Grace Emmerling is a senior majoring in Community, Environment & Development and Economics. This was submitted as part of our community content program.
Imagine a store where you can find everything you love about central Pennsylvania all in one place. There would be Goot Essa cheeses to pair with Gemelli bread, and Tait Farm shrubs to make the perfect cocktail. Imagine one store where all of your favorite local food artisans have products available for you to enjoy every day.
Look closely, at Webster’s and Irving’s perhaps, and you may notice advertisements for a new grocery store in the works called Friends & Farmers Cooperative. In 2011 a group of State College residents organized to create a locally focused, member-owned grocery store to help strengthen the local economy and support local food production. But this store isn’t only for sustainability-minded locavores and vegetarians. It will vend nearly everything you could find at any other grocery store, with an emphasis on local and sustainably produced goods—the perfect solution for any Penn State student looking for more food variety than what they can find downtown.
I first heard of the cooperative at a fundraiser hosted at a local organic farm last year. I volunteered with a few friends to help with the event, and as the evening went on, I realized just how beneficial this cooperative would be for Penn State students. It would be an opportunity for students to support the State College economy and food system and get involved in some great projects in the community—all while eating healthy,nutritious food!
The interim board members of this cooperative care about a few important things: supporting local food production, strengthening the local economy, promoting healthy and local food options, and cultivating and serving their community. As a result of these passions, Friends & Farmers board members have been hard at work spreading the word. They have hosted multiple fundraising events at Whiskers at the Nittany Lion Inn, Spats Cafe, and Greenmoore Gardens in an effort to reach the community, upon which the success of this project depends. The next critical milestone is funding a marketing study that will help determine the location of the cooperative.
Why should students care about Friends & Farmers Cooperative? That’s easy: it will have great food! Products from your favorite farmers market vendors will be down the aisle from organically grown and locally roasted coffees.
While great food is a reason to shop at any store, Friends & Farmers’ appeal goes beyond yummy cheeses and jams. This organization uniquely combines community engagement with high quality food to create a member-owned store that benefits the local economy and connects State College community members. The business model of a food cooperative keeps money in the local economy and benefits food producers that members choose themselves. Cooperatives are becoming popular across the country, with “nearly 30,000 U.S. cooperatives operating at 73,000 places of business throughout the U.S.,” according to Research on the Economic Impact of Cooperatives, a 2009 report out of the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. Caring about this cooperative means supporting the movement to more localized, community-driven food systems.
The cooperative will even have student membership, which gets you access to discounts on certain products, a Local Loyalty program that will provide discounts at various downtown businesses and a vote on the board. That means that as a student member you will have a say in what is sold at your grocery store, whether that is gluten-free items, fair traded coffees, or dye-free soaps. The co-op even hopes to have a kitchen where members can attend cooking classes or canning workshops. There will also be ample opportunity for students to work with the cooperative, actively learning alongside State College community members about their food system.
For all those interested in getting involved in the cause, be sure to sign up on their website to become a volunteer. Also, on Sunday, March 2 from 3-6 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County, the co-op is holding its Membership Kickoff Celebration, a free event with live music, speakers, local food, and door prizes. (RSVPs are strongly encouraged.)
Can’t make it? The cooperative holds volunteer meetings monthly—check the website for updates. This movement needs you! Whatever your passion—economic development, local legal systems or community—Friends & Farmers needs your support and engagement with this cause. It is truly an opportunity to change your community and participate in real social change. Hope to see you there.