Yukon farmers face a variety of obstacles from dealing with a cold and dry climate to the type of soil conditions here, but an organization just getting off the ground is trying to help farmers with one big challenge they face: securing a market to sell their produce.
The Potluck Food Co-op was started in February 2009 by a group of individuals in Whitehorse brought together by their love of good quality, nutrient-rich, naturally grown food. The goal of the co-op is to bring options to the Yukon by providing organic, sustainably grown, local and regional food. They hope to import less food by supporting the growth of the local food economy.
To do this, they are drawing in consumers to be members of the co-op who want greater access to locally-grown food. The idea is that having a market ready and eager to buy local produce may help lower some of the risks for farmers.
Ruth Lera, the founding member of the co-op says the plan is to enter the grocery market with an online service first.
"The Potluck Food Co-op is a great opportunity to purchase fresh and fabulous organic, local and sustainable food – the type of food you want your family to eat," Lera says. "Members will order their food on-line and then pick it up."
The long-term goal is to open a retail store, but starting with an online service will help them move forward while minimizing their own risks.
"The food business is a challenging one as there is a large outlay of funds for stock that becomes disposable if not sold within a short time-line," Lera says. "By only ordering food that has been pre-purchased, the Potluck Food Co-op is providing its members with a secure business model."
The next step is to raise $120,000 in start-up funds, a portion of that would cover the costs of hiring a retail manager who would be responsible for all the operations of the business. Lera says that could happen this summer.
"All small businesses have start-up costs," Lera says. "The member shares and member investments will be the funds for the first year of operations. However, the projected budget ensures that there will be funds left from the member shares and member investments for growth for the business in its second year of operations."
The co-op needs 160 members and 30 investors; presently they are one third of the way there.
The co-op is already open for business on Tuesdays with a market and information session in Whitehorse. The weekly event is called the Info Market and some of the items consumers can buy at this time of year are organic beans and legumes, birch syrup and free-range eggs. The co-op is also selling heirloom seeds to grow your own vegetables. For the info part of the evening, the general public and members are welcome to drop by to discuss any questions they would like to be answered about the Potluck Food Coop itself; what's happening in the local agricultural scene; or the benefits of joining the co-op.
One of the benefits the co-op will offer is their ability to hunt down products. When products are unavailable in the Yukon they will work with sustainable producers and wholesalers in western Canada. If products are unavailable in western Canada they will look for sustainable sources from other parts of Canada and even western United States.
Along with the opportunity to buy local organic produce, membership to the co-op also gets you into special events and educational films.
At the Info Market on Jan. 29 more than 35 people showed up to watch a film called
Permaculture: Farms for the Future.
Lera says the film discusses the dangers of growing food with synthetic fertilizer and looks at organic options.
A member share in the Potluck Food Co-op is a one-time fee of $250.
The Info Market is on Tuesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Potluck Food Co-op, which is located on Fifth Ave. between Wood and Jarvis Streets – look for the banner.
For more information contact info@PotluckCoop.ca