Lifestyle

Kitsap Food Co-op: Ever wanted to own your own grocery store?

Kitsap Community Food Co-Op calls for memberships, while another group aims to open a local produce storefront in Bremerton within the next few months.

Before moving to Kitsap, Laura Moynihan became acquainted with the notion of eating local through a community food co-op by virtue of her sister’s involvement in one in Albuquerque, N.M.

“I was in a big Trader Joe phase and so whenever we’d go shopping, I’d say ‘Let’s go to Trader Joe’s’ and she’d say, ‘No, we shop at the co-op,’” Moynihan remembered. “She was so passionate about it, it made me kind of curious. What is a co-op and what does that mean and why do you only shop there?”

As she dug into the concept, finding an incredibly devoted customer base seeking local food and supporting multiple branches of the co-op state wide, she became increasingly passionate about the concept herself. Having moved to Kitsap in 2007, she’s now president of the board for the Kitsap Community Food Co-Op, a group hoping to establish a locally supplied, organic grocery store in the county.

“It was really tough not to have a natural food store nearby,” the Bremerton resident said. “That was one of my very first questions when I moved here, is ‘Where do you shop?’ And well... there’s a few aisles in Fred Meyer or you can drive 20 miles north to Central Market and that’s about it.”

With a nationwide surge in consumers seeking locally-grown, organically raised produce, the thought occurred to Moynihan that perhaps a co-op was a viable alternative for Kitsap.

“The way I’ve been buying food, and friends that I know, now, it’s almost like this underground network,” she said. “You go over here for your eggs, you go over there to that little store for your milk, you buy a pig from this farmer, and that’s the only way to get it.”

A community food co-op, Moynihan explains, would be a way to bring all of those local goods under the same roof, readily available for the consumer. So she got in touch with a base of citizens who had tried to create a co-op about four years ago. They hosted a public meeting in January of 2008 to gauge interest in the community.

“We had a huge turn out for that, so that really encouraged us to keep going forward,” Moynihan said. “Ever since then, the momentum behind the idea and the excitement in the community has just kind of bowled us over and sort of kept us going.”

The group will be calling on the community to purchase $200 owner-memberships at its next meeting, 6 p.m. Sept. 14 at Seaside Church, near Evergreen Park in Bremerton.

While immediate benefits for members will be limited to the eligibility to run for the board and to help steer the co-op, Moynihan said, “The biggest reason why people should become members, at this point before the store’s open, is so that they can have a store.”

Once open, the co-op would offer discounts for members, patronage refunds and other financial benefits, however Moynihan estimates that more than $1 million will need to be raised in order to find a space, renovate, outfit and staff it as a full-service grocer.

“So it’s a bit of a leap of faith, like it is with any business owner,” Moynihan said. “That’s why we call it member-owner, because it’s more than just being a member. We have hundreds of owners that each put in a relatively small amount of money compared to what most business owners put in.”

However, on the downside, if not enough member-owners come forward, Moynihan notes, the co-op may never reach the point of opening.

“So far we’ve been met with huge enthusiasm and we have a feeling the people are going to want to buy memberships,” she said. “But it really is on the community to kind of vote with your dollars.”

Meanwhile, another local food movement — Fresh Local — a collective of three Kitsap farmers, thus far, is readying to open a storefront for local produce and organic goods next month in downtown Bremerton, bringing to fruition an idea that’s been brewing for decades.

“We need to build a market share for local food in our community,” noted Bremerton urban farmer Jean Schanen, a member of the Fresh Local collective. “We’ve been promoting local food forever, in living memory, but how to do that is the question.”

With farmers markets open only a few hours a week for four-to-five months out of the summer, and supermarkets supposedly favoring local farmers not so in favor of smaller local operations, Schanen said, the idea of an independent store came up fairly recently. Similar to the Kitsap Community Food Co-Op, the Fresh Local store is planning to provide fresh local produce and a host of other local and organic goods year round.

Their hope is that having a stable marketplace will encourage increased production on farms throughout the county.

“Now we can say, look we’ve got a store, start planting for next year,” Schanan said. “And I think they will. I’m predicting we’ll have 30 to 40 farmers for next season.”

And produce is only one aspect of local food, she adds. They’re also hoping to bring in local meat, eggs, cheers, milk, honey and more. And since they’re privately-owned and operating on a much smaller scale than the community food co-op, it’s been much easier process in acquiring a store space.

They’re planning to open once licenses are secured, hopefully within the next month, Schanan noted, at 540 Fourth St. in downtown Bremerton.

“Now we have a place where Kitsap farmers can sell their produce, period,” she said.

FOR MORE on the Kitsap Community Food Coop, see www.kitsapfoodcoop.org and for more on the Fresh Local Store, see http://freshlocal.wordpress.com.

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