Thursday, May 29, 2014

Community

It all started with a phone call. It was just before Thanksgiving, we were still in high gear. We had turkeys on pasture, harvesting to do- the last thing I felt like doing was answering the phone. But, it was a neighbor, fellow Agland Protection Committee member, and, someone I liked- Jeanne Mettler.

Jeanne is just one of those people who gets things done. She's that rare type- she has great ideas and the kind of dedication it takes to see those great ideas actually follow through. She was calling to see if we thought farmers in the area would have any interest in saving our local general store.

Our local general store isn't just a convenience store- it is a lifeline to many in the community. The current owners needed to close it, and it would certainly leave Copake with a void. We have seniors and other community members who do not have access to cars (and there is no mass transportation). There are other places semi-near by to get groceries, but for many- it would be near impossible to get the basics. For others, it was just needed a place to get local goods close to home, rather than commuting 15-20 minutes just for those pantry items everyone runs out of. The need was clear. But where did we fit in as farmers?

We're constantly struggling to find ways to make our products more accessible. In our rural community, you can set up a farm stand but unless someone drives by- they may not see it. And with our switch to meat products, it's even harder to make sure that you are reaching folks you can hardly leave fresh chicken out all day. Folks barely see what you have regularly- even when they live less than a mile away! We've always imagined there to be a way to get the local farmers together and create a space where our community could get those farm fresh goods on more than one day a week. In the first two years of business, it was impossible for us to even find the time to get to a Saturday market- so when Jeanne called us- it was like she read our minds.

We were in. We wanted to bridge the gap between the general store needs of our community and an amazing array of farmers who could practically cover the food groups. Of course, a great idea is only the beginning.

I could tell you all about the hours of meetings, the setbacks, the renovations. I could tell you about mishaps with electricians, negotiating regulations... but really- what I want to tell you is about the feeling of the first day we were open.

We were there all week, frantically getting the last of the must haves together to get open on Memorial Day weekend. Kim and I even put most of the non-essential farm work on hold, and instead spent the entire week running errands, setting up a register system, meeting with local vendors to go over their product lists... and then finally our big grocery order came in.

This store isn't just run by someone with a good idea and the money to execute it. The funds were raised through the community, and the business LLC is managed by a board (of which Kim is a member), subject to elections. The store has staff, who are wonderful, and care for day to day operations. The board is still highly involved, working together to really make the place run.

So the night that our big grocery order finally came in, we had been waiting for hours on the delivery truck. We had struggled to find a vendor who would even consider delivering to our little town, with enough products to ensure our community would be served well, at good prices. And so we unloaded them, all hands on deck, all 680+ boxes. We got them on the shelves. We got them into our inventory and register system. Volunteers came. We all skipped meals. We all were exhausted. But the doors opened. And this is really, just the beginning of the story.

It may just seem like something small- a little store where you can pick up your coffee, milk, bread... but it's so much more. Along with grocery items we have 10 local farmers bringing in their goods weekly. We have local meat, cheese, granola, bread, produce, canned goods, cookies... the farmers and food producers jumped at the chance to sell directly to their community. This is how we see change for our community. By blending a grocery store model with a daily farmers market we can offer so much more to our community. We can help to reconnect local people with local food. We can provide for those folks who can't drive to get their groceries. And it came together because our community wanted it, worked for it, and funded it.

The doors opened on Sunday. It had hiccups, we have much to do- still. We have kinks, technology issues, stocking problems- all of the things a small business expects. But we also have joy. Or, at least I do. I have such joy at seeing folks come in, grab a basket and grab a chicken I grew- and then chat with them about it. I have joy that you can get salad greens from a small farm run by some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet. I have joy that spices are 99 cents and a local elder told me that we had done a "mighty fine job with the pricing". I have relief, that the doors are open, that I could run down and grab coffee beans this morning when we ran out. I have hope, that this is just the beginning, we're just getting started.

To many in our little town, it's just "nice" to have an open store, and I'm glad for that. But for me, and I think for many others involved in this project- it's nothing short of extraordinary.



ps- if you want to know more about this project, or help us continue to do the work of managing all of the local products, check our our link here! Thanks! 

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