Imagine owning your grocery store!

Mike Fox has a vision. It’s big. It involves community commitment. It guarantees community benefit. Mike would like it to be universally accessible and not a marginal operation.

It’s a food cooperative.

As executive director of Living Green Barrie, Mike is using his considerable background in finance to broaden people’s understanding of what cooperatives are and can do, particularly food cooperatives.

Each month, Living Green Barrie sponsors an information session on a community topic dedicated to more responsible living and the past few have focussed on Food Cooperatives.

If you and I are normal Barrie residents we’re operating at full tilt, particularly if we commute south to work. While we may have an interest in supporting local growers at the Saturday morning farmers’ market, our livestyle may make it impossible. We default to the corporate grocery stores which are set up to make money for their owners and investors.

A Food Co-op operates differently, more like a credit union than a bank. While it has its own building, its mandate is food security within our community. A Food Co-op buys from local growers and producers and reduces the food items that have to be imported from distances far from Barrie.

Mike says there is lots of interest in ‘food security’ in our region, mentioning a food collaborative group at the county level, a food hub being considered by the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture. Simply put, a food co-op gives farmers a place to bring their crops to store and sell collectively. While it doesn’t compete with those wanting the experience of a farmers’ market, it makes the process much more efficient for the farmer.

If you participate you can be an owner of the food co-op. Members own and run it and each member has one vote. There’s no power structure based on who owns the most shares. A co-op runs to benefit its members and its community.

Mike is eager to get this off the ground. He’s also keen to reduce the environmental cost of producing food, much of it genetically modified. It’s not price that drives a food co-op; it’s community building, supporting local economy, supporting local products, keeping more money in our community.

In early July Mike held an information on food co-ops and says the process is going to require real commitment.

“First we need people who believe in community and the community process. Then we need people who believe a food co-op would serve the community interest. Then we need financial, marketing, communications, business people who can take on roles to do a feasibility study and support a healthy food system.

Mike says: “that’s where I am right now. We need 50-100 people who are interested and committed and prepared to buy in to the co-op process to share the load to make this happen.

This is not about 15 people developing a buying club.”

Mike’s looking at a number of food co-ops as great exmples. Collingwood just opened a Community Food Co-operative. Toronto has a West End Co-op. Wychwood Barns is another Toronto location in the Bathurst and Davenport area… it has a food co-op, gardens, a community kitchen, greenhouse, and community centre. Mike says it’s the ultimate in community!

What drives him to spend the bulk of his time on living green initiatives when he used to make his living placing mortgages and selling financial services?

“I think we’re hitting a real tipping point in how we live,” he said, pointing to climate change and resource depletion by big business. “We need to build resilience into our community. This is one thing I can work on to make a difference.”

Really, it’s the rain drop effect. There are many ‘drops of rain’ in entities like Simcoe County Farm Fresh, area farmers markets, 100-mile food stores, and together these will give great support to a food co-op.

Mike says there are lots of links to videos and examples of community food co-ops. He’s keen that people have a look before deciding to make a commitment. This won’t be a short-term project; it’s going to take people who have the vision and the tenacity to share the workload so the co-op takes place.

Interested? Mike Fox. 705 721-7953.

Links? A food Co-op in Your Community, Collingwood Community Food Co-op (new), Ontario Natural Foods Co-op

Mike? This is taking real leadership. Thank you!