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Featured articles, updates and news from your Silver City Food Co-op.

Pick Two and Call Me Back

Businesses providing goods and services often face competing expectations and must balance them. Customers often want it all.
From years past, I remember a captioned photo hanging in a print shop, showing a person on the telephone, behind a very crowded desk: “You want it good, cheap, and fast? Pick two and call me back!”
I thought of that awkward but pragmatic truth recently after hearing another complaint describing food co-ops as “too expensive.” In a related criticism, co-ops are “not accessible” to low-income shoppers. Those are actually two different points that get run together, and the “too expensive” complaint often is from someone who is not low-income—examples of the complexities around this topic.
An additional but related problem is how to make the cooperative’s member-owner investment easier for moderate-income shoppers.
There is some truth in the point about prices. But the complaint occurs firstly, even before declining household earnings, because most shoppers, even those who eat well and can buy whatever food they want, are captive to a cheap-food market psychology. Production abuses and other externalized costs are ignored in most grocery prices.
For food co-ops, it is a dilemma, because when offering quality food (organic, sustainable, often local) the co-op cannot say: “You want it cheap, with fair prices for farmers and fair wages for workers? Pick two and call me back!”
Food co-ops are driven by their mission to offer good value as well as to pay fair prices. Given the scale of its operations compared to competitors in investment-driven enterprise, the co-op’s food is unlikely to be less expensive compared to conventionally produced items. That distinction is not always made, which reinforces the confusion. It also points to the issue of price image vs. price reality—price image brings additional challenges. But when comparing organic apples to organic apples, or more usefully a basket of items to a like basket, co-ops typically are competitively priced, and that crucial like-to-like assumption makes for a different discussion.
Problems can be solved, while dilemmas are conditions that can only be navigated or moderated. For retail food cooperatives, pressure around price exists for organic product, and it also arises when retailing local product. Procuring and selling organic and/or local product is an area in which co-ops excel, yet often the source is a small or artisanal producer whose clean methods and small scale result in higher prices.
This price dilemma also is a key challenge identified in a new study about the Minneapolis-St. Paul area’s cooperative local food system. The case study, which I co-authored with Joan Stockinger, is available from Cooperative Development Services, www.cdsus.coop. We found that many thousands of food co-op member-owners and others are willing to pay a premium, yet price is still a key challenge:
• There can be tensions between various multiple values in the local food system. The most visible of these is around price, within a context seeking the following:
• Fair return to farmers using sustainable practices and operating at a family scale
• Commitment to paying employees fair wages and benefits/good jobs
• Desire to provide healthy, high-quality food to people of limited means
There is much more to be said about what food co-ops are doing to make their services and member-ownership accessible to moderate-income shoppers. Such efforts are necessary in a society in which half of the population now has zero financial assets or even negative net worth. Co-ops offer such practices as:
• Reduced margins on basic food items
• Classes on how to eat well affordably (shop bulk, less meat, cook at home)
• Purchase discounts for shoppers who also participate in needs-based public programs
Owner investment methods that allow a low beginning payment and extended terms for becoming a co-op member—even allowing the remainder of the investment to come solely through patronage refunds (there also are examples of programs in which other member-owners make donations supporting memberships to low-income applicants).

by Dave Gutknecht
[visit http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop for more information about cooperatives]

Cooperatives: Partners in Community

As we all know, the world is in a period of sweeping, fast-paced change, a situation reflected in the lives of all earth dwellers, even those of us living in the comparatively isolated town of Silver City, NM. Many facets of our lives are assuming unfamiliar forms, owing to a tidal wave of technology that is creating its own momentum, carrying us uneasily through uncharted waters. Although uncertainty has, indeed, always been a defining characteristic of life, the global nature of our current transformation and the velocity with which it is occurring is a new and often challenging situation. We are, all of us, searching for ways to make sense of things and to contribute in ways that are beneficial for all.
As individuals, we might ask ourselves how we can help to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. One way to do this is by becoming a member of a food cooperative in your home town. In dealing with the challenges that now confront us, co-ops are at the vanguard of a movement to create and maintain sources of healthy, sustainable food. Environmental issues (especially as they relate to our food system) and community-building are at the core of this effort and have the potential to support and expand our local economies.
As the word “cooperative suggests,” any effort put forth to these ends is a democratically organized project. The principles of cooperation have always existed amongst people working together within groups, but the cooperative “movement” began with the application of these principles to business organizations in 19th century Europe, primarily in France and Britain. Cooperative enterprises are now flourishing worldwide. More than one billion people throughout the world are members of co-ops that span a wide range of organizations, but all place people at the center. They adhere to a broader set of values than those associated purely with making a profit. Because co-ops are owned and democratically controlled by their members, the decisions made by cooperatives balance the need for profitability with the needs of their members and the wider interests of the community.
2014 is a special year for the Silver City Food Co-op. We are turning 40! Beginning in 1974, the Co-op has grown from a buying club composed of just a few people into a thriving downtown business that provides healthy food and educational programs for Silver City and the surrounding region. Striving to meet the needs of folks here at home, within the context of the current issues of the global community, we are now working to develop projects that revolve around hunger issues and sustainable food production in our locale. One program, established in 2009 in partnership with the Volunteer Center of Grant County (tvcgrantcounty.org), is a local Food Pantry which provides supplemental food for people in need. Secondly, in 2010 the Co-op collaborated with other organizations to establish the Grant County Food Policy Council (gcfoodpolicycouncil.org), dedicated to identifying important food issues and monitoring the local food system, coordinating connections between leaders in both the public and private sectors, and identifying policies, projects and partnerships that cultivate a sustainable food system.
These are just two examples of the types of projects that are at the heart of our commitment to helping to create a healthier, stronger community. We are part of a maturing co-op movement that is establishing itself as an influential force dedicated to the well-being of all people. As we move forward, the Silver City Food Co-op is continuing to develop an outreach program that is based on sharing and inclusiveness. When you support your local food co-op, you are acting to change our world in a positive way.

