Local Food Port organizers pleased with turnout for public meeting

Wendy Elliott
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More than 200 people showed up in Port Williams (Nova Scotia) Jan. 23 to hear the sales pitch for a new cooperative model.

“We’re overly pleased at the turnout,” said a smiling Mike Oulton, who chaired the public meeting.

The working name for the coop is Local Food Port and the idea is a store offering fresh local products and grocery items seven days a week.

Having worked for several months to develop a business plan, the Hants County farmer said, because of the loss the Hants Co-op and Kent Co-op, the 16 to 18 volunteer organizers seized the opportunity to show their plans.

“We had to ask serious questions,” noted Oulton. “Do we need a store, do we want a store? Is our judgment emotional or social and then work forward.”

In the end, he said, the group most desired a non-traditional, competitive grocery business.

“We decided we didn’t want to be a farmers’ market. We wanted a store that is open seven days a week, supplying high-quality product.”

The blend will be 60 per cent fresh product, Oulton said, and 40 per cent groceries with the selection determined by consumers’ wants and needs.

A member investment by 550 people, he said, will be required for start-up and cash flow. Both consumers and producers will need to invest to make it a sustainable model.

Co-op Atlantic’s Norma Babineau and Scotian Gold’s David Cudmore are two of the organizers. Oulton praised Cudmore’s accounting background and said, “his pencil’s pretty sharp.”

Another Hants County farmer and agriculture department employee Erin Bremner told the audience a local grocery market means sourcing as many local food choices and products under one roof as possible.

Showing a tentative layout for the Local Food Port, she added, being family friendly is vital.

With two little kids in tow, Bremner noted that one place to shop that is open seven days a week is her ideal.

Cudmore said they had yet to add producers into mix.

“It’s important to engage producer involvement because this is a different concept, but we’ve had interest expressed on the part of 25 producers thus far.”

Organizer are seriously looking at 6,000 square feet of retail space in Don Porter’s building in Port Williams, Oulton said.

Sales of $2.2 million are projected. About $330,000 will be required to get going, Oulton said, and organizers will likely go to the credit union to borrow $220,000.

It is estimated five full-time staff and seven or eight part-time staff will be needed. Several former long time Kent Co-op employees were at the meeting.

Oulton asked individuals to buy a $100 share, but most importantly “be a shopper.

“You have to support this store and help us recruit owner members. You have to go out and beat the street for the next two months. We need 550 people to sign up in order to go forward.”

Scotian Gold will hold the funds collected in trust at the Valley Credit Union. Oulton expects they will sign a lease in July and open at the end of September.

“We offer refunds if it doesn’t go forward,” he added. While working with Co-op Atlantic, Oulton responded to a question by saying, “we intend to manage our own affairs. We’re going to run our own show.”

David Acton, a beef farmer in Port Williams, asked if Community Economic Development Investment Funds wouldn’t be well suited to the project and Oulton said he’d like to speak further with him about that possibility.

One speaker raised concern about the impact on area businesses, but Oulton said their business plan is the development partnership arrangements.

“We’re not out to put other people out of business,” he said.

Oulton pointed out there is sufficient parking spaces on the side and rear.

A Coldbrook resident asked if Port Williams was the best location and Cudmore said various locations were considered. He believes that rentable space close to Exit 11 and easily accessible from Belcher Street works.

He noted some consumers drive from Halifax to shop in this area. Cudmore said that $3 million worth of business disappeared with Kent Co-op and he suggested it could be recouped.

For more information, see the group's Facebook page or email committedtolocal@yahoo.com

Kings County Advertiser/Register

 

Organizations: Co-op Atlantic, Hants Co-op, Kent Co-op Valley Credit Union

Geographic location: Hants County, Port Williams, Coldbrook Belcher Street Halifax

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