By Sally Griffin
In the December 2016 edition of the Neighborhood Gazette, I wrote about a food desert on West Colfax where communities surrounding it have difficulty finding good quality fresh food. The West Colfax Food Cooperative is working hard to remedy this situation. They have had planning and economic impact studies done, are working to set up the site for the co-op and have hired a project manager to bring all their hard work to fruition. I met recently with the Project Manager, Terry Freedman, to for an update on the status of the co-op.
Freedman, who has an extensive background in food-based businesses and in training for chefs and others starting in restaurants and other food-based business, explained that the co-op expanded its boundaries to between 6th and 32nd avenues and between Federal and Sheridan. They have acquired two grants from the Denver Foundation, one for strengthening communities and the other as part of their Directive Grant. They have also received a grant from the Food Cooperative Initiative (FCI) to provide technical assistance, help with community outreach and planning for a community and market study.
The co-op has adopted the following values: providing fresh, healthy, affordable food in West Colfax, local whenever possible and community-centered, economically self-sustaining; celebrating culinary and cultural diversity in an inclusive, welcoming, collaborative environment; and doing things so they are efficient, convenient and waste-reducing. To do this they have determined to develop a hybrid type of food co-op. A hybrid food co-op combines programs that encourage community-based shopping, provide community support and sustain community pride. The co-op will use the physical space of the facility to accomplish its values.
To make this hybrid model possible, they have developed partners to help them. One such partner is Focus Points Family Resource Center and Right to Live Well. Focus Points is a local nonprofit that builds strong communities by strengthening families with the following services: School Readiness, Adult Education, Health and Wellness, Workforce and Economic Development, Community Engagement. In July, Focus Points received a grant to develop a support center for entrepreneurs building and running local family microbusinesses. This is where their connection comes with the co-op.
In one part of the facility is a room for four vendors to market their food-based products. Those individuals and families in the community that have received training and help from Focus Points in developing their businesses will be able to rent affordable space at the co-op where they can launch their food-based business and gain real-time restaurant and catering skills.
In the middle of the facility is space for dry goods and produce. To provide the freshest produce and locally produced food products, the co-op will team up with the High Plains Food Cooperative. They are family farmers who offer locally grown and sustainably produced food. They produce non-GMO and/or Certified Organic products. They offer hundreds of options including fresh produce, eggs and a variety of meats. An example of this kind of farm is the Ambrosia Farm in Bennett. On the High Plains Co-op web page, they talk about raising a breed of turkey: “They are beautiful birds that fly, chase bugs, chase kids, and thrive on our prairie. My family has taken to ‘Turkey Walks’ with birds following us wherever we go.” Members in West Colfax Food Co-op will be able to buy from the High Plains Food Co-op, either in the on-site location or directly.
A third resource for the West Colfax Food Co-op is the Corky Gonzalez Library. The Library works hard to be a valuable resource to the community in ways other than reading and visual materials. The Library has open forums which local residents can attend and indicate what resources they need in their community. The library personnel then work to help find these resources and have them available in the library or be able to tell residents where they can access those resources. The co-op will work with library to help determine how they can best serve their area.
The final resource is you! The co-op is working to develop a system of advocates in each of the communities they want to serve, including local Hispanic, Jewish and Somali communities. You can help be an “architect” for your own community.
“We can retain our diversity if we all participate,” said Freeman.
The co-op is looking for individuals to be members, to be advocates, and partners to provide community support and enhancement activities, including nutritional educational classes, nutritional outreach, co-op scholarship, food job training and cooking classes.
People who join the co-op will be able to influence these efforts and others that are important to them or their neighborhood. And, of course, they will have access to the best in fresh produce, locally raised meat, and community-based food services.
Opening a storefront for the West Colfax Food Co-op will take capital funds. They depend on community members like you becoming a Member-Owner as this capital campaign starts. A Member-Owner share is a one-time equity investment in the co-op and costs $200. They are also offering $10 kids memberships. This is a great way to get children involved and thinking about the benefits of this effort in their lives. The co-op also offers a payment plan for $25 or $50 a month. For those who can’t afford it, the co-op board has developed a scholarship program. However, anyone will be able to shop at the co-op once it is open, and it will accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) for those relying on this program.
For more information, visit www.westcolfaxfoodcoop.org.