Market research : what our future members are saying

This word cloud is based on the 613 survey respondents who said they would like to become a member of a community grocery that prioritizes local producers. The responses to the question “How would you want Hamilton’s community grocery to be different than the place where you currently purchase your groceries?” were categorized into 52 themes, weighted according to use, and organized into a word cloud.

The analysis of our market survey is now complete! Thanks to all 1,000 people who took the time to give us input online.  A special thanks to Kaylen Fredrickson, a University of Toronto grad student, and geography professor, food security guru & local Hamiltonian Sarah Wakefield for your invaluable help in deciphering the results. Thanks so much Kaylen and Sarah!

Some interesting trends emerged from the demographics in the group that said they would become a member of the co-op (613 respondents); one that was not surprising is that most of the respondents were female (2.08 female : 1 male) and correlates with how women are often the primary grocery shopper in a household. There was a clear trend in that respondents who are most interested in the co-op were younger (20-39 range), although there was a wide range of ages represented in the survey.

Ottawa St. Farmers Market stall July 2012

Another interesting piece of information relates to current grocery shopping habits for those who would like to become members of The Mustard Seed: 40% of these households indicated that they grow their own food sometimes or frequently. That’s a lot of gardening! Most of their shopping is done at supermarkets (95% sometimes or frequently), farmers markets (79% sometimes or frequently), and specialty grocery (52% sometimes or frequently).

We will continue to use the feedback from the survey to determine what Hamilton’s cooperative grocery will look like – what are the member-owner’s needs and values. Some things that stood out are that it be community-oriented, and that shoppers will feel a personal connection with friendly, knowledgeable staff. They want it to be a place where you can run into friends and make new ones, and where they can learn more about food and the local food system. If you would like to be part of this planning, please email us about how to get involved. We have a meeting planned for September 10th to connect volunteers with teams so we can move this cooperative forward. Join us to learn more!

This word cloud is based on the 613 survey respondents who said they would like to become a member of a community grocery that prioritizes local producers. The responses to the question “Where do you normally get your groceries?” were weighted according to frequency (sometimes or frequently). With your help, soon THE MUSTARD SEED GROCERY CO-OP will be among these options!

How Canadians Shop – ‘conventional’ grocery shopping study by Environics Research Group

A Summer Read: The Town That Food Saved

Hot days announcing summer’s arrival in Hamilton have given me just the excuse I’ve needed to read under a fan or in the park.  I (Lynda) just gobbled up The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food by Ben Hewitt. It is a fabulous look at how the small town of Hardwick, Vermont created a comprehensive, functional and vibrant local food system, proving “what advocates of a decentralized food system have been saying for years: that a healthy agriculture system can be the basis of communal strength, economic vitality, food security, and general resilience in uncertain times.”

Hardwick is a blue-collar community with a median income 25 percent below the state average and an unemployment rate 40 percent higher.  It’s a town that boomed on the granite industry but by the 1920s was in severe decline due to new concrete technologies, dealing the town a tremendous blow.  Yet despite this historic and the more recent world economic crises, Hardwick has breathed vitality into its economy through an enviable number of food-based businesses built by a group of entrepreneurs who support each other by sharing advice, equipment, and capital.  Hewitt questions the popular (and his own) perception that local food is a luxury for those with time and money “to ponder the carbon footprint of their milk and meatballs.”  He digs into the stories behind Vermont Soy, Jasper Hill Farm’s cheese caves, Pete’s Greens, and Claire’s Restaurant and Bar among others.

The book is not about cooperatives per say – it’s about food as a means not only to sustain life but also community, about the joys and challenges of working for social change, and about rethinking our entire food-supply chain.  Yet at the centre of Hardwick village lies the Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op.  Existing since 1975, it serves “the critical purpose of providing Hardwick’s new generation of farmers with a market” for their produce and goods.  Hewitt also notes that it provides people with a ‘third place’:  a place to come together that’s neither work nor home but is still connected to them, a cornerstone of community life where people gather and ideas are born and debated as people check items off their grocery lists and head to the cash register.  “In this sense, the co-op is really just a microcosm of the larger Hardwick ag movement … it is rooted in food and provides an outlet for communal engagement and citizen democracy (all co-op members have input and voting rights).”

The Hamilton Public Library has multiple copies of this thoughtful look at the future of our food system  – so sit under a fan or in a park, and read!  And imagine and participate with us in building our community, our economy, and a thriving local food system here in the hot and humid Hammer!

A big day in Toronto for the Mustard Seedlings

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.

ImageNext 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.Image

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!Image

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.Image

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!Image