Food Co-op 500

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With its first year coming to a close, Food Co-op 500 has already made great strides toward the goal of growing the food co-op community from 300 to 500 co-ops by the year 2015.

The Food Co-op 500 program, a collaboration of Cooperative Development Services (CDS), National Cooperative Grocers Association, National Co-op Bank (NCB), and NCB Development Corporation, provides intensive technical and financial assistance to organizations developing a food cooperative in their community. The program advises groups to follow the development model of four cornerstones in three stages devised by CDS for Food Co-op 500. (See the website www.food
coop500.coop for more information, as well as last year’s initial report in Cooperative Grocer #119, July-August 2005.)

Financial assistance is available through two funds:

Seed Fund: The Seed Fund distributes grants up to $10,000 that are matched dollar for dollar by the groups forming new co-ops. Grant funds are used for expenses incurred early in the organizing process. The Blooming Prairie Foundation matched $50,000 from NCB to capitalize this fund.
Sprout Fund: The Sprout Fund distributes pre-development loans up to $25,000, which are also matched dollar for dollar by the start-up groups. Loan funds are used for expenses incurred closer to the scheduled opening.

First round of funding
In the first round of funding, Seed Fund grants were made to:

  1. H Street Community Market in Washington, DC;
    n MOON (Miami-Oxford Organic Network) Cooperative in Oxford, Ohio;

  1. Soul Foods Cooperative in Oakland, California; and
  1. Vancouver Food Cooperative in Vancouver, Washington.

Grantees report monthly on their progress, and these reports are distributed to monitoring groups assigned to the projects. The monitoring groups are comprised of consultants, NCB staff, and leaders of recent food co-op start-ups. They provide feedback to the projects to keep them on the steady path to success.

Second round of funding
Additional Seed Fund grants were approved for the following four projects:

  1. Chatham Real Food Market in Chatham, New York;
    n Harvest Moon Natural Foods Co-op in Long Lake, Minnesota;
  1. Medford Market in Medford, Oregon; and
    n Yelm Food Co-op in Yelm, Washington.
    The lone Sprout Fund applicant, Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London, Connecticut, was also approved.

Training and support activities
The Food Co-op 500 held a series of four training and support conference calls in December, January, and February. The last two calls were done in a “webinar” format. CDS consultants presented information on a range of food co-op development topics, including the timeline for the development process, the sources and uses budget, market research and analysis, and business planning. A total of more than 40 people have dialed in to these calls, and those participating report that the sessions have provided vital information for their start-up efforts.

Look for the Food Co-op 500 at the CCMA conference in June! There will be a workshop updating attendees on its progress and offering information on how to get involved. Some of the start-up food co-op groups also plan to attend to share their stories and inspire us all.

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Richard Dines is program manager for cooperative development at the National Cooperative Bank ([email protected]).

See other articles from this issue: #124 May - June - 2006