|Farm fresh produce at Vancouver Food Co-op|
I’ve been looking for a centralized meeting place among local community supported farms in Southwest Washington…a one-stop website where consumers can quickly locate farm specific items. SW WA CSA Farms has a website where many of our local farmers are listed. The website includes basic information about how the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program works. The SW WA CSA Farms site is a starting place, but it is not interactive. It provides contact information. Only. In order to find out each farm’s features, a person would have to personally interview each and every CSA in Southwest Washington. I did manage to visit two farms so far, Northwest Organic Farm and Inspiration Plantation. (See previous posts), but the big project will take time.
Clark County needs an informational hub now, today. Our renewed interest in community interaction and local food production has engendered a need for cohesive, interactive information about local farm products. Nationally, Americans are trending back from social isolation toward a renewed sense of community, and many wonderful information hubs are cropping up. Kirk Wright wants the Vancouver Food Cooperative to become that communications hub for Southwest Washington's self-sustaining local farmers and consumers.
Wright, President of Vancouver Food Cooperative (VFC), in an interview this week, said that while farm fresh produce, dairy and meat products are not their only interests, these products are high in priority at the co-op, and he thinks VFC can help local producers succeed.
As Wright sees it, a dynamic, informative website is an essential part of economic success in today’s world. Besides providing local producers a conveniently located storefront for their products, Wright says a strong web presence is an essential component in linking interested consumers with local producers. VFC is revamping and upgrading its web presence right now. Wright sees a dynamic web presence as key to the co-op's future as well as being important for local farmers.
Through a VFC supported blog feed, farmers could make crop announcements when specific crops are ready to sell, other community programs could announce their events, and co-op members could work out co-op related communications.
Besides blog feeds, co-op volunteers dream of fact sheets for each co-op item, including links to additional information and recipes. Azure Farms quinoa, for example, is one of the world's "wonder foods". People want to put quinoa on their tables but have no idea how to incorporate it into tasty menus. Wright says that with cooking guidelines and links to tried and tasty recipes, more people would turn quinoa into a staple of their weekly diets, and come back to the VFC website for more. He said, “I want the VFC website to provide this kind of information for all its products, including in depth information on local farmers’ goods.”
Because the co-op and its website development is volunteer dependent, it takes time for ideas to turn into action. While volunteerism for the co-op is on the upswing, farmer involvement in the co-op has not yet increased as much as Wright hoped it would. "Local farmers are quirky," he said, "While some are anxious to get involved with one another and with our co-op, others are very private and avoid contact with the public."
VFC opened its new, larger, more central location at 1002 Main Street last fall, allowing the co-op to expand its inventory and be more assessable to the public. In order to promote local food production, about 25 percent of VFC's square footage is set aside for locally produced fruits and vegetables. The acquisition of a large two-door cooler has increased the co-op's efficiency, and they hope to add a display freezer with glass doors in order to better display locally grown meats as well as an open-air refrigerated produce display case.
"Growth has been phenomenal," says Wright, "We started our first storefront with an inventory of a couple of hundred items and now we're up to a well-stocked store of nearly two thousand different products." Wright attributes the co-op’s progress mainly to its volunteers. Part of the upturn is because Astoria Cooperative, a highly successful food co-op in Astoria, Oregon, recently donated a number of bulk food bins to VFC. “The bins provide us with a safe and sanitary way to offer grains, seeds, nuts and cereals,” Wright reports. Another reason for the co-op’s success is because the USDA has identified downtown Vancouver as a "food desert," meaning that downtown residents lack adequate access to quality groceries. VFC allows residents, many without cars, to walk to the co-op rather than going grocery shopping on public transit or being limited to convenience store fare.
Seating before a stylish hardwood counter at the front of the store gives Wright special pride. “It is the heart of the store,” he says, “a place where community can meet.” Whether Vancouver Food Cooperative will become Vancouver’s farm-product information center depends on community members, farmers and volunteers. If you want to help, co-op staff will be happy to hear from you.