Great Events: Hondo Co-op Market’s First Event

By Adrianna Young from Hondo, Texas.

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The staff at FCI loves hearing about the great events that startup co-ops offer. They build membership, teach people about co-ops, and bring the communities together over food, and local food systems. FCI wants to share some of these with you in our blog stories on Great Events.
Hondo Co-op Market in Texas is in Stage 1 development stage, and Adrianna Young is a driving force behind getting this startup launched. Community meetings have moved them forward towards incorporation. They are working hard to show their community—a blend of small town surrounded by farms and ranches—to understand what a co-op is, and why Hondo needs one. Adrianna welcomes questions at ayoung0509@yahoo.com., and we are glad she is willing to share this first tabling experience with others.

Hello from Hondo, is a rural community in south central Texas with a population of about 9,000 residents.  Rich with agricultural resources, farmers and local producers, several of our local farmers provide produce for our two large grocers in town, H.E.B and Walmart. Many of Hondo residents share the common vision that Hondo is an ideal place for a retail food cooperative.  We have been inspired by the growing interest in the co-op and the flourishing attendance at each monthly meeting.

We started formally organizing in Spring 2016. Our first outreach event was 4th of July in ‘God’s Country’, the local nickname for Hondo.  We chose the annual Independence Day celebration because we felt prepared to start outreach, and the event is a manageable size. As a fledgling startup we had limited workers, but we felt this would be a good first event for us. Committing to the day forced us to get more of our early organizing work done.  We needed to table, but first we needed to clarify our mission.

Two weeks beforehand we held a meeting to create our vision statement. We broke into small groups with a list of questions to discuss and answer.  After about twenty minutes we read everyone’s ideas and created one vision statement. This would ensure we were all on the same page and could share the same information with our prospective members at our outreach event.

Vision statement:

Hondo Co-op Market is a member-owned, locally-focused consumer co-op serving the surrounding Medina community. Hondo Co-op Market provides access to local produce, local services, high quality products at the best possible price and a community space for cooking and wellness classes. Hondo Co-op Market furnishes a central vending location for local producers.

IMG_5030Our goal for the event was to promote the idea of having a retail food co-op in Hondo and to poll interest from individuals that shared the same vision. We also wanted to share food items made with local ingredients. Another intention was to connect with local businesses and local producers and get their feelings and opinion on a food cooperative in Hondo. Our main tool for reaching out has been social media and email.

Preparation for the event was easy and not too expensive. Our local print shop created our banner. ($50) A friend picked it up for me and paid for it, her donation for the event. I purchased a 12 by 12 foot canopy, and attached our banner. Two main tables served for sign-up sheets and informational materials. I created a nice informational flyer to hand out.A homemade soap display promoting support for a local family business. We sold patty pan squash muffins and zucchini bread muffins for $.50-1.00, but we only sold a few. Next time, we will have our treat tables closer to the front of the canopy.

image2We decided that we would have free art for children—vegetable coloring sheets, bubble wrap art, jewelry making and simple chicken origami activity. The kiddos and families had a blast! (I researched art ideas and purchased the supplies; we had two supporters give $90 collectively to help with material costs). I painted the signs for each art activity and set up three tables for each activity.The tables stayed busy throughout the evening. We stayed pretty busy helping the kiddos with their projects. We had six co-op supporters helping at our booth, some in short shifts and some until cleanup at 11:00 p.m.  

This event was a success. Next time, fewer art projects, and more focus on local food and co-op. The art projects became too involved and seemed to take away quality chatting time with prospective members. In the future perhaps an easy coloring page, local food samples, and more local items on display.

Our volunteers were awesome and were confident in Hondo Co-op Market’s vision.They were all very comfortable sharing the benefits of a food co-op in Hondo. For our next event, it might be helpful to have volunteers outside of the canopy greeting supporters.  Prep hours for the event ran about 4-6 hours for a small group of volunteers doing research, printing flyers, painting signs, picking up t-shirts from printer. Research art ideas, travel time to San Antonio for materials (35 miles from Hondo).

Advice I can give to another Stage 1 having their first event?  Colorful banner, matching t-shirts, a vision statement to communicate to prospective members, meet before your event to plan activities, perhaps create a shift schedule for volunteers, be sure of your focus for the day. I feel we focused on the art projects too much. Bring lots of water to drink and snacks. Have supplies like duct tape, Sharpies, extra poster boards, pens, zip ties for fastening items to your canopy, and light up your canopy!  It draws attention. Play music, smile and most of all have fun!

Our next outreach event will be in October at the Camo 5K Run. We are also in the planning stages for Hondo Co-op Market’s Local Taste event. We learned a lot this round, and are really looking forward to doing more outreach and building excitement for our future co-op.

FCI: Why We Like This:  Getting the word out that you are planning for a co-op, and talking to community members about what a co-op can mean to your community, is a critical first step for every startup. Jumping in to advocate while you are still learning the co-op ropes may seem scary, but it can create awesome community involvement. Plan continued public events as the behind the scenes work of organizing ramps up, and move towards being able to start your member/owner drive.
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Startup Interviews: Natural State Food Co-op

An interview with Devon Foster.

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The staff at FCI knows that the path to opening a new retail food co-op is rarely a straight line. But learning that other startups face the same challenges, and how they cope with them, is a great tool for any organizing group. Startup Interviews will highlight various groups all across teh country,. Thanks to Devon Foster of Natural State Food Co-op in Arkansas for being the first. 

