August update on the development of The Mustard Seed

August 1, 2012 – The second info night for The Mustard Seed at the Hill Street Community Garden began with sharing about our progress to date, followed by a documentary about the Lexington Co-op in Buffalo, NY.

If you are like everyone else we talk to about The Mustard Seed, you are pretty excited that there is a new grocery store opening in Hamilton in the near future – one that prioritizes local and wholesome food. So are we!

The three main questions we keep hearing from Hamiltonians are: 1) Does the co-op already have a location, 2) When will it open, and 3) What are the next steps in the development of The Mustard Seed? If you haven’t been able to make it out to one of our public outreach events yet, no worries (although we’d love to meet you at one of our future events!). We’ll answer all three questions below and include some of the mapping we have been working on based on our market research.

Map of Hamilton indicating the general location of where survey respondents that said they would like to become members of The Mustard Seed live (65% of total respondents). Many others (29%) indicated that they would likely become members depending on parking, cost, etc.

Map of Hamilton indicating locations of existing grocery stores, including 500 metre radiuses around stores. (Yellow = supermarkets; Dark Blue = medium size stores; Light Blue = corner stores; Brown = ethnic groceries)

1. Location?   We’ve analyzed various location choices based on where future members live and work – because we know the closer the store is to where you live or work the better. We have been doing a lot of walking around looking at potential sites, meeting with a realtor, and talking with people who know a lot about Hamilton leases and real estate like the Hamilton Economic Development office. There are a lot of potential sites out there, but so far nothing jumps out as an ideal location. Some of the factors we have been basing this on include proximity to future members, proximity to existing stores, store size, available parking, cost, and if the storefront suits the values of the co-op. Location is so important, and we are investing time and research into finding just the right space for The Mustard Seed.

2. When?  This depends on a lot of factors, but we hope to have the co-op doors open in the next 6-12 months. Most of the food co-ops we have talked with take 2-4 years in the development stage, so this goal is very ambitious – but possible! One of the big reasons for this is that two of us are working more than part-time on co-op development. When you count it all up, we have contributed over 900 volunteer hours to The Mustard Seed’s development since April, so we’ve been able to really leap forward during the last few months. And while we haven’t found a source of funding to-date, we are planning to apply for a few grants early this fall and are hopeful that these applications will provide us with a much needed source of development funding for things like incorporation and legal fees!

3. Next steps?  We have talked to and/or visited nearly 25 food co-ops already, and will continue to do so in the months ahead. While each food co-op is different, we have been able to learn why they chose different governance models, membership types, loan formats, volunteer options, etc. We are working with food security researchers at the University of Toronto to analyze our market survey, and look forward to sharing those results with you. Our next big steps include incorporation of the co-op, completing our business plan, and growing our membership network. At the same time, we will continue to seek out the right site for the store and work on raising funds.

Members of the Steering Committees for The Mustard Seed and Our Community Food Store, a food co-op in development in St. Catharines, meet to exchange ideas.

Want to help us on this journey? One big way you can help is by telling your friends about this cooperative initiative – which means liking us on facebook, tweeting about us, and linking our blog to your website, as well as by spreading the news by word-of-mouth, of course! In addition, we are looking for people to come alongside us with practical skills:

  • Photojournalism including interviewing local farmers and producers
  • Retail grocery experience
  • Co-op development or board experience
  • Marketing and promotions, including Twitter
  • Branding expertise
  • Event organizing
  • Fund raising:  grant writing, membership campaigns, or personal donations if you would like to help us with development of the co-op, but are not able to volunteer your time right now.

If you have any of these skills and would like to join us, please let us know! The more help we have in the development stage, the sooner The Mustard Seed’s doors will open!

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