(From left, Delridge Produce Co-Op organizer Galena White, Nola [daughter of Jennifer Grant], board members Jennifer Grant and Ranette Iding, volunteer consultant Johnathan Oliver from Heart On My Sleeve)
The next big event for the volunteers working toward a Delridge Produce Cooperative is a community potluck (to which you’re invited!) one week from tomorrow, and they gathered to work on the plan last night at Pearls coffeehouse. Music, food, a raffle, and even a chili-making demonstration are planned for the event 11 am-2 pm (see the flyer on the Delridge Produce Cooperative home page) Saturday, March 28, at Youngstown Arts Center. Your role? Show up, with “healthy food” to share, and have fun. Meantime, co-op organizer Galena White recently wrote up a recap of how this all got started, in response to requests from other media looking into stories about the Delridge Produce Cooperative effort, and we want to share her story as an inspirational instance of one person who decided to stop “complaining” – and take action – see what she did, step by step:
I have always wanted to make the world a better place. Since I’ve been unemployed, it seems natural that I would turn to volunteering to fill my time, but I did not do that. I thought that the world didn’t want to be changed, so I just kept on complaining. Finally, certain political developments that took place in the fall of 2008 convinced me that anything was possible – so I started looking for volunteer opportunities. One day, when I was walking to Delridge Library from the bus stop, I saw the office of the Delridge Neighborhood Development Association. I walked in and asked if they could tell me about any volunteer opportunities in the area. Phillippia Goldsmith, whose desk is near the entrance, told me about a community committee to improve the health of Delridge residents. It turned out that the committee was a project of the King County Food and Fitness Initiative. We later named it TEAM (Thrive Eat Act Move) Delridge. During our committee discussions about food and fitness in Delridge, I learned that (like me) many people were concerned, inconvenienced, and disappointed by the lack of healthy food available for purchase in the Delridge neighborhood. It was nice to hear that other people agreed, but I didn’t think that I could actually do anything about the issue, and so I didn’t think much more about it. Since I had decided to attend any classes that I could find about community-building, I showed up one night at the Neighborhood Matching Fund Q&A session, thinking that I was going to learn about grass-roots organizing. What I actually left that meeting with was the idea that I could somehow use the NMF to start a produce cooperative.
The promise of the NMF was what gave me the courage to say, “Nobody’s actually working on getting a healthy food store onto Delridge. With the help of this fund, it is feasible to get started this year, and I can commit myself to getting it done!” Since I took that leap of faith, I’ve learned a lot about community organizing (not nearly as much as I need to know), not least of which is the truth of what can actually be done with the Large Project and Small & Simple Neighborhood Matching Fund grants. We can’t actually use those funds to start an organization, but we can use them to increase awareness of the issues, to drive participation in all kinds of community food issues, and to document the demand for better food. Once community involvement and awareness is increased, it will be much easier to start a co-op.
A produce cooperative storefront offers a business model that has many advantages. With only one kind of product, we can streamline our storefront to the bare minimum to reduce overhead. Fresh produce is the one thing that we can all agree is healthy and environmentally correct, regardless of culture, religion, or morals. Fresh produce is also the one thing that practically all of us have the capability to farm, which means that the prospect of the food being very locally-grown and barter-able is increased.
With a cooperative, the funds to start and maintain the business come from individuals, which means that we might not have to apply for loans, and prices will stay low. With a non-profit cooperative, we can offer greatly reduced prices to community members in need, and tax-deductible status to all donations. In a storefront or permanent tent, a produce stand will provide regular access to fresh produce on Delridge. For all of these reasons, when I thought about how to get better food on Delridge, I decided that a non-profit, local, organic (or, if not certified organic, then grown with a promise of staying within certain parameters) produce cooperative was the best and fastest way to accomplish significant improvement.
The first person whom I told about my ambition was Phillippia Goldsmith. She was excited about the idea, and kindly put me in touch with many people. I have since met and exchanged emails with many individuals and representatives of organizations. Two urban tree-fruit collection agencies have agreed that they would like to sell us fruit when we are ready, five local farmers have said that they would like to be suppliers, Minh Chau Le from the Marra Farms P-Patch for small for-profit growers has said that it would be helpful if we provided an outlet for their sales, we have talked to the growing Seattle Farm Worker’s Cooperative about eventual suppliership, we are communicating with West Seattle food banks about working together, and we have contacted and been contacted by numerous other organizations like the Nature Consortium to increase community awareness of the project and foster mutually beneficial partnerships. Ron Angeles gave me great advice, and helped me get a Small Sparks grant to hold a fun-packed potluck on March 28th, 11am – 2pm, Saturday, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.
Through some of these connections, the West Seattle Blog was made aware of the project, and was able to inform great numbers of people of the first few meetings. Since the first meeting, we have had one every week, and the volunteers who showed up to these meetings have contributed graphic designs, printing, grant writing skills, fundraising time, work time, and great wealths of knowledge, connections, and brainstorming. We hope that the potluck will encourage many people to contribute volunteer time to our next project.
We now have less than three weeks until the deadline to apply for a summer NMF grant. If we make it, this grant can supply us with money to set up a tent and tables on the side of Delridge Street for four days a week for four weeks straight in the summertime. The first major benefit of this stall is that it will provide us with the opportunity to inform the public about each and every one of the food-related community efforts going on in Delridge, including (of course) the Delridge Produce Cooperative. Since we are a cooperative, we are non-competetive and recognize that the best way to accomplish our common goals is to encourage our efforts to overlap so that they can snowball into major social change. The second major benefit of the stall will be that we will collect information about residents to determine what kind of produce they want, how much they want, what they can pay for it, and where they would like a storefront to be located. The results of that survey will provide the foundation for further efforts to improve food resources on Delridge. The survey will be translated into all the major languages spoken in the district, so that no-one’s opinion is left out. The information at the stall will also be available in all of those languages, if possible, and further translation will be obtained if necessary and available. The stall will be staffed by volunteers and by at-risk youth.
We will be offering free fruit and vegetables to the first 50 people to the stall each day (depending on donations), as well as samples (and copies) of recipes that you can make using only fresh produce for the major ingredients. We will also accept donations of homegrown produce at the stall, to hand out to people and spread awareness of the physical benefits of a center for food exchange in the neighborhood. We hope that the stall will broaden the base of community involvement in the issue to the degree that there is sufficient support for change.
With a community that is much more aware of the issues and possibilities, volunteers will find it easier to discuss the possibility of membership in a co-op with residents. If only 1,000 people buy $30 memberships, the co-op will have enough money to start a roadside produce stand before 2010. This goal is very reachable, with the only deciding factors being the dedication of volunteers and the willingness of the community; and if we only reach a *tenth* of the community with our message, we will be able to reach our goal! It is an extremely exciting time to be involved in this effort, and we always need new hands, hearts, and minds. Please email or call me if you want to get involved!
Galena continues to add information to this website about the cooperative, which is also where you can see how to reach her to get involved – but in the short run, make plans to enjoy the potluck event on March 28th!
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