FCI: Tell us about where Natural State Food Co-op is located – what kind of community/area is it, what is your current definition of where you will locate your store (within a certain town? a county? etc)

Devin Foster (DF): Little Rock, Arkansas is an urban food desert with large numbers of Low Income (LI) and Low Access (LA) households, meaning that a significant number of downtown Little Rock residents are located more than one urban mile from their nearest supermarket, and are less likely to have access to a vehicle. Much of this economic marginalization by neighborhood can be traced to redlining, blockbusting, and the rise of suburban developments, as well as the construction of highways in the 1950’s which sliced through urban residential areas. With a renewed interest in downtown living and urban vitality, many new residents are discovering what previous tenants have had to put up with for decades – a very noticeable lack of grocery stores.

The Natural State Food Co-op’s startup HQ, through a membership with the recently-opened Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, is located in Downtown North Little Rock, a quaint neighborhood also called Argenta.

Downtown Little Rock and Downtown North Little Rock are separated by a short bridge across the Arkansas River. Both suffer from a lack of decent grocery options, and our Board and volunteers comprise of residents of both cities. Our official stance is that the co-op will go where (1) the first 500 members want it; (2) there is a social need; and (3) it makes financial and retail sense. However, we are focusing our outreach and visibility efforts in the Downtown NLR, Downtown Little Rock, and SoMa (South Downtown) neighborhoods, which we feel meet both (2) and (3).

FCI:  How long has Natural State Food Co-op been organizing and how did it begin?

Natural State boothDF: We began organizing in spring 2014 after the closure of a boutique grocery store in Argenta, when community members held a meeting with the manager of the only grocery food co-op in Arkansas, Ozark Natural Foods (located over 3 hours away from Little Rock), to discuss what they could do to put a grocery store back in central North/Little Rock. Ozark Natural Foods offered support and mentorship should the community decide to start a food co-op. The resulting core group of volunteers has formed a Board of Directors, incorporated, adopted bylaws with the assistance of our mentor co-op, and begun the work of community engagement.

FCI: What is the core vision of Natural State Food Co-op that drives your organizing work?

DF: There are far too many businesses in Arkansas which leave their communities worse off, particularly when it comes to food. We want neighborhood access to tasty, nutritious food that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and we want a local business which enriches its community, not the other way round. And lastly, we want to serve and support our local farmers and sustainable producer co-ops by being their best customer!

FCI: What is next up for NSFC?

DF: While we have the legal and financial logistics of a Stage 1 Startup Co-op checked off, we are now focusing on building a strong volunteer and member-ownership base preparatory to launching a BIG membership drive. We’re also planning a regular Co-op Speaker Series featuring a talk or workshop on topics of interest to build community and offer something of value while we move forward with the business of starting a business.

FCI: What is your greatest challenge right now as as a startup?

We can only pick one?

The greatest challenge we’ve discovered is how to communicate what a grocery co-op is, and what the startup process will entail.

There is only one grocery co-op in NW Arkansas, while producer co-ops are everywhere. This is fantastic for our farmers (shout-out to Grass Roots Livestock Cooperative, Little Rock Tomato, and Foodshed Farms), but it can be a source of initial misunderstanding when we unfurl our “Co-op” banner at an event or promote the Facebook page, and makes for a slow undertaking in getting the word out, enrolling volunteers, and gaining new member-owners. Clarifying the difference between a farmer’s co-op feed & seed and a consumer-owned grocery co-op sometimes requires more than one conversation.

An equally great challenge is organizing ourselves as a collective of very busy volunteers: attending meetings, coming up with and agreeing on next steps, and holding ourselves accountable for follow through. Focusing on more than one Cornerstone at a time can be difficult without a strong foundation of take-charge volunteers, a bit like rubbing your belly while patting your head. Happily we’ve been making good progress on that learning curve, one new volunteer at a time!

Want to share your startup story? FCI welcomes ideas for Great Events, Startup Interviews, and any other topic! Email info@fci.coop to work with us and share your story.

Great Events: Movie Night

Reposted from April 25, 2014 – Food Co-op Initiative staff
“Everything I learned I learned from the movies.” ― Audrey Hepburn

popcorn-1413413768A5QHosting a movie night can have many benefits for your startup. Publicising the event will create PR for your project. You can likely raise a small amount of money from admissions and/or sale of concessions. If a social hour is held afterwards, movie night can be a community builder. And if you use the titles below, you’re sure to inspire some first rate discussions of food issues.

Food for Change
Focuses on the food co-op movement in the U.S., including the way they are strengthening communities and helping the local economy. http://www.foodforchange.coop

Forks Over Knives
Examines whether degenerative diseases can be controlled or reversed by diets free of animal-based and processed foods. http://www.forksoverknives.com

Seeds of Freedom
Charts the story of seed, including the impact the industrial agricultural system and genetically modified seeds have on communities around the world. http://www.seedsoffreedom.info

What’s on Your Plate?
Follows two 11-year-olds from New York City as they discover where their food comes from and learn more about sustainable food practices, including co-ops. http://www.whatsonyourplateproject.org

American Meat
A pro-farmer documentary about a grass-roots revolution in sustainable farming — starring Virginia’s own Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farms — explains how America arrived at its current industrial system and explores the burgeoning local-food movement of farmers, chefs and everyday folks who are changing the way meat reaches the American table. http://www.americanmeatfilm.com

King Corn
A story of two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. As the film unfolds, two best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-ubiquitous grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat-and how we farm. http://www.kingcorn.net