Thank you for 40 years of your support!

Our Co-op was one of many begun in the 1970’s that gave birth to and nurtured the market for natural foods. SCFC traces its roots to 1974 when a small group of pioneering locals (many of whom still inhabit the area) joined together as a members-only buying club to purchase affordable whole foods. Whole wheat flour, a variety of grains, and tubs of honey were among the first foods delivered in bulk quantities by a mix of trucking collectives out of Tucson. The buying club operated out of Beth Menczer’s checkbook and orders were split up at the “store,” which was actually the back porch of Susan and David Berry’s residence, an elegant structure built by one-time chairman of the Grant County commission, Isaac Cohen, in 1882. During open hours, the co-op was manned, or womanned, by two volunteers, and the entire operation was run by committee. There were open-the-store, pick-up-the-money, ordering, inventory, and physical plant committees. There was even, at one point, a mouse committee which was comprised of David Berry and his cat!
In 1976 the first paid coordinator was hired at $2.36 per hour for 16 hours a week. Although trucking problems developed, various enterprising and energetic folk, like Jerry Matthews (still a frequent shopper at SCFC) made the Tucson run in their own vehicles. In that same year, the co-op started Silver City’s first recycling center on the Texas side of the store. Recyclables were taken to Tucson when the food order was picked up. All these years later, Susan Berry says that she and David still find remnants of glass from the center.
By 1977 the co-op had moved to a storefront at 108 East Broadway, open to members and non-members alike. Jim Goodkind was manager at that time and deliveries were coming from Tucson every four weeks. The bulk bin system, designed by Jack Brennan and Tom Mershon, featured five-gallon metal buckets with self-closing lids.
Business was thriving, the Tucson truck was now delivering every two weeks and, in 1979, local attorney David Lane processed the paperwork necessary to allow us to function as a non-profit organization. After years of dedication, Jim Goodkind resigned as manager and the co-op went through a series of co-managers during the next year and a half. The early ‘80s were a turbulent time for the co-op. Some workers were dedicated to the cause but there was far more work than people to do it. There were cash flow problems, too many empty shelves, and ongoing financial challenges. Ed Anthes (manager for five years) and Pamela Patrick, who managed with energy and devotion for a total of 15 years, helped bring the co-op through and out of this difficult time.
In 1985, while business revitalized and sales continued to rise, the co-op moved to our current location at 520 N. Bullard Street and four years later the Silver City Food Co-op purchased the building. In the early ‘90’s, many necessary repairs and upgrades were completed on the structure. The kitchen was completed by the end of 1992 and soon a big push was on to get more produce into the store, resulting in the wonderful array of fruits and veggies that we are able to offer our customers today. Pamela hired Kathleen Wigley as assistant manager in 1994 forming what turned out to be an extraordinarily effective leadership team for the store. Kathleen took over as manager in 1997 (necessity had called Pamela away to attend to family matters) and served the co-op and community in that capacity until 2008. Doug Zilm took over as head of the store for three years after Kathleen’s departure and Joe Zwiebach is now leading SCFC into the future. Over the years, our co-op has continued to thrive and adapt to changing conditions thanks to the support of our member/owners, the community at large, and our fabulous staff!
This short article just touches on some of the highlights of our Co-op’s history but, throughout our 40th anniversary year, there will be more articles and celebrations to look forward to. Please stay tuned!
(Many thanks to Betty Mishuk and Pamela Patrick whose previous writings on the early Co-op years provided most of the information contained in this article)