The Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op (OCFPAC) is working to create a market and community space to provide a means of sharing foods, crafts, skills, and knowledge of the residents of Oregon County and the surrounding area.
Rachel Luster is the Oregon County resident behind the operation. She was inspired to create the co-op because she feels blessed to live in a community where people practice an "economy of neighborliness." "Folks here, take care of one another and feel a responsibility to their friends, neighbors, and place. I love that so many people in our county, on whatever scale, are producing food for themselves and that there's a tradition here of trading for other goods and services. These traditions inspired me to build on those strengths in addressing some of the less desirable realities of our county's statistics."
Those less desirable statistics include high poverty rates. Luster said that poverty is often generational, and that the residents have limited access to healthy food in most of the county. "I've been really inspired thinking about the OCFPAC as a common sense means to have a positive impact on these issues, and also as a means of bringing folks together," Luster said.
The co-op is working to obtain a multi-function building and property that will serve as market space, community center, and education facility. The market will operate on a membership/co-op model with 100 percent of its profits being re-invested into the communities of Oregon County. The property that we're pursuing is located at state Highways A and 19, between Alton and Thayer. It is the geographic center of the county, has small acreage attached and is a wi-fi hotspot," Luster said.
Memberships can be purchased with money, products, or service. Items sold or traded in the market will be on a 30/70 split, with producers receiving 70 percent and setting the price of their goods. The co-op will carry food items and artisan goods and crafts from Oregon County, and a 40-mile surrounding geographic radius. Rather than the profits from market sales being distributed among members, they will be distributed as mutual aid funds to community members and organizations in need. The recipients of those funds will be decided via a vote by OCFPAC members.
The long term goals of OCFPAC include a certified community kitchen in the space, as well as a year round covered community garden space that will be both for individual use and a small scale, land based business incubator for county residents. The building will also house a regionally specific cultural lending library, offering music, art, seeds, and books that can be borrowed and added to by Co-Op members. Members will draw on the skills and knowledge of each other to provide workshops on various aspects of a land-based economy, and cultural activities including food preservation, fiber arts, music, organic and sustainable agricultural practices and more.
The chief goal of OCFPAC is to nurture the culture from below-the-ground up, by working together. The co-op's approach is intended to be holistic by encouraging the ecological, physical, spiritual, economic, and cultural health of Oregon County through work in the belief that a vibrant and dynamic culture is both the flower and the seed of a well-tended community.
Luster said that the founding members have been holding community engagement meetings and outreach events for the last year and a half. The membership is low right now, but the group is trying to raise money in preparation to open the physical space.
"When the market space/community center is open, we can offer benefits for members. We have approximately 230 people following the conversation online, via our Facebook page (www.facebook.com /OregonCountyCo-Op) and our email list," added Luster.
When asked about Oregon County residents' reaction, Luster replied, "We've been really lucky to have people willing to donate their individual specialties and talents to this cause. We're always looking for volunteers, and that need will increase as we transition into operating a market and community center, but, for the most part, people have contacted me and volunteered on their own, which I think is a good sign."
Luster added, "Our greatest challenge has been trying to accomplish our goals through private funding. The consensus of producers and consumers that have come to our meetings has been that private, rather than public or government funds, are preferred. This is challenging especially since one of the goals is to promote economic equality in a county where over a fourth of the people live below the national poverty line. This is one reason that memberships and donations are so critical to the success of the project."
The co-op is currently preparing for a fundraiser on Nov. 9 at the Community Worship Center in Alton at 6:00 p.m. There will be a screening of the documentary, "Seed Swap," which talks about saving your own seeds and other tips on sustainable living. Jill Henderson, local author and naturalist, will also be speaking at the fundraiser. The fundraiser is free, but if you donate $5.00 or more, your information will be put in a directory to promote your business for free.
The goal is to raise $1,000 in order to have the co-op in operation by Dec. 1. In preparation, the co-op is attempting to organize a county wide, bulk mailing membership drive. It is asking for Oregon County residents to support the membership drive by making a donation of $5.00 or more. Seventy, $5.00 donations are needed to make the drive happen before their November fundraiser.
Anyone who donates will receive a newsletter complete with listings of contributors and information about their farms, businesses, projects, and artwork. The newsletter will be distributed online. Donations can be made at any branch of Bank of Thayer to the Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Cooperative account.
For questions or additional information, you may contact Rachel Luster at email@example.com.