Meeting with co-op guru Hannah Renglich

We have been lucky to have many great information gathering meetings lately with people who have a lot of experience in forming cooperatives, local food in Hamilton, etc. One of the most helpful meetings was with Hannah Renglich from ONFC on February 29.

We had first met Hannah at the Guelph Organic Conference. Hannah has just been hired full time by ONFC to act as animator for the existing and emerging food-related coops in Ontario in the Local Organic Food Co-operatives Network. It is very encouraging to know that other co-ops have been where we are before like Your Local Market Co-op in Stratford that started last year, the West End Co-op in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, and Our Community Food Store in St. Catherine’s which is a bit further ahead of us in planning. We have a long list now of all the emerging, young, and long-term food co-ops in Ontario that we would like to visit. Part of Hannah’s role is to connect these groups through the network, which currently includes a listserve and in the near future will launch a website.

Hannah explained that there are several different types of co-ops, which she calls farmer-owned, eater, worker, and multi-stakeholder. Sometimes these are called producer, consumer, worker, and there is also a Quebec model of solidarity co-ops. Each co-op falls into one of these categories (with a few variations) and we at the Mustard Seed have been weighing these organizational structures to determine which might be best for Hamilton. She noted that worker co-ops may have greater liability and multi-stakeholder often take longer to get started. We have also heard that the structure can change over time, which is re-assuring. Also, some co-ops have share capital to get started, while others don’t. Some of the tips Hannah had for us was to talk with a lawyer that specializes in co-ops about legality issues and to check into tax laws. We have a lot to learn!

The good news was that there may be some funding available through ON-Coop for help with a feasibility study and technical assistance (although the grants are now in question due to recent funding cuts).  We have applied for the feasibility grant, so we will see if there is still money available.  Hannah was very encouraging, giving us several ideas of where we can apply for funding grants to get us started. She also shared about 100km Foods in Toronto which connects farmers to restaurants and an Oklahoma food co-op model of online ordering (open source, makes labels and foods collected from a central depot – the Niagara Food Co-op has a similar model).

Following this meeting with Hannah, we realized we have a lot of ground work to cover before we begin trying to really sell the idea to future members. Hannah left us with a bunch of links to learn more about food co-ops. Some of the most helpful resources include:

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