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Paso Robles food co-op formed 

Paso food co-op

Local group starts Paso Food Cooperative

By Brandi Stansbury

paso food co opAs the agrarian lifestyle and the importance of community become more valuable, a space for convergence of these values is a current need state in the North County. In this area where farming, gardening and livestock cultivation thrive, the upcoming Paso Robles Food Cooperative is an exciting development for the region. The opportunity for residents to share the wealth is on the horizon.

A food cooperative is a space where the community can own a share in the store, through a yearly membership, and all interested parties can sell their foods and goods here. It is open to non-members as well as serves as a nucleus for those without an outlet to sell items they otherwise could not.

Currently, San Luis Obispo houses a food co-op at 2494 Victoria Ave, SLO – Open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. that’s success has led it to a larger space and a growing number of members. The space, open to the public, has a simple mission explained in their literature, “provide our members with products and information that empower health and wellbeing. We support our community through buying from local suppliers and farmers. We promote organic and non-gmo standards. The Co-Op is owned by our membership and governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Our sole purpose is the benefit of our members. Our financial goal is to break even with profits being shared by the membership through low prices and generous member discounts.”

Founded by area resident Montgomery Norton, the Paso Robles Food Cooperative seeks to become a hybrid of well-studied models of similar establishments around the country. Seasoned in both culinary arts and community organizing, Norton received a master’s degree in Urban Planning from UC Irvine, spent years working and studying at the esteemed Esalen Institute in Big Sur as well as living and traveling around Europe and doing a two year stint in Napa Valley. He’s able to localize his worldview and sees the North County as a perfect place for a food cooperative.

“When I first moved here, I was already aware of the incredible abundance and diversity of food grown and produced on the Central Coast and the rich agricultural history,” he says. “Living in working downtown Paso Robles, it was immediately apparent the difficulty in acquiring access to local food. Not only that, the current model of the corporate natural foods industry has driven prices up to a level that makes it prohibitive for most families to afford healthy, organic, sustainably-grown & raised products. A Food Cooperative, which is a locally-owned business, provides a stable market for local farmers and food producers. And, it’s goal is to create a community space focused on improving the local food system through access and affordability.”

The Paso Robles Food Cooperative continues to become a reality thanks to a well-planned, methodical approach that Norton explains, “There is a standard, tried and true development model for start-up cooperative businesses. They have been around for over 100 years. The systems and strategies for launching cooperative businesses continue to be refined. Following months of individual research, we focused on hosting a public event to introduce the concept to the community. From that meeting our Steering Committee was formed. We are now in the first phase of development, where we are creating the organizational foundation for the project. From there we will move into feasibility analysis and business planning. Followed by implementation, construction, and opening of the store.

“Our Steering Committee is a group of community members who are volunteering their time to this development process. We are currently in the process of applying for two grants to support us with start-up seed money and in-kind technical expertise. We are also developing a fundraising campaign through crowd-funding and local, community events. This money will go to pay for administrative costs, beginning marketing materials, hosting further events, hiring a project manager, our feasibility/market study, and business plan.”

As the plans for the co-op develop, the end goal of a proper brick and mortar facility is slated to be a hub for not only those looking to purchase food, but also as a space to strengthen the community. Norton adds, “In addition to access and affordability, the Paso Food Co-op seeks to benefit the community through strengthening local agriculture and the food system by providing a stable market for farmers and food producers to bring their products to the consumer (both the local community and visitors). Our vision is to help put Central Coast food on the map and make this area a destination for the local food experience as much as it is known for being a quality wine region. We hope to provide many community services with regard to education (agriculture, cooking, gardening, health, food preservation/storage classes, etc), school lunch programs, food system awareness, community resilience & sustainability, senior food & healthy-eating services, business & marketing services, community events, workshops, and hosting other organizational meetings, fundraisers, etc. Basically, a community center focused on food and interaction for a healthy lifestyle and community.”

Paso Robles continues to gain world notoriety in wine circles and with an agriculture based area comes amazing, foods and services. The Paso Robles Food Cooperative is set to be a much needed hub for all things food in the North County and with the ongoing support of the community will be an exciting addition to the already progressive area.

For those interested in getting in on the ground floor of this project, email the Paso Robles Food Cooperative – pasofoodcooperative@gmail.com

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About the author: Publisher Scott Brennan

Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or follow his blog.