By Greg Ellis, Volunteer
If you have been around and following our progress since March of 2013 when the idea of the Paso Food Cooperative first saw the light, you might, now coming up on our 5th anniversary ask, "Why is it taking so long to start this co-op?" For a moment I feel a bit of shame and doubt, as I've been so invested in this endeavor and it seems our goal is long overdue. But it's a very reasonable question! Here's a little insight on why I wake up every morning and keep working on this thing, without a doubt:
0. We're Actually Having Fun
Yes, starting the co-op is hard work. And no, we're not there yet. But actually, this has been an incredible journey. I have made more new friends in this than through any other group I've been part of. We have created lifelong relationships, learned to make big decisions together, extended our abilities and personal capacities, hosted joyful events, met dedicated local producers and done a little to support their businesses, even though we don't have a store yet. Being a part of this group is life affirming, and even though we haven't built a community store yet, we are half way there--we have built a heck of a community through the friendships, connections, and relationships created by starting this store.
1. This Is A Normal Timeline
According to the Food Co-op Initiative which has helped over 120 food co-ops open over the past 10+ years, co-ops take time. Very rarely, a co-op will open after only 3 years. The average is 4 to 7 years, though, which puts us well within the range of a normal timeline. They have also seen co-ops take 10 years or longer to finally open as resounding successes.
2. It's A Complicated Processes
Taking time to do something right is a good thing, especially when it's as complicated as a community-owned grocery store. Before we can build a store, we need to build a community of 500 owners. We need to build relationships of trust and shared vision. We need to raise $1,000,000+. We need to build our own understanding of the process, from the background of non-grocers. We're building a community resource that will last for decades to come. It's not every day that a group of people gets together as volunteers to do something this big. It's not every day, but it has been done over 120 times in the last couple of decades, and with the support of groups like Food Co-op Initiative and SLO Natural Foods Co-op, we're traveling a well-marked path.
3. Life Happens
As with any business, organization, family--anything human, really--life happens, for better or worse. The original leader of the co-op developed a life-threatening condition and underwent surgery, leaving a void in leadership for over a year. Our Chief Financial Officer died unexpectedly of bladder cancer last year. Spouses have died, and members have stepped back to grieve. My mother committed suicide due to chronic pain, and I stepped back temporarily. A member's son was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. People move away, get jobs, lose jobs (we all have jobs and commitments beyond our volunteer efforts to start the store). All of the realities of life are layered on top of the complexity of starting a store. Even with all of this complexity and difficulty, we've maintained a strong, core group that has progressed significantly for 5 years.
4. It Won't Take Forever
With all the quick conveniences and sources of instant gratification available today, it's sometimes hard to maintain determined, focused action towards long-term goals. Try learning a new skill, learning to play the piano or draw, saving money towards a goal...it takes focused effort over extended periods of time. There are no shortcuts. Sometimes I feel the child rising up in me, asking "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" These are the facts that quickly subdue any doubt, and keep me going everyday:
+ We have a clear, tried and true, path to creating the store. We have a business plan that has been reviewed by our mentors. We've built strong relationships with support organizations like Slow Money (a local group of investors), SLO Natural Foods (a food co-op in San Luis Obispo), local producers (we have over two dozen local small business owners that have joined and supported the co-op).
+ We only need 1 in 20 families in Paso Robles to join, or 1 in 40 in the greater Paso Robles area (the surrounding area within a 10 mile radius). That means we can get 39 "no's" for every 1 "yes" and still meet our membership goals. And in fact, most people who are asked do join.
+ If every member recruited 2 new members, we'd reach our goal tomorrow. Of coarse, recruiting members means building trust, understanding, and shared vision, and probably won't happen tomorrow. Most people need to have 7 - 9 exposures to the co-op before they join. We are steadily building up our presence, having hosted over a dozen events in the last year alone, and attending many more. Overall, our membership goals are very feasible and I keep meeting people who haven't heard about the co-op, so we haven't hit a wall.
We've accomplished a lot in the past 5 years:
+ forming a kickass volunteer group that can work together effectively
+ incorporating w/ bylaws, paying taxes and writing a successful grant
+ conducting a feasibility study that shows that Paso Robles can support a store
+ developing marketing materials, a website, newsletter (800+ subscribers), social media (1000+ Facebook followers)
+ recruited 160 member-owners (most of whom have been recruited in the last year since we launched our full fledged outreach).
If we all get involved, we can open this store in the next two to three years. Please join us if you haven't already, spread the word, and get involved as your time and talent allows.
Source: Why does opening a food co-op take so long?
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