Chas Jones, PhD

Philomath Food Co-op: Vision or fantasy

Original article located at this link.

Dec 9, 2019

I was elected to Philomath City Council in November 2018, and as a councilor, I have frequently heard our residents mention their desire and the community’s need for a local grocery.

It’s a common refrain, but there do not seem to be many folks that are in a position to open and operate such a business. The city has had number of grocery businesses come and go over the years and competition with larger groceries in nearby Corvallis may create challenges for developing a salient business plan.

However, the community benefits of a grocery would extend beyond economic factors. When compared to other providers, local grocery stores may supply healthier, organic or lower-cost alternatives for food staples and value-added products. They can also contribute to a holistic community development strategy to catalyze reinvestment by other entrepreneurs.

Yet, in small communities, they also function as important hotspots for community gatherings, impromptu social interactions and information exchange.

Philomath’s growing population and thriving local business scene are indications that this could be a good time for the community to consider local grocery options. Every community is unique and has different needs, but there are plenty of small communities that do support local grocery stores.

In the absence of any apparent interest or initiative from grocery conglomerates or local entrepreneurs, I wonder if there is sufficient interest from like-minded community members to organize themselves and consider opportunities for starting a local community-owned, food cooperative?

What is a food co-op? According to Food Coop Initiative (, which has many resources for starting food co-ops), a food cooperative is a business owned and controlled by the people who use it — its owners. When a group of people have similar needs, cooperatives offer one opportunity to meet those needs in an open, fair and democratic way. People are drawn to co-ops by many factors, including community building, economic justice, and/or access to healthy foods.

A cooperative has the same needs as any other business and need sufficient financing, careful market analysis, strategic and comprehensive planning, and well-trained and competent personnel. Co-ops are not immune to the market and economic forces that cause small businesses to struggle and fail.

But in several important ways, co-ops are different. Co-ops may resemble other businesses outwardly, but the fact that they are cooperatively owned makes them unique. They are owned by a community, and for that reason democracy, fairness and self-help are important foundational values that improve their bottom line.

According to Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s 2014 white paper, titled “Benefits and Impacts of Cooperatives,” cooperatives claim higher success rates than for-profit businesses. After five years, 90% of cooperatives are still operating, compared to 3% to 5% of businesses. She attributes the higher success rate to the number of interested parties working toward a shared goal.

There are many ways that food co-ops come to fruition, but it requires folks to come together to develop a shared vision, utilize their pooled talents, raise capital and institute systems to organize themselves. This assists their efforts to assess market feasibility, develop a plan and implement the plan.

However, food co-ops range from relatively simple farm stands to full-fledged supermarkets and thus range in the complexity of the overall project and the amount of the required initial investment. In their food co-op startup guide, the Food Coop Initiative encourages co-op organizers to exercise patience and to take the time to develop a solid business plan.

I suspect that there could be successful business models that do not compete with existing regional grocery or convenience markets. It seems that consumers interested in local, all natural or organic foods would be more interested in shopping at a food cooperative rather than other grocery providers.

Starting a food co-op might be perceived as a big idea for a small community, but it seems like an idea worth pursuing. Every time I sit before my community within the City Council chambers, I see a passionate and dedicated group of folks interested in affecting change in Philomath. I have heard many of them mention an interest in having a local grocery. In some cases, I have heard folks suggest that city leadership find a way to lure a grocery entrepreneur or chain to Philomath. In all honesty, I do not see how the city could make this happen without a business person approaching us to indicate an interest.

However, I have a clearer vision for Philomath community members coming together around the concepts of community building; access to healthy foods; open, fair, and democratic governance; economic justice and fairness; and self-help to form a group interested in exploring the establishment of a Philomath food co-op.

If you are interested in being connected with others that would like to pursue the idea, feel free to email me (see below) and I would be happy to connect everyone that expresses an interest. In acting together, we have the power and the ability to help feed our community’s livelihood through sustenance and in spirit. (Philomath City Councilor)

2011.10.23 Interesting day

Interesting day.  We actually had a brief orientation event last night, but I was too tired to write an entry.  It was pretty basic and introduced ourselves to the group.  I don’t quite know everybody’s names yet, but it appears that there are about 12 people in our group of students.  All of them are international students. I think that we have 3 Americans, 1 Mexican, 3 Indonesians, 1 Chinese…  And I am missing the other nationalities.  I could be wrong on the group size too, but I’ll get it right sometime soon. The dorm is interesting.  I’ve got a small room all to myself.  Its pretty basic and does not have wireless (not complaining, but want to provide useful info for future students).  It does have a refrigerator.  There’s a shared kitchen down on the 1st floor, but we need to have pots, pans, utensils, and personal place setting (plate, bowl, eating utensils) in order to be able to cook and eat.  I have none of these items. Today’s course include lectures from Dr. N. Tanaka and Dr. Tony Chittendon Sustainability and Energy.  Pretty basic, but I liked their lecture styles.  Tony is originally from New Zealand, but has been here for a long time.  

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We went to a grocery store for some basic supplies before getting some dinner.  It was a small store though and had limited choices for me.  We also went to dinner.  I think that I’ve given up any hope of being at all vegetarian on this trip.  It seems pretty much impossible.  We (Ben, Andres, and I) went to a restaurant tonight and it had no pix of food and no English text (see photo below).  The owners knew no english either.  They either don’t know my custom sign language for fish, or they didn’t actually have any on their menu.  So we randomly ordered 3 items off of the menu after the guy didn’t want to choose 3 items for us.  We got deep fried squid (very yummy), a bunch of raw bacon and a hibachi grill that we could cook it on, and a veggie stir fry dish with bacon with a side of deep fried squid!  Hilarious.  Andres also ordered a bottle of Sapporo Soft (white liquor of some sort that was actually pretty tasty and very smooth…  Weird.  The whole experience was weird.   The place was about 3 blocks from the guy’s dormitory which is about 6 or 7 blocks from campus.  Anyhow, very interesting experience. Jet lag still has me under her grips and I am going down early and quickly these days.  We’ll see how long I last after sharing that bottle of alcohol…  Origato! (Thank you!)

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Up until now, life was pretty hectic

Up until now, life was pretty hectic.  I hurriedly prepared and installed field gear to initiate this winter’s research project.  I bought some new clothes and gear for my trip (my new Mountain Hardware rain jacket is the red one that I am wearing throughout this trip.)  I also wanted to hang out with my friends which I wouldn’t see for the next couple of months due to our combined travel schedules and up and coming holiday breaks.

I arrived at the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska at midnight and flew 3.5 hours to Seattle and 1.5 hours to Los Angeles.  Now I needed to get to Riverside, so that I could  hang out with an old friend of mine, Sarah, for 24 hours before flying to Japan the next morning. I jumped on the FlyAway shuttle bus ($7) between LAX and Union Station (a transfer point for all public transit in the LA area).  Purchased a round trip train ticket ($23.50) on the MetroLink to get me there.
En route, my fellow passengers taught me new phrases as they audibly imposed upon my personal envelope.  “Jail-raised” was the most notable.  As in, “That m_th*rf_ck*r wasn’t jail-raised so he don’t know sh!t.”  Apparently, this guy had been jail-raised and implied that he held qualifications that far exceeded his subject’s because of his time spent behind bars.  I was particularly impressed by this group of 5 passengers, each of whom was equally impressed with each other because of their particular experiences behind bars and the homies that they had met while there.  It was funny that one of them was trying to fit in and was sure to claim that while she had not been in jail yet, she was soon going to go to court for some minor infraction in which she had received a ticket. She thought that this might just be her opportunity to finally end up in the county jail.  The ages of these kids?  17, 19, 20, 24, & 18.

Sarah picked me up at the train station and gave us an opportunity to catch up a bit.  Nine years had passed since we last saw each other.  It had probably been 5 years since we last talked, but then there was Facebook.  Of course, through the “magic” of this website, we have reconnected in some minor, but not really so minor way.  Its an interesting phenomenon because I’m not sure that I would be sitting with her and her husband at dinner, if we had not been Facebook friends.  I highly doubt it actually.  It hadn’t dawned on me that Riverside was somewhat near LAX when I had posted that I’d have 26 hours in the LAX area and was dreading the experience.  Sarah invited me to stay with them in their home so that we could catch up and share a few laughs. Laugh, share memories, and catch-up we did.  We went on a great little hike up to the “C” and had a great homemade pasta dinner and some beautiful and delicious little appetizers and a wonderfully simple, yet indulgent, chocolate-laden dessert.  I am so happy that we were able to make that happen.  It had been way too long and I hope that it won’t be nearly so long before I see them again!
The next morning, I caught the train back to Union Station, but caught the subway ($3) to the airport.  Red line to the Blue line to the Green line.  Free shuttle bus to the airport and I was there.  1.5 hours for the train and 1.25 hours for the subway/shuttle.

12 hours after Los Angeles and I touched down in Tokyo.  Pick-up my checked luggage. Go through customs. Check in for my domestic flight.  Go through security.  They find an old generic leatherman (with knife) in my carry-on!  I haven’t seen this thing in many, many months!  How long had it been in there?  This is the bag that I always have with me as my carry-on.  It had gone through security without question from Alaska to LAX and again from LAX to Japan!  I suspect that it had traveled on a number of flights before this trip as well.  Interesting.  Throw it out please.  They comply.

Sapporo.  Oct. 22, 2011. 9:30 PM.  Subway to Sapporo Station. Taxi to Hokkaido University’s International House (male dormitory).  Check in. Sign papers.  Listen to the many rules. Agree. Sign my life away. Go to sleep.  It has been a very long trip from Alaska and I am going to sleep very, very hard.

2011.10.19. Before I leave

In early September, I applied for and was selected by Hokkaido University’s CENSUS program to participate in their first graduate level Sustainability Short course for international students. Its a program funded by the Japanese government (JASSA) to encourage international scientists to continue their interactions with Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami & nuclear disasters in other parts of the country.

Hokkaido University is located on Hokkaido (northern island of Japan), in the city of Sapporo (2 million people). I will become more familiar with the place over the my 5 week stay here and will add information about the area as I become more familiar with it.

I’ve been running myself crazy trying to get everything ready in Fairbanks before I leave town for Japan. Can’t believe that I’m going to be leaving for 5 weeks! I’m certainly looking forward to it. I can’t wait until I get to sit myself down and absorb the idea of traveling again!

I drilled groundwater wells before the winter season hit us in Fairbanks and before I left for Japan for 5 weeks.