The Mustard Seed is Sprouting!

MustardSeed-17-1500

Winter means dormancy in Canadian fields, and so it has seemed with our blog postings.  But co-op development has ramped up since our membership launch party on November 29th.  So many details are coming together, it’s as though the lengthening days of January are making room for the Co-op to bloom in the spring. Here’s a brief overview of what we’ve been up to:

Membership means Ownership

Our membership is climbing every day towards our target of 800 by May (262 members as of today, or see the counter to the right).  Hamilton-area households are working together to create an alternative to big-box grocery stores. By co-owning a cooperative business, we meet our members’ needs while extending many benefits to our broader community.  Why not join us?  Become a Founding Member today and see your values affect our local food culture.

FoundingMemberCard_Rowan

Education and Events

Education – one of the 7 Co-op Principles – is central to the Mustard Seed.  Whether it’s been at Art Crawl each month, Mountain Equipment Co-op in December, Green Drinks at Artword Artbar, sharing with church groups or civic clubs, our Board and Action Team members have been at many local events sharing the vision of the Co-op.  Are you interested in having someone talk to your group? Invite us to a lunch-n-learn in your office or a house party for friends and neighbours.  Our on-line calendar lists upcoming events you’re welcome to attend.

We’re also had some great media help from the Spectator, CBC Hamilton, Raise the Hammer, and various other blogs. See our media mentions page for what others have been saying about The Mustard Seed.

“Where’s the store located?”

This is the first question everyone asks about the Mustard Seed Co-op. Our Location Team has narrowed down the potential sites, but we need to meet two benchmarks before signing a conditional lease: reaching 300 members and $150,000 in available equity.  By joining today, and making an additional investment in the Co-op (if you are able), we can reach these thresholds soon and firm up a location.

Members_Jan21

With our top priority being proximity to Members, as seen on this map of current members, you can get a good idea of where we have been most diligently searching for a store location.

Job posting: General Manager  

The H.R. Team are developing  job descriptions for three positions: a part-time Admin Coordinator, a contract Project Manager, and a full-time General Manager.  We are seeking individuals with the necessary skills, a passion for cooperative enterprise, and a love of local food.  Keep your eye on this website for more details and the job postings in the weeks ahead.  Hiring staff will sure be a milestone in our Co-op’s development!

Bulk bins & peanut grinders

BulkBins

Our first purchase of nearly-new bulk bins through Kijiji!

Our Operations Team has begun listing all the infrastructure needed for our store.  From shelving and coolers to data systems and signage, there a lot of details.  We’ve already bought our first supplies:  some nearly-new bulk bins and a classic peanut butter grinder. If you love online research and bargain hunting, why not join this team and help us get the best deals on everything we need? We are also seeking someone with a truck to help pick up future store equipment. Check the Tools and Talents page for other ways to help!

Local Food: more than we imagined

The twenty members of our Sourcing Team have compiled an amazingly extensive database of over 400 local food producers and processors.  And with each meeting starting off with a potluck, we’ve had opportunities to try much of our region’s bounty. This database will help our staff make purchasing decisions in line with our membership’s priorities.  We are fortunate that Hamilton is in the heart of Ontario’s food producing regions. We can’t wait for The Mustard Seed to be part of enriching our local food culture!

SourcingNames

A sound financial footing

Our Finance Team is working to ensure the Mustard Seed has a strong financial footing. Based on extensive research  of over 30 other food co-ops across North America, our business plan projects a strong, positive cash-flow through our first five years.  This is inspiring members to invest capital beyond their $100 household share.  Following our Investor Information night this week, we have over $60,000 in member loans towards capitalizing the Co-op.  This equity is on deposit with our partner co-op, First Ontario Credit Union, in anticipation of our $150,000 benchmark for the next phase of development.  If you are interested in “locavesting” in Hamilton’s revitalization, please consider our cooperative business. Read our Investing FAQ page for more information and let us know if you would like a copy of the business plan or if you would like to meet about investing in The Mustard Seed.

DSC_1676

Interested investors at our information night on January 16, 2013. We are still looking for members able to invest in the Co-op – see you FAQ page for more information (https://mustardseed.coop/investingfaq/)

Responsible trade: Is the local food movement part of the answer?

A very evocative image from the cover of Empires of Food by Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas.

Recently there has been a heated debate in the media about whether local food movement is really a good thing. This recent Maclean’s article reviewed The Locavore’s Dilemma by Canadian economists Desrochers and Shimiz.  The authors argue that the focus on local food production and consumption is actually a threat to our economy, environment, and personal health.  Instead, industrialization and specialization in the food system hold the keys to a more abundant, affordable, and safer diet.

I (Graham) recently read Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations by another Canadian, Evan Fraser, and co-author Andrew Rimas.  The book recounts the historical experience of societies dependent on imperial food systems.  Some patterns they point out are particularly relevant to the current debate about local food and offer real insight into the larger justice issues that have motivated us to start a food cooperative.

Advanced civilizations are the direct result of food surpluses. If food is scarce, it’s hard work to get it and there’s no time left for creating art, talking politics, or writing books on economics.  So any culture that has developed advanced complexities has had access to ample food — someone’s surplus.  That surplus is likely locally produced originally, but chances are, as the society evolves and grows in population and wealth, those surpluses come from further afield through trade. Empires tells some remarkable stories of how this trade has shaped various complex societies: the wheat freighters hauling Egyptian grain to feed Rome’s million residents, the British East India Company bringing tea, cotton, etc. to Europe, the Dutch monopoly on nutmeg, and the American trade in corn.  But what if those producing the food surplus can’t produce it for the price the traders need, or demand?

The history of food trading is marred by serious patterns of exploitation and market manipulation. African slaves fuelled American and Caribbean agricultural production for generations.  The Opium Wars forced drug trade onto China, and whole Pacific island cultures were exterminated in order to provide low-cost spices.  Even today, with all the technological advances in modern food production, the human producers of industrial food are often the least remunerated: migrant workers in California or Canada (where it’s legal to pay up to 15% less to migrant workers than Canadians), tenant farmers in South America or Africa, Indians indebted to multinational suppliers.

Stalled corn is displayed on a farm in Geff, Illinois on Monday, July 16, 2012. 53-year-old farmer David White says he has never experienced such extreme drought. Little rain and long lasting heat has dried up his acres forcing him to declare this year a “total loss.” (AP Photo/Robert Ray)

Specialization in agricultural production achieves some impressive efficiencies, but it also means that a trading region, or country, is vulnerable to fluctuation in prices, bad weather, or other ill forces beyond producers’ control. What happens when bad weather is widespread, like this summer’s drought that’s affecting two-thirds of the US and much of Canada, or the excessive rain falling throughout England?  What if economic shocks spike prices and borders close to the rice trade, like India experienced in 2008?  What would happen if these events happened at simultaneously?

Empires isn’t about doomsday scenarios, but does suggest a sort of “glocalism”, promoting diversified production and consumption of local foods, while responsibly trading foodstuffs to avoid exploitation of distant producers.  Utopian, some may suggest, but perhaps no more so than trusting the Market to provide adequate food for all.

We believe this discussion points to why we need The Mustard Seed in Hamilton: we’ll responsibly source whatever we can from local producers, while ensuring the bounty of distant farms enriches life on both sides of the trade.

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!