Food co-ops often place special emphasis on purchasing from local food producers, along with other ways of offering support for these farmers and businesses, such as serving as a dropoff/pickup point for Community Supported Agriculture (local food subscription) programs.
Ken Meter summarized some of the outstanding examples of food co-ops supporting local producers (2009) in “Tipping the Scales for Local Food”: http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/2009-11-19/tipping-scales-local-foods.
“La Montanita’s Co-op Trade: Building a regional food shed,” by Robin Seydel (2008) reported on the early years of that New Mexico co-op’s launching of a regional distribution arm: http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/2009-01-19/la-montañitas-co-op-trade. Find La Montanita and current news on its Co-op Distribution Center at www.lamontanita.coop. La Montanita also has established a loan fund for local food producers.
Wedge Co-op launched Co-op Partners Warehouse, a distributor of organics that makes extra efforts to support distribution needs of local growers. Lori Zuidema reported (2008): http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/2009-01-19/co-op-partners-warehouse. Find Co-op Partners Warehouse at www.cooppartners.coop
Elizabeth Henderson discusses food co-ops’ support of Community Supported Agriculture in “Steps to a Solidarity Economy” (2011): http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/2011-08-28/steps-solidarity-economy. An earlier discussion of co-ops and CSAs (1996) was contributed by Bryan Carstens: http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/2004-01-09/working-community-supported-agriculture-benefit-all.
Berkshire Co-op Market in western Massachusetts sponsors local farm tours, as reported by Matt Movik (2011): http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/2011-04-25/farm-tours-berkshires.
Food co-ops in Sacramento and Davis are depositing funds with Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation for their “One Farm at a Time” campaign that aims at preserving local farms. Paul Cultrera of Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op described that program in 2011: http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/2011-04-25/saving-one-farm-time.
Our largest consumer food co-op, Seattle’s PCC Natural Markets, in 1999 started its own nonprofit, focused on preserving organic farmland. Kelly Sanderbeck gives background and a progress report in “PCC Farmland Trust: Harnessing the power of the co-op”: http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/2011-04-25/pcc-farmland-trust.
In 2000, Community Food Co-op (Bellingham, Wash.) initiated its Farm Fund to help local projects. Jean Rogers provided a 2010 report, “The Power of Cooperation”: http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/2010-03-22/power-collaboration.
A different approach is described by Mark Warner of Briarpatch Community Market (May 30, 2012): “We have started a program through an organization called California Farm Link. They loan the money, we guarantee 50% of it so that they can offer a reduced interest rate of 3%. We did our first loan for a working capital loan to a local organic grower to cover the winter lull. So far it is working very well. We are also providing loans as advance payment against invoices to cover organic certification (which is a small dollar amount). The beauty of Farm Link is that we do not have to go through the Department of Corporations for approval here in CA, which is a lengthy process. Each state is a bit different I expect, but if you can get someone to provide that kind of a cover agency for the process, this makes it all much simpler. We act as a guarantor rather than direct lender.”
Shawn Furst of People’s Food Co-op (Portland) described that co-op’s loans to local farmers: “Our Farmer Loan Program gives no-interest loans of up to $1,000 to local farmers. The program started in 2009, and we've loaned out $13,800 so far. Our on-time payback rate is over 98%. One farmer paid us back in produce for our store to sell, which worked out well for us, our shoppers, and the farmer. Our policy is to only have up to $5,000 in outstanding loans at any time. We have more details here: http://www.peoples.coop/why-peoples/farmer-loan-program.”
Cooperative Grocer Monthly ran an article in 2014 about seafood purchasing. Depending on the location of your store, this may or may not relate directly to supporting local producers, but is a good jumping off point for what can be a sticky area of purchasing decisions.