Local Roots: A Community Co-op

A community bands together to create a co-op to make it easier to access locally grown food.

| Winter 2014-15

Buying fresh, local, and regionally produced products has gotten a whole lot easier for consumers in Wooster, Ohio. Finding ways to market their products, including the growing demand for heirloom varieties, to eager consumers has also gotten easier for growers and producers in the area. Bridging the often difficult to connect route, between the two groups, is the Local Roots Market & Café.

“Several years ago we (a group of food-conscious local residents) began talking about ways to make it easier to purchase locally grown and produced products. We knew we had lots of growers and producers in our area but we didn’t have a good way to connect them,” Jessica Eikleberry said, a founding member of Local Roots and the former general manager of the café and market. 

 Like many areas across the country, the local farmers markets were seasonal and only available one or two days a week. “We wanted something more, something available all year, not only for ourselves as health-conscious consumers, but a way for local producers to market their goods, and make it financially viable for them to continue to produce the healthy foods we as consumers were demanding,” Eikleberry said. 

As the group started brainstorming ways to bring consumers and producers together, the idea of a cooperative was born. “We didn’t really have any good guidelines, or examples to go by, so we developed our own goals and mission statements,” Eikleberry said. In 2009, the group formed the Wooster Local Foods Cooperative, Inc. and began work on making things happen. When the group presented their co-op idea to the community, they found overwhelming support.

“We liked the idea of a producer-consumer co-op because both sides need and depend on each other to be successful. Knowing producers can’t spend a lot of time away from their farms and gardens, we decided the idea of a store, where producers stock the shelves with their goods, but the market does the selling for them, would work best. For consumers, having a year-round location to buy local, made it a win-win situation,” Eikleberry said.

With a lot of hard work, community support, grant funding, donations and volunteer efforts, in January of 2010, the market officially opened its doors for business. By 2011, a small commercially licensed kitchen was opened which allowed the market to operate the café. And, just this past year, the cooperatives final vision was realized with the opening of the full commercial processing kitchen. The kitchen provides entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop new products, producers to process and store product for later use, creates added value and product lines to add to the market shelves, and delivers local food year-round to market customers.

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