Cow-Op is set to grow!EDC Kathy Lachman

The recently formed Cowichan Valley Co-Operative Marketplace (CVCM) held its first AGM on Thursday, January 29th.

A crowd made up of close to 40 farmers, foodies, media and sponsors were in attendance in CGC’s boardroom to listen to the history of the co-operative, recognize sponsors, join up, elect a new board and learn more about the Cowichan Region’s new online marketplace, Cow-Op.ca, set to launch in June 2015.  Coastal Community cheque3

A History of the Co-op

The desire for a co-operative has been long simmering in the Cowichan region. When Cowichan Green Community published it’s Growing Connections handbook for farmers and food purchasers, back in June of 2013, farmer surveys commonly indicated the desire for a co-operative model as well as an online marketplace to facilitate the marketing of local farm-grown foods in the region. At about the same time, with funding from the BC Co-operative Association (BCCA), Rick Juliusson of FreeRange Consulting was facilitating a series of community meetings made up of Cowichan farmers and food sustainability partners who identified a large list of food sustainability challenges and ways that a co-op might collectively address those challenges. With those same funds, FreeRange Consulting also generated a Feasibility Study which amalgamated these community consultations with other key informant interviews, research into other food hub and co-op models, and learning from the experience of other past food co-op efforts. The final report was presented to the community in November of 2013, highlighting several possible avenues for a new co-op to pursue.

A new working committee was appointed at that meeting, and decided to move forward with an online marketplace as the first tangible product of the co-op. The CVCM officially incorporated in November of 2014 as a Community Services Co-Op (not-for-profit) guided by an interim board of members made up of local farmer, a representative form Cowichan Green Community and FreeRange Consulting. Funding for the development of the website and business plan was secured from sponsors Coastal Community Credit Union and Economic Development Cowichan. A licensing agreement was signed in December 2014 with Oregon-based Local Food Marketplace to develop a customized platform for online food sales and a local designer hired for design work.

Growing Forward

With it’s newly elected board made up of a diverse range of Cowichan farmers, the CVCM will continue to move forward on bringing Cow-Op.ca to fruition. Cow-Op.ca will be the first online marketplace of its kind for the region and will feature a variety of produce, meats, eggs, seafood, cheeses, honey, and more all grown or produced throughout the Cowichan Region. Cow-Op.ca will give farmers yet another option alongside existing farmers markets, CSAs, and farm-gates sales, to get their yummy local fare onto Cowichan plates, with great convenience and no waste.

As the online marketplace takes flight, other food security initiatives from the Feasibilty Study will be revisited later once the co-op has established financial viability, a strong membership base and a proven track-record for success.

For more info or to join the co-operative, please contact Heather at info@cow-op.ca.

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