After moving to Benicia in the summer of 2013 with her family, Paula Schnese was sorely displeased with the area’s food offerings. With two national chain grocery stores and no small markets carrying locally grown, sustainable food choices, she realized that the area needed a food revolution! “There must be people who think the same as I do,” she mused. And she was right. After mulling it over for a few years, getting tired of driving to Berkeley every week (she still does) and meeting likeminded people, Paula decided it was time for action.
If not me, who? If not now, when?
And so, in January of 2016, with the help of the Benicia Community Gardens, (now Sustainable Solano), Paula brought the idea of a food co-op to the Benicia/Vallejo community. “Can we do this?” was the theme of the program that night and the 65 people in attendance said resoundingly:
Yes, we can!
We began a Start-up group to exchange preliminary ideas focused on the needs of our community and a vision of the future.
Then in March, to gain information regarding the nuts and bolts of co-op development from the experts, Paula attended a 3 day Up & Coming Food Co-op conference in Indiana hosted by the National Food Co-Op Initiative. She was astounded by the enthusiasm and passion participants – just like her – had for bringing healthy food choices and cultivating communities in their home towns across the country through the co-op model. Armed with new information and a fantastic network, her next step was to find the right people: people who were motivated, who would learn about the food co-op model and share it with the community. She also knew this had to be big if it was going to have the impact on the community that was intended. It had to be much more than buying clubs where you pick up certain foods on Tuesdays and other food on Fridays and it couldn’t be a small store that doesn’t get much traffic because people want to do all their shopping in one store. No, this must be a big beautiful store, conveniently located where the people of both Vallejo and Benicia would have easy access. Connecting these two cities is central to our food co-op’s values.
So, the Start-up group organized a regular presence at both the Benicia and Vallejo farmers’ markets to provide information about food co-ops and garner interest in starting one locally. “This is where the people who will shop at our food co-op are shopping now; this is our market. We need to start spreading the word, one on one,” we thought.
Through multiple outreach efforts, the food co-op’s e-mail list began to grow exponentially. And we continued to educate ourselves and network. We organized food co-op tours to Placerville Food Co-op, Sacramento Natural Food Co-op and the Davis Food Co-op. We tabled at the Vallejo Healthy Food Festival, the Solano Food Oasis, and the Awakening the Dreamer symposium. We attended a one day, California Co-op Conference in April and a Cooperative Board Leadership Training in September. We attended the National Heirloom Exposition and met the people behind the Slow Money Movement. We connected with the people at Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland and continued gaining insight and guidance from the National Food Co-Op Initiative.
From the people that reached out to us over the course of the summer and fall, we formed a Steering Team with five action-oriented committees. We continue to add to this wonderful group today – a group with a clear vision and dream for the future.
If you are interested in helping us move this dream further, or would like us to come and present to your organization, place of business, or home party, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2017 will prove to be a great year for our food co-op as we continue our outreach, work on our business plan and start selling owner shares. Stay connected by joining our newsletter.