Wednesday, December 4, 2013

More on Manitou's upcoming sustainable co-op

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2013 at 11:03 AM

In this week's Side Dish column, we hear from Elise Rothman d'Hauthuille, organizer of Manitou's Local First Grocer, a co-op that hasn't yet pinned down a location, but aims to be open relatively soon in Manitou Springs. 

Rothman d'Hauthuille says the venture is based on a new type of business model — removed from a dependency on mass consumption and high volume — with a focus on sustainability and creating a strong point of sale for truly locally produced goods. 

She also notes unconventional plans for item displays in her shop, namely product labels that include information about the carbon footprint as well as pictures of such things as factory vs. small-model farming

Here are a couple of examples she's provided:
click to enlarge Screen_shot_2013-12-04_at_10.00.26_AM.png
click to enlarge Screen_shot_2013-12-04_at_10.00.43_AM.png

Elaborating a little bit more on the store's model — which remains a bit fluid at this point, as Rothman d'Hauthuille will host a second community discussion for input this upcoming Friday (flier below) — she says she's "going to work day and night to identify local and small suppliers, to cut out as many middlemen as possible and cut out packaging ... and make up for the difference in margin by offering things in bulk traditionally marked up 40 percent in a grocery store."

She mentions keeping a lean inventory as well, for instance only offering one type of sugar: just Sugar in the Raw, rather than a dozen different sweeteners. 

She says this won't be for the "super foodies" seeking high-end organic items, but "for people who need to go to the store just for some sugar." 

Among other inspirations, she cites E.F. Schumacher's principles of appropriate technology, noting that people might not accept her new vision right away, and that it likely will take a couple of years to build a break-even structure. That said, initial investors, of which she says she's pinned down three of a desired six, will effectively subsidize the inventory purchase as well as help create pricing in line with or below major retailers "so locals will have no excuse not to shop here." 

Part of that goal, she says, is to keep $5 or $6 of every $10 spent in the community versus the two or three that stays at the big-box stores, "where the consumers are convinced they're getting a good deal, but they're not — they're getting screwed as the money is being siphoned out of our community." 

It's quite likely that Manitou's Local First Grocer will use many of the same growers and suppliers as Ivywild's Hunt or Gather, and Rothman d'Hauthuille notes that she's a big fan of that venture. But she aims to go beyond just the sourcing of what's already produced in the region, to incentivizing the growing of foods we don't even produce yet, likely through the use of greenhouses — for example, surprisingly hearty varieties of kiwi she believes are viable. 

Also, this new co-op would likely tap local urban gardeners to fill the shelves as well as cottage industry producers. 

Another model entity she cites is Salida's Ploughboy Local Foods Market and Kitchen, winner of a 2013 Nature's Plate Award from the Nature Conservancy

Rothman d'Hauthuille brings experience with nonprofit consulting and grant writing to the endeavor, having recently produced a 460-page research report on partners and funding for sustainable agriculture and food systems in conjunction with American Meat filmmaker Graham Meriwether, for the upcoming documentary Farmers For America

Again, many of the final details about how the co-op will take form and function remain in the planning phase. But don't be surprised to see offerings such as a CSA-like pre-buy program and a membership fee that creates levels of stakeholders, she says. 

Following the Dec. 6 meeting, a meeting in front of the Manitou clock tower is planned for 11:30 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 7, in which Rothman d'Hauthuille hopes folks will gather to show support for the venture and help film a segment to launch an upcoming Kickstarter campaign for it as well. Here are the deets on the community meeting: 
Transition_Postcard_pdf.pdf


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