From December through January I played phone tag with Chris Bauman, president of the Monashee Community Co-op (in Lumby) Board of Directors. I gathered, through voice messages at first, that she had exciting news to share! What I can share with you now is not only a good-news story, inside a global pandemic full of not-so-good-news-stories, but an opportunity for us to support a local business that holds potential to strengthen our regional food system as a whole (win, win, win).
As it turns out, Chris and a team of dedicated folks surrounding the community organic food Co-op have been working night and day to take the Co-op to the next level. Unlike most businesses, the Monashee Community Co-op has been blessed by COVID. They have seen membership jump from 577 to 707 in one year and sales increase by 65 percent! Three more employees have been hired and local, organic products are flying out the door. They have freezers in the office and boxes of chips in the hallway. The store is packed to the rafters with nowhere to go but OUT!
According to Chris, “serendipity put the recently vacated Valley First Credit Union building right in front of us,” and they moved quickly to have an offer accepted to buy the building. It seemed perfect really. The building has four times the space, is on a centrally located corner on the main street of Lumby, and would meet their vision like no other property in Lumby. It is easy to imagine how such a space would allow them to secure a future, given their current growing needs to build a business that would serve the community in new and holistic ways for decades to come.
With this building, local food security becomes more real. Support for local farmers, producers and businesses within the Lumby area and larger North Okanagan becomes more powerful. As Chris puts it, “with our own building, we can envision a future of health and well-being—perhaps a greenhouse on the roof; a cafe on the second floor; a health advisor in the corner office.”
What about (as came out in our excited phone conversations), a kitchen space for local food processors? Or increased cold storage and freezer space that we, at Land to Table, consistently hear the need for. Perhaps the building could offer workshop space for people to gather to cook good, nutritious food together (when we can do that again). The building holds the potential for so much that could contribute to increased community food security and a stronger more vibrant food system. Most obvious is the increased buying power that the co-op has gained (and will continue to grow) to offer an important retail avenue for local farmers to sell through.
The initial task was to “roll up our sleeves and make it happen.” For two months the Board of Directors, with a group of Co-op members, took a good run at buying the Valley First Building. They learned fast and explored the different loans available through members and non-traditional institutions and investment cooperatives. They needed $400,000 secured by March 15th! A tall order!
Unfortunately, the Co-op did not have the financial wherewithal to raise these funds in such a short period of time. However, this intrepid group of co-op members found a way around this initial hurdle, Instead, a group of co-op members, as spearheaded by Julie Jones, have come together to create a corporation (Monashee Community Investment Corporation) that will buy the building, do renovations and lease the main floor back to the Co-op. The aim is to sell 40 shares at $25,000 each. Over time, as the Co-op grows, they will buy into the corporation to own shares in the building that way.
According to Chris there is a lot of interest from folks to invest in the corporation (especially from those who were initially considering providing member loans). She says that this shift feels more manageable (than getting loans and servicing debt) but it also means that less money will go directly to the Co-op. As a result they have refocused fundraising efforts (through donations and grants) to cover moving expenses, equipment, renovations and set-up costs. They estimate that $125,000 is needed!
Perhaps this is where the good-news story gets better (if my writing skills have succeeded in appealing to your COVID-heavy hearts and desire to support something good to come out of these crazy times)…
There are a couple of ways we can help. Perhaps the easiest, if you are in or near Lumby, is to simply buy more at the Co-op! Consider making the Co-op your first-stop shop, for more items, rather than your second or third stop.
Or you can donate directly via the Monashee Go Fund Me page here (and just imagine the lumber your money went toward for that new wall, or the shelving you have helped purchase for the increased local products they will stock).
If you are interested in investing in the building as a shareholder of the Monashee Community Investment Corporation, please contact Julie Jones at: 250-547-9464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And lastly, spread the word! Share via your network how you have, and how others can support “the little Co-op that could”. So that they really can (succeed), and so that we can all watch the potential of this community co-op unfold over the years to come—as they support more farmers and increase community food security and well-being.
(Special thanks to Chris Bauman, whose writing is shared directly in this blog post.)