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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Food and Artisans Coop leader sees bright future

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Coop has been active in the community through the Go Green Festival and other events. The organization believes that a permanent building for sales and education is still its key to the future. Since a deal to lease a building fell through, the search for the right location is continuing.
The Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Cooperative's plan for a grand opening came to a halt. Even with the struggles and setbacks of trying to get a permanent co-op location up and running, Rachel Reynolds-Luster is hopeful for OCFPAC's future.

The co-op had plans for a grand opening on Dec. 1 at the intersection of Highways A and 19. "The determining factor in us postponing our grand opening was a change in the terms of the agreement regarding the building that we were hoping to occupy," Luster said.

Currently, OCFPAC has no location as a result of the change in the terms of the agreement. Luster said that they are actively seeking suggestions, ideas and offers from interested parties.

"I've been collecting information regarding potential sites and welcome input from OCFPAC and other community members," Luster said. She is optimistic that the right place and partner will come along and hopes to partner with someone who is just as interesting in building a place to benefit the residents of Oregon County.

Luster said the biggest obstacles for OCFPAC are securing a building or property for the market and community center and fundraising. Though there have been struggles, Luster said that a lot has been accomplished. "There's been a great amount of work accomplished. We've got some money in the bank. We've got a budget for the first year and a basic business plan. We've collected contact info for a host of local food producers and craftspeople, got over 1,600 informational mailers out, and have built strong community partnerships."

The most recent step forward for the co-op is a website which is in the works. Luster said, "Sherry Willis of Half-Pint Homestead in West Plains has volunteered to create a web site for us with a way for people to find out more about Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op projects anda allow donations and membership payments via Pay Pal." The fundraisers held by the co-op have been successful and Luster is encouraged to see new faces at the community events.

While the co-op is in search of a new location, work in the community continues and Luster encourages people to sign up for the memberships. "Memberships help us with this work and create the seed capital for our market and community center. These memberships are payable in product, money, or service and are for consumers as well as producers. Co-op members are involved in the decision making process and determine how profits will be re-invested in the community and to which mutual aid society they'll go," Luster said.

The residents of Oregon County are the most important part of the co-op. Anything handmade or homegrown in the county or surrounding area, Luster wants to know about it. "When we find our doors, and they're open, we'd love to have as much locally-produced food, art, and craft items as possible. I'm also seeking ideas for activities or resources that people would like to see as part of our community center function, for instance, one member has suggested weekly music jams and several would like to see workshops on activities such as crocheting or canning," Luster said.

Luster doesn't have an estimated time of when the co-op will have a location or be physically open. The co-op will not make any decisions on a community center space until after the first of the year. "I've been focusing my energy on a side project of the OCFPAC, a mobile meat processing and packaging unit. The basic idea is to create a mobile unit that can travel to different farms or locations in the county and facilitate USDA-inspected processing, refrigeration, and packaging of meat from county producers. I'm working with local producers and M12, a design collaborative in Colorado, to develop the project," Luster said. She also said the co-op has benefited from the Small Business and Technology Center and the Co-operative marketing and distribution meetings with Ozibs, small business incubator, in West Plains. "We are especially excited that the noted animal scientist, writer, and lecturer, Temple Grandin, has agreed to collaborate on this project with us."

The co-op's idea behind the project is to develop the unit with local investors and work to transfer ownership to local producers, once the unit is built to maintain and operate, as they see fit, and to their benefit. The co-op not only wants to meet regulation, but also provide what local producers need and want. "Our interest is to create the resource for county producers in a culturally appropriate way and support availability of the meat being produced in our county to local consumers. There has been forward momentum on this project, so I've been focusing my attention here as we re-group on the market space location. I would love to have input from as many local meat producers as possible on this unit," Luster said.

The cancellation of the grand opening brought a lot of disappointment to Luster. "We were all so excited to finally have the space open and get good things going in there, with benefit to all our communities. We'd spent a lot of time visualizing what that would be. Still, I really do have my eye on the long ball," Luster said. She reminds herself of what her hero, Wendell Berry, once told her, "You have to think of your work as being generations long." Her goal is to build something to strengthen the community for several generations to come.

"While it's a disappointment to lose our initial site, I'm optimistic about our future. There have been so many people that have talked with me about the OCFPAC enthusiastically, people that are supportive, helpful, and see how the Co-Op could benefit them and their neighbors. They come from different backgrounds. They're all ages with varied experiences and expertise and insights they're able and willing to offer. I know we can all work together to do this. This too is encouragement enough for me to continue to contribute whatever abilities I have to the cause."

OCFPAC currently has a raffle going on for Fertrell organic fertilizer and soil amendments to cover 1,500 sq. ft. of ground, which is an estimated $200 value. Tickets are being sold for $1.00 a piece or six for $5.00. A fodder kit, 18 tray kit valued at $800.00, has also been donated to the co-op to raffle off as a fundraiser, which is being raffled for $3.00 a ticket.

To request a membership form call Luster at (417) 280-1633, email luster@aol.com or by mail at P.O. Box 124, Alton, Mo. 65606. There is also an Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op account at the Bank of Thayer and donations can be made to that account by any community member.

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