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Keeping it local: Co-op brings growers downtown to sell a dream

By Melissa Wagoner

Megan Wellman & Jason Codner
Megan Wellman & Jason Codner

Colorful, locally grown fruits and vegetables, fresh baked pies and breads, handmade soaps and lotions, local flour and more lined shelves and filled baskets in the Main Street Bistro and Coffee during the fall weekend marking the beginning of the Pop-Up Co-op season. Presented by the Silverton Food Co-op, a group working toward opening a storefront food cooperative in Silverton, the pop-ups are a sneak peek of what organizers hope will someday soon be permanent fixture of downtown Silverton.

“We’re selling a wish,” council member Hilary Dumitrescu explained. “We’re selling a dream for this town.”

Currently the members of the Silverton Food Co-op are selling their dreams and wishes as $150 one-time buy-in ownerships to the future cooperative and community members are lining up to get in on the ground floor.

December Co-op Pop-Up
Silverton Pop Up Co-op
Main Street Bistro and Coffee, 201 East Main St.
Dec. 2 and Dec. 3, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It’s the difference between owning your house and renting it,” Dumitrescu explained. “You’re going to have a say in how it is run.”

This “say” is one of the biggest differences between a traditional grocery store and a food cooperative. Although both may carry local products, in a cooperative the decisions as to what products to carry and how the business will be run are largely decided upon by the owners, usually community members who have bought into the business. Currently there are 170 owners of the Silverton Food Co-op with a goal of 300 before the next phase – a feasibility study and complete business plan – can begin.

“We need to have a really good pulse on why people are coming to the co-op,” fellow council member Jason Codner said.

In the meantime, Dumitrescu and other members are holding community events, like the pop-up co-ops, not only to entice new owners, but also for those who have already signed on.

“It gives owners a value in between times,” Codner said.

Codner, an owner in two other cooperatives with one in Iowa City and the other in Albuquerque, was surprised when, upon moving to Silverton several years ago, he did not find a cooperative already in place.

“With the sense of community in this town how could there not be a co-op?” he asked. “I dove in full force. I was like, here’s what we’re doing. Let’s get it going.”

Although the future co-op will sell local groceries, both Codner and Dumitrescu agree that it will be much more than that.

“It can be a community hub in the way a traditional grocery store cannot,” Dumitrescu said.

They hope to build this sense of community not only by stocking items sourced locally but also by keeping the majority of their money circulating within the local community. Already Codner estimates that the three previous pop-ups and the local food fair held last winter put more than $12,000 back into the Silverton economy. These types of community support are especially important to Dumitrescu, who moved to Silverton from California in 2014 with her husband and two children.

“My hometown no longer has jobs but it has a super Walmart and a super Kmart. That can all happen here,” she said.

“If we don’t have that involvement in the community buildings are going to be empty,” Codner agreed.

Along with a decline in family-owned businesses, Dumitrescu also saw a decline in the number of small farms surrounding her California home. These kinds of small farms are something she is hoping to support through the co-op.

“People don’t know how difficult it is to keep a family farm running for 100 years,” she said. “There is a tremendous need for new farms and we desperately need to support them.”

The next pop-up co-op will take place the first weekend of December at Main Street Bistro and Coffee with a distinct holiday theme and the opportunity to create gift baskets full of locally crafted items.

“We give a gift, not because it’s something we need,” Dumitrescu said. “We give gifts to give something of ourselves, to charm the other person. What a great way to show people you’ve put care into it.”

The co-op has 26 vendors already committed to the upcoming event and will stock everything from meats, cheeses and produce to t-shirts, mugs and pint glasses.

“We’ll try to stock everything you need for a holiday meal,” Dumitrescu said.

The co-op is also encouraging the community to purchase an ownership gift. “It’s necessary to get the doors open,” Codner said. “But then we will have a place that will be in Silverton for generations.”

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