By: David Lester, General Manager
In the Fall of 2013, the Board of Directors hired a consultant from The Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Iowa to help us set some strategic priorities for the next 3-5 years. This was an intense and productive process and our membership is already benefitting from this work.
The four strategic priorities that we developed are:
• Assist in the development of local food hub/processing facility.
• Increase purchases from Local Vendors.
• Implement patronage dividend program – contingent upon profitability.
• Expand facility with kitchen classroom.
I look at these priorities daily and what strikes me the most is they all reflect our commitment to making our community a better place to live and give more value to being a member of our Co-op. Members of this store are playing a critical role in not only increasing the volume of local products in our community, but also helping create more infrastructures to help process and store those products. In addition, as a member, you are helping us develop better physical space to accommodate the growing need of teaching kids, parents and others to make healthier meals. And, many members will be getting some of their purchases back in the form of a dividend. If you are not a member, you play a role as well and I encourage you to consider the added benefits of becoming a member.
The staff and I have been working hard the past few months to implement strategies to achieve these priorities. Here are a few updates:
Assist in the development of local food hub/processing facility.
Since 2010, we implemented a plan to pay back our member loans on-time. Things have gone well the last few years and we have been able to pay a significant portion of this debt off early. Beginning June 1, we will be paying off the majority of this debt and those members will have an opportunity to contribute a portion of their interest on these loans to another significant piece of the local foods puzzle.
This piece is the Iowa Food Hub project, led by Nick McCann, ISU Extension Food Value Chain Coordinator, began as an idea back in 2007 and has grown significantly in recent years. The Iowa Food Hub, based in Decorah, is a local food aggregation and distribution project sponsored by Allamakee New Beginnings, a 501(c)(3), dedicated to reducing the effects of poverty in NE Iowa. Iowa Food Hub (IFH) unites the mission and vision of its partners by managing the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products to connect farmers to families.
In their first year, IFH had $120,000 in sales. This year-to-date, they have already sold over $70,000 of local foods. Because of the projected growth, the IFH board is currently investigating options and partnerships for additional cold storage and warehouse facilities. Additionally, they are piloting a USDA Group GAP program for farmers and they are a partner on a USDA Farm to School grant which will focus on processing and distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to area schools. And, they are currently assisting another non-profit organization as they build a commercial kitchen to do small scale produce processing.
Oneota Community Co-op has been helping the Iowa Food Hub grow by providing storage space and consultation to get more of our local producers’ products in more homes across Eastern Iowa. They are at a critical growth point and I know that the Co-op will continue to be a valuable partner to see this project expand.
Increase Purchases from Local Vendors.
The management team and staff at the Co-op are constantly thinking about this strategy. When we see an opportunity for a new local product, we work with local producers to make it sell. Our local producers are pros when it comes to making a wonderful, delicious product. We help them market it. We have worked with several local producers to create a product that meets our high standards and give advice on packaging and creating a brand. When we sell their product, everyone benefits. One of my favorite new local producers is from the Gays Mills, WI area, Kickapoo John’s Lump Charcoal. It is sustainably produced from hard wood varieties in the Driftless Region and is a fantastic charcoal.
Implement patronage dividend program – contingent upon profitability.
If you attended our annual meeting in early April, then you heard our Board President, Steve McCargar announce that the Board of Directors approved a patronage dividend to be paid this year based on the record profit that we achieved in 2013. This is the first patronage dividend to be paid in our new store location! Members who have fully paid their member shares and who spent more than $1,058.94 at the Co-op in fiscal year 2013 will see their dividend checks by the beginning of August.
Expand facility with kitchen classroom.
Drum roll, please. I am happy to announce that we will be renting space in the building next to ours and expanding our classroom space/teaching kitchen beginning July 1. Our class participation rate has been growing at 200% for the past two years and we don’t have adequate space in our store to accommodate more than 10 students per class comfortably. We are excited to create a space right next to the Co-op that is handicapped accessible with state-of-the-art equipment and teaching stations. Stay tuned!
As you can see, the management team and I have taken these board-driven priorities and are implementing action to achieve them…process is fun! Our Co-op is growing in so many positive ways and we are beginning to gain even more traction with the local foods movement. Have a wonderful summer and I hope to be taking a class with some of you soon.