sustainably sourced foods and cleaning products.”

The differences, says Lauzon, are not seen, as much as experienced. “People greet you like a neighbour.

Many times, someone might call you by name. They might start a conversation about the farm up the road where the milk came from. It’s like the hub of a community.

“People come together, discover common interests. Sometimes, there’s workshops. You have conversations with people about vitamins, life in general. You lose a sense of time because you weren’t just shopping, and checking the list of things you had to do that day, you were experiencing a sense of connection with others. Because of what happens in a co-op, and what it does, I always feel I’m doing something good when I shop there,” says Lauzon.

“I find it hard to leave the store.”