Growing a Co-op takes All of Us!

Lots of wonderful people signed up for Action Teams on Monday to help The Mustard Seed become a reality – and you can too!

We had a fantastic turnout for The Mustard Seed event on Monday night at the new Radius Cafe on James South. Over 40 Mustard Seed supporters came to hear about our progress and join Volunteer Action Teams. An amazing energy filled the cafe that night! For those of you who couldn’t make it, below is a summary of our discussion.

We introduced the concept of co-ops. Almost everyone had belonged to a consumer co-op like Mountain Equipment Co-op (10% of Canadians are MEC members) or a credit union,  but most had never been to a retail food co-op. This is not surprising, since the closest store to Hamilton is 60km away and there are only 7 retail storefront co-ops in Ontario; however, with 14 food co-ops emerging in Ontario we are definitely on to something! We also watched this great little 2-minute animation about food co-ops (Why Do I Shop at the Co-op?):

Click on the image to enlarge the timeline!

We talked about the co-op principles and the motivations behind starting The Mustard Seed. Graham also shared some of our recent progress (see the  time line), including the promotions we have done at the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic (60 new people signed up for our email list), Locke Street Festival (25 new people signed up), Gage Park Community Garden event, and this weekend’s Supercrawl. We’re super-excited to give away Mustard Seed buttons this weekend so come and find us Saturday afternoon amongst the crowds on James North.

In between community engagement, we have developed a comprehensive business plan and visited more co-ops in Michigan and Illinois; we’ve now visited or interviewed about 30 food co-ops. We’ve also applied for 2 grants towards upcoming membership campaign expenses.

The Mustard Seed booth at the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic

Click on the QR code to sign up to help on one of our Action Teams

We introduced the strategy for raising start-up capital through member-owner shares & preferred member loans, along with a draft outline of capital sources and uses. Our goal is to incorporate and start selling member shares shortly. We concluded by introducing the opportunities for people to get involved by joining an Action Team. Please send us an email or sign up here if you would like to be involved with an Action Team (listed below). Right now we have the most need on the Finance and Human Resources teams. This is a learning experience for all of us, and we each bring our own experiences and expertise to the teams, so please volunteer – even if you only have a few hours to spare. Right now our goal is for the Teams to meet every 2 weeks, with independent research in between. The amount of work you put in depends on your schedule.

  • Membership Development Action Team – Organize & launch membership drive; Represent the co-op at local events; Media relations; Community engagement; & Event organizing
  • Sourcing Action Team – Research local producers (farmers, processors & manufacturers); Connect with local producers & distributors; Develop procurement guidelines; & Negotiate terms & conditions with producers
  • Location Search Action Team – Initiate conversations to develop leads for location; Research & tour possible store locations with a realtor; Compare pros and cons of various sites; Estimate renovation costs; Lease negotiation
  • Operations Action Team – Research point of sale systems, coolers & other equipment; Research insurance & required permits; Research phone, internet & other systems
  • Financial Action Team – Select credit union to open an account with; Membership share development; Preferred member loan development; Assist with Business Plan financial section; Financial administration
  • Human Resources Action Team – Bylaw development; Initial board of director interviews; Create job descriptions; Hiring policies/benefits/insurance

Handing out buttons at the Locke Street festival

Let us know if you would like to participate in one of the Action Teams. We can help you pick the right team based on your experience and interests if you are not sure which one to join. Also, later in October we will be participating in a competition through the Innovation Factory called StartOff with other Hamilton entrepreneurs. We will be vying for 10 prizes valued at over $10k for business development assistance, accounting services, online marketing training, phone services, etc. Let us know if you can help us by voting for The Mustard Seed regularly during the voting period (Oct 9-31).

The Mustard Seed info and co-op movie night at the Gage Park Community Garden

Local food & the value of flavour: talking with a chef

We had the fantastic opportunity to hear Jeff Crump speak about the culinary pleasures of local food at the Hill Street Community Garden on Wednesday. As executive chef at the Ancaster Mill & co-owner of the Earth to Table Bread Bar on Locke Street, Jeff is a wealth of knowledge and passionate about the flavours of fresh and local.

As he threw out inspiring recipes based on what was growing in the gardens, Jeff also shared his thoughts on some bigger issues related to our food economy. For example, our diet is now dominated by things that are easy to harvest and transport, such as romaine lettuce, rather than foods that necessarily have the most flavour or nutrition. This means that sweetcorn has the unique honour of being the only traditional food that is exclusively eaten seasonally in Canada.

Jeff also expressed the challenges, as a chef, of sourcing local foods. He mentioned, for example, the need for food to have a certain level of uniformity for the restaurant plate – i.e. chicken breasts need to be uniform for kitchen staff, otherwise a lot of extra work has to go into making the meal. Jeff spoke about the FarmStart program that is just beginning at the Landmark Farm in Flamborough, and his hopes to procure some of what this new generation of farmers are growing.

As we walked through the garden, tasting the sharp and intense flavour of fresh arugula (unlike anything you can buy in the grocery store), and talked about what to pair with lovage, we were inspired to continue on this co-op adventure.

Jeff Crump’s quick pickle recipe to add a boost of flavour to your fresh beets, beans, radishes, cukes, etc.

1 cup rice wine vinegar;  3T sugar;   1 T salt    |    Heat on stovetop, add to jar of fresh produce, cool & store in the refrigerator. Yum!