And… we’re off!

Cross-posted at Slow Coast.

A springtime harvest of deliciousbeautiful purple broccoli

There seems to be three ways for a nation to acquire wealth: the first is by war…this is robbery; the second by commerce, which is generally cheating; the third by agriculture, the only honest way.
(Benjamin Franklin)

Last Tuesday evening the newly-formed Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative held its first public information meeting at Vancouver Island University in Powell River. The purpose of the evening was to share information about how we got to where we are, what we intend to do, and how our members can fit into all that.

One thing I realized as I assembled notes for my presentation was how much progress six novices managed to make in five months. Our first meeting to talk about forming a cooperative was back on November 27, 2009; so the public meeting last week was our five-month anniversary. In that short time, armed with little more than determination and persistence, this initiating team accomplished the following:

  • learned how to incorporate as a cooperative;
  • specifically, learned how to incorporate as a not-for-profit — or community service — cooperative;
  • learned how to amend the standard rules in order to create the governance structure we wanted to see;
  • wrote a vision statement (“A thriving community with a strong and reliable local food network”);
  • started drafting a statement of values and principles for directing our operations;
  • bought a domain, created a basic website, and set up email accounts;
  • created a logo;
  • started recruiting members;
  • began work on one major project, the Fruit Tree Project, and have started to line up other potential projects for this year or next.

I’m sure there is more, but these are some of the highlights.

But why, you ask? Why create yet another organization? What sets this one apart?

I’m still trying to figure out my best answer to questions like these. But the one thing about cooperatives that most interests me and the other members of the initiating team, who are now the board of first directors, is that they are highly member-driven organizations. A cooperative without members is not a cooperative, and cooperatives come into existence in order to supply its members with goods or services which they might otherwise struggle to supply for themselves.

In this case, the main gaps we aim to fill are shared skills, knowledge, and resources. Increasingly, people seem to be getting the message about the importance of food production to the local economy and to a broader picture of sustainability and resilience. Although it’s hard to gauge, there is uncertainty out there about the future and about our ability to keep the food supply running as it has been doing for the past few decades. Interest in local food continues to increase.

But once people start to question the global industrialized food system, how are they supposed to change the way they shop, prepare food, and eat? Some of us have what it takes to start tearing up the lawn to make room for purple broccoli and so on; but many people will feel that they don’t know enough about growing food, or they haven’t spent any time doing it and so it would fail. Or they haven’t got the time, or the tools, or a friendly neighbour they can work with or bounce ideas off. And so the good intentions, as they so often do, fall away and never manifest themselves as positive action.

What people need is a proper community of fellow food-producers (and -processors, and -preservers, and -preparers, …) with whom they can share plans, garden space, seeds, tools, time, labour, laughter, and everything else that helps us all participate in a “strong and reliable local food network”.

This is where the Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative comes in. We chose the word “Provisioners” deliberately: a provisioner is traditionally someone who supplies provisions, meaning food and drink, usually to an army or other large group of people. And of course provision also means forethought or foresight: to make provision for something means to take it into account in one’s plans. Provisions are preparations in advance of some foreseeable event or situation. We wanted to play on this cluster of related meanings — to suggest that each one of us has what it takes to make provisions — to indicate that we can all become provisioners and escape the narrow confines of being either a passive consumer or an all-powerful producer. Just regular folks who know where their food comes from, how it got there, and where it’s going. United into a community of provisioners supporting and strengthening each other.

In this sense, many people up until about World War II were provisioners: they had some idea what it takes to produce, store, preserve, and prepare food for themselves and their families. Most of this work was considered women’s work, but it was respected as vital to the prosperity of the family and the community. We need to get these skills back into regular circulation, but we need to help people ease back into them. Many people are utterly daunted by the idea of tearing up lawn to create garden; or canning large amounts of food and storing it against lean times; or making sauerkraut; or foraging for wild foods; or building and using a root cellar; and on and on it goes.

So the only way out of this that we can see is to create a community of people working together to save money, time, and effort as they increase the amount of food being produced, preserved, stored, and prepared in the region. We intend to work with our members to design and implement projects which will attract people who want to secure their household food supply, but need the impetus of working with others, acquiring skills through doing, gaining knowledge through talking and listening, and sharing tools and equipment that they cannot afford to buy for themselves. The Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative was set up to be the framework within which we can make that happen.

Some people out there are the fearless leaders and trailblazers who don’t let any obstacles slow them down. But more are cautious and need support and encouragement. If we’re going to create a grassroots revival of traditional food skills, we’ll need to create new institutions to bring back those skills. This is not something which can happen through the existing consumer model. We cannot shop our way out of our passivity. It’s time to start creating shared projects and community institutions that bring people together. Ones which are open, honest, and fair, and increase people’s sense of a hopeful convivial future.

If this appeals to you, please consider becoming a member and helping us figure out how we can get more people involved in the local food network. Our first general meeting will be on Wednesday June 23, 2010, at 7:00 PM at Vancouver Island University in Powell River. In order to participate in this general meeting, you will need to become a member before May 24, 2010. For more information, drop us a line. We need you!

First ever public meeting of the Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative

On Tuesday April 27, 2010, we held our first public information meeting to let folks know what we’ve been up to since November and to have a discussion of some of the projects we’re already working on or might take on. Thank you to everyone who showed up!

We presented some basic information about cooperatives, their values and principles; and about the (not-for-profit) community service cooperative model, which is how we chose to incorporate.

Some interesting questions came up from the people who came out for the meeting, and we’ll be working on addressing some of these concerns.

Our first ever general meeting will be held at Vancouver Island University on Wednesday June 23 at 7:00 PM.

According to the laws that regulate cooperatives in BC, only those members whose applications have been accepted on or before May 24, 2010 will be permitted to vote at this general meeting. Anyone who wants to apply for membership should print out and complete our membership application form. Attach $20 in cash or cheque payable to Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative (or SFPC) and mail it to the address on the form. Or you can drop it off at Kingfisher Books on Marine Ave. in Powell River. Membership in the cooperative earns you the right to vote, become a director, and participate in decision-making and in our projects (including all the food preserving and processing we hope to do this year).

Our rules permit two people to take out a joint membership. Joint members will have only one vote. Only one joint member can become a director at any one time. Joint members will be able to participate in projects of the cooperative as though they were a single member. If you have questions about this or any other aspect of the Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative, please contact me or any other director.

We hope that you will consider becoming a member so that you can participate in the upcoming general meeting, and especially so that you can contribute your knowledge, skills, passion, and energy to this new cooperative.

Thank you!

We’re real!

On April 6, 2010, the Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative is an officially incorporated community service cooperative!

We’re hard at work nailing down some of the remaining bits of crucial infrastructure:

  • Values and principles (these matter!);
  • Getting a chequing account at the local credit union;
  • Logo;
  • Policies for management of projects and all other things.

We’ll be holding a public information meeting and hoping to recruit some keen members on Tuesday April 27, 7:00 PM, at Vancouver Island University here in Powell River. Come on out and help us figure out what we’re doing!

Stay tuned and keep watching the skies.