The Mustard Seed is Sprouting!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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/)

What a Party! Members Flock to Co-op Launch

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Wow.

The Mustard Seed Co-op launched our membership drive last week at Hamilton’s Central Library. A diverse crowd of over 300 eager Hamilton-area residents gathered, united by their common passion for local food. After one week, 175 households have joined the Co-op by buying a $100 membership. An additional $25,000 has been loaned to the Co-op so far by members. The time is right, Hamilton is definitely ready for The Mustard Seed.

The spirit of cooperation was evident throughout the evening, with dozens of volunteers from various Action Teams working together to make every aspect of the event connect.  There was plenty of local cheese, hundreds of cupcakes, and hip “Beet the System” t-shirts for sale.  New members took home striking “Founding Member” cards and tiny mustard seedlings!

Join + Share

Our ambitious goal is to have 400 members by the end of 2012 so join today!  You can win a beautiful local food gift basket: simply refer the most members by December 31st and you will win this excellent selection valued at $100.

Looking for a unique and meaningful Christmas present that will create lasting change? Give a  Co-op membership to someone you love (please  indicate that it is a gift on the membership form and we will send a special message to the recipient).

Are you a blogger? Highlight The Mustard Seed in your blog, let us know, and each month we will draw from recent bloggers for a free t-shirt.

Do you like hosting parties? Host a membership info night; we will come to share about the Co-op with your friends and sign up new members. There are so many ways to get the word out, so be creative!

Invest in Your Co-op

The overwhelming response to The Mustard Seed crystallizes our commitment to making local, organic, and wholesome food readily available. However, in order to move forward we need approximately $450,000 in capitalization funds. The Co-op offers competitive returns on loans of $1,000 or more. Investing in the Co-op allows you to align your values with your finances, strengthening our local economy and our local food system while building a business committed to community development.

Together, we can change our food system, improve our health, and establish a viable non-profit business benefiting our local economy.  Tell everyone you can. Share your passion for local food, and we’ll realize this dream even sooner than we thought possible. And once again, thank you to everyone for making the Launch Party such an amazing experience!

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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