The origin of the McHenry County Food Cooperative (MCFC) can be traced back to around 2010 when Marcia Johnson and Scott Brix expressed to each other how nice it would be if there was a food co-op in our community. Both Marcia and Scott had shopped at co-ops and appreciated what they stood for in communities that support them. They both had fantasized that a local food co-op, besides providing food, might also provide a community gathering place, educational opportunities, music and even employment as they both were approaching retirement age. It was over cups of coffee and a period of two or three years that this idea would occasionally surface. In January 2013, Scott was laid off from a large multinational company. For the first time in years he had time to devote to projects that he had only previously dreamed about.
Momentum started building for MCFC when Scott and Marcia made a few phone calls to like minded people in their community that they suspected would be interested in such an endeavor. Calls were made to local farmers, business people, activists, environmentalists and parents of children with food allergies to name of few. Invitations were extended to attend the first meeting of MCFC in late February of 2013. This meeting was rescheduled due to a snowstorm (storms have been a reoccurring theme for our meetings to this day). The group finally gathered for the first time on March 14, 2013. According to Scott “we had no idea what we were doing or even how to get started.” After a few meetings and searching the Internet for resources, momentum grew and the idea started taking shape.
The group that gathered started referring to themselves as the steering team and made several decisions such as building a web site to begin gathering names and demographic data of potential supporters / members. A decision was also made to follow the steps outlined in the manual found online entitled How to Start a Food Co-op published by the Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network. The group is also keenly aware of and striving to adhere to the four cornerstones / three stages model to keep us on the right path toward developing a cooperative business.
Monthly meetings after the initial meeting have occurred and with each meeting there is more organization, more decisions, more confidence, more attendance and generally more excitement. Each meeting agenda includes reading the mission statement which the group crafted at the May 2013 meeting which is as follows: Build a LOCAL Food COOPERATIVE promoting a HEALTHY, ETHICAL and RESILIENT COMMUNITY.” Every meeting also begins by asking a meeting attendee to read the seven modern principles of shared by all food co-ops.
Recent meetings have included guests such as the general manager from another co-op not too far from McHenry County. At the July 2013 the group engaged with a speaker from the Sustainability Center from McHenry County College to discuss how we can cooperate with each other. In August 2013 the group will engage with a speaker from University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. Another important decision that helped build momentum was to have an intentional awareness campaign and build the database / mailing list to 250 by the end of July. This campaign was successful and the goal was met.
From these humble beginnings and the meetings that have taken place monthly since march as well as phone calls and informal side meetings, the MCFC is beginning to take shape. The spirit of MCFC from those that are participating in this effort seems to value the following ideas and principles:
- Community building through food and non-food related events;
- Support local agriculture and farmers;
- Drive sustainability for the planet through food and education for the community;
- Provide a diverse selection of source of healthy food products not easily accessible elsewhere;
- Offer a large selection of organic food products;
- Provide a living wage to employees of MCFC through jobs and a work environment that is pleasant and fulfilling.
The MCFC has recently engaged with a lawyer inspired to help MCFC and as such has agreed to do work on a pro bono basis. The identified lawyer will handle incorporation of a legal co-op entity and has advised that the MCFC should be a for profit enterprise. The steering team is in search of an accountant that will help in a similar way.
As a group we have made excellent progress in the following areas:
- Identifying a clear detailed timeline for milestones leading ultimately to opening the doors in May of 2015;
- Community leader support (Support letters included with application);
- Two local newspaper articles (included with application);
- Working draft of bylaws with subcommittees identified;
- Currently working with pro bono lawyer on information as a co-op in Illinois. Expected date of completion September 2013;
- A working subcommittee for awareness\media outreach.
At this point, working only with passion and sweat equity, the group is well into creating a vision and defining our mission and core values. The professional talent that has stepped forward has enabled the group to quickly organize and build a structure for further growth and development. With the legal help now on board, and an accountant the group is searching to find, the group will soon step into raising capital as the 2nd step of the four-cornerstone process. With the help of grants and other external funds raised, the MCFC group will soon employ consultants for marketing and feasibility work.