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Friends and Farmers co-op makes strides

by Michael Rybacki

There are many folks in the area who would like a food cooperative— yesterday. And, certainly, Friends & Farmers has a solid vision to open its doors.
The Friends & Farmers Cooperative has come a long way since this time last year. On March 20, ten board members and officers signed bylaws, incorporating Friends & Farmers as a federally recognized Subchapter T for-profit corporation.
A subsequent potluck in April was held in State College Borough Hall to celebrate its inception. In addition to the nearly 100 people who came out on a Tuesday evening, WPSU was also on hand to report a piece that subsequently aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”
But there are still a few hoops to jump through before Friends & Farmers can official open. In reverse order, these include storefront location, lease vs. ownership, building capital, membership structure and a strategic plan. But a comprehensive plan hinges on the results of a feasibility study, which will serve as a blueprint for further action.
The Keystone Development Center, under the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, has already begun work on the study, which should be easier now that more than 600 people have taken the Friends & Farmers Survey (the survey is still open on their website).
In anticipation of the study, what is next?
“Our biggest focus right now is getting the word out there about the survey and about Friends & