How our Co-Op is thriving in economic uncertainty

Four years ago, I reached out to our local county commissioners with an idea to open a grocery store in Gilpin County. I was told repeatedly: “oh, that’s been tried, and failed” and “it will never work”. Until I said, “well, I believe it WILL work…because we’re a non-profit, and the grocery store will be a co-op.” That made them pause, and go “hmmmmm….maybe…”

Fast forward to November 2020, and it turns out our business model has seen us through one of the hardest years for small businesses in memory: we are STILL GOING & GROWING! How did we manage to make it this far?

What is the need?

Years ago, our Board of Directors did countless hours of outreach in the community trying to assess the most urgent and important needs. We asked folks to prioritize their needs, based on what was within our scope as a health and wellness nonprofit to deliver: a clinic? a pharmacy? cleaner environment? a grocery store?

woman and small child with painted sign: How would you change health and wellness in Gilpin County?
How would you change health and wellness in Gilpin County?

The residents of Gilpin County Colorado voted overwhelmingly for a grocery store. So we got to work.

None of us have any super-rich relatives or magical never-ending bank accounts. And we knew that without considerable community buy-in, there was no way we could sustain a grocery store – even if we did have the money to open a fully-stocked market within a few short months.

Instead, we spent YEARS building community support for our vision

…by creating The Holistic Homestead as a membership based and volunteer powered nonprofit, by keeping membership dues affordable, and by making the benefits of membership accessible. We started with one, lone produce and herb stand on the side of the road. Then we organized a core group of community members to invest $30/month for a share of fresh, organic produce that we committed to bring to Gilpin County twice a month. Those ten people, turned into twenty, and then thirty, who were (and still are!) members of the Homestead, and members of our produce buying co-operative.

Our CSA brings fresh, organic, produce to the heart of rural Colorado twice a month and donates all leftover produce to the Food Bank

We actively reached out to other local organizations – The Mountain People’s CoOp in Nederland, Gilpin County Parks & Recreation, Gilpin County Seniors, Human Services, and Public Health – to build momentum for our Community Food Share – the ONLY fresh, organic produce coming into our county on a regular basis. The Rec Center invited us to put on the Gilpin County Farmers Market and Community Food Share Pick Up YEAR-ROUND inside the Youth Room at the Rec Center, which increased awareness and participation immensely!

Meanwhile, we searched and researched for the perfect location for our brick-and-mortar Market. Once a location was secured, we worked our butts off, and fought tooth-and-nail to keep it! We wrote grants, and did LOTS of OUTREACH, MEMBERSHIP RECRUITING and FUNDRAISING to make the big push to get our location open and serving the public.

Finally, in January 2020 we opened our doors to the public! Our members and volunteers know how much work it has taken us to get this far, and have been very forgiving as we don’t have fully stocked shelves quite yet, and very supportive because they know if you don’t use it, you lose it!

Visit our online shop to purchase a COVID-CARE pack for a front-line worker you love!

AND….

11 months into a pandemic that has disrupted the supply chain and precipitated the worst economic crisis in the history of our tiny, rural county WE ARE STILL HERE!!! Going, growing, serving our community, staying healthy and we have ZERO DEBT.

Yeah, you read that right. We have NO OUTSTANDING BILLS, LINES OF CREDIT, OR DEBT. (sounds like a smart investment to me 😉 )

Here’s our secret sauce:

  • don’t finance anything – get community buy in from the get-go
  • serve your immediate community first – don’t cater to tourists or passers-by
  • be proactive in forming coalitions in the community – there is no such thing as competition, we are all in this together, and we all make each other stronger when we work together toward a common goal
  • speaking of coalitions, connect personally with people. sending emails and letters is not enough. show up at the town hall meetings, hang out in the local bar. knock on doors, talk to people on their turf, about their needs. ask, “how can we help?”
  • keep your word: since January 2018, we have kept our promise to our member/owners/investors to keep bringing quality, fresh organic produce to our community

If you can’t tell I’m super proud of what we’ve managed to build of, by, and for our community! Our members are part-owners with a share in the best possible investment: their health. The returns are multiplied by every new member, who have a vested interest in keeping this essential resource alive for everyone.

Did you know we have 130 members and growing? Join the movement, become a member today!

2 Comments on “How our Co-Op is thriving in economic uncertainty

  1. I am Making a Reminder to myself to Rejoin in the new year 2021, right before Christmas Eve.

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