A full day of research started at the Big Carrot where we met with Heather Barclay, office manager who has been a worker-member for over 20 years. She shared about their history as a coop (started in 1983 with eight co-op member-owners, with 65 members from the current 185 staff.) She shared their governance bylaw report, lots of ideas about how to structure shares for raising capital, their point-of-sales system, and practical things such as lawyers and accountants that we can get in touch with.
Next we headed to the 519 Church Street Community Centre to meet with the director of development + community engagement, Matthew Cutler, to hear about how they’re operating Fabarnak, a social enterprise eatery. We got a tour of the back kitchens, took photos of the wood tables made from old beams in the Distillery District and chairs made from recycled pop bottle, and finished with an amazing lunch–highly recommended! The gourmet café/restaurant is a social enterprise initiative of the Centre that provides a structured training environment for local young people facing employment barriers.
After lunch, we popped in at the Karma Food Co-op. It was their bi-annual inventory review, so we found ourselves counting everything from ginger beer to kambucha, vitamin C to body care products. It was an awesome time chatting with the consumer-members and learning the workings of the store. One big surprise was discovering that Karma Co-op is located off an alley in a back-building. Hamilton has lots of those!
We also checked out Karma’s local competition, Fiesta Farms, Toronto’s largest independently owned grocery store (but not a co-op). It was bigger than we expected. The organics were spread out all around the store and there was a bunch of signage about local food, but it had a very different feel from the grocery co-ops we had visited earlier in the day.
On our way out of town we passed by the West End Food Co-op on King St. West in Parkdale and were excited to see that things were happening inside. We had a nice chat with Lynn Bishop, co-op coordinator, and Susanna Redekop, marketing coordinator. Their contractors were busy at work, with electrical, drywall, and making shelving from reclaimed lumber. We were excited that they were willing to share their experience and learnings with us as we move forward. Gotta love that cooperation among cooperatives!