Monday, March 28, 2011

The Cost of the Co-operative

As a former member of the Nebraska Food Co-operative (NFC) Board of Directors, I am proud to sell our products through the Co-op.  Meg and I supported NFC as consumers before we signed up as producers to sell our baked goods.  While I was not involved in the years of planning for the NFC, I was the sixth person to join the co-op as a consumer-member, and first volunteered on the November delivery day in 2006 when another volunteer and I carried locally raised and freshly processed turkeys to new customers.  The co-op has grown since then.  The evening shift on delivery day now requires at least four or five volunteers to manage transactions, package orders, and hand them off with a smile to the waiting customers.  The morning shift, where items are sorted and distributed, also requires more volunteers than when the co-op began in 2006.  But with growth can sometimes come pain, or at least seams that gape and buttons that tug.

The co-op tried to deliver by bike, but a larger infrastructure is needed to meet the demand of the consumers and the supplies of the producers.  (Photos below taken on 03 July 2008.  Pictured are John Hazuka and James Hermsen)

The President of the NFC Board of Directors recently notified all co-op members, both consumers and producers, that a fee increase of 5% (from 10 to 15%) will be applied to all producers.  The 10% fee for consumer members will remain unchanged.  To provide a quick peek into the challenges of distributing local food, here is an excerpt from the President's email:

As we approach the opening of our next Order Cycle, I wanted to let you know about a change that may affect what you see when you begin putting together your order.  Although this change does not directly affect your fees, it will have an indirect effect as our producer/farmer members make decisions about what they charge for their products.
We have kept our fees low since beginning the NFC in 2006 as a measure of support for our farmers and producers.  So far our income has not been high enough to meet operating expenses over the long term, and we have depended on volunteer labor for our drivers, cashiers, sorters and administrative workers.

Over the next year, we are hoping to meet this challenge with many strategies.  Although we recognize the impact it will have on all of you, one of those strategies must be to increase the percentage that farmers and producers pay to the NFC.  This will help ensure the delivery service we all enjoy continues in spite of labor and equipment maintenance expenses and the rising cost of fuel.

The Board has voted to raise the NFC producer fee to 15% of their sales, before sales tax.  This change will go into effect for our next Order Cycle. . . Our producer/farmer members have been informed of this increase before now so they have had a chance to make changes to their product listings.  If your favorite product has gone up in price, please understand that it is most likely due this increase in NFC fees.

These two birds, along with many other producers, decided to changed prices to reflect the fee increase.  

The local food solution is multifaceted and complex.  Books have been written, dissertations  submitted, and organizations devoted to increasing the distribution of local food.  I could wax pedantic on local food for hours, but I just wanted to provide notification of the price change and encourage you to learn more about the issues and challenges that make eating locally difficult and expensive, as well as joyful and environmentally thoughtful.  

Luckily, if you are in the Omaha/Lincoln area, you can attend a free, four hour workshop on Local Food Systems on April 5.  Shannon Moncure, president of the NFC Board of Directors, will be the featured educator!  

~ Trilety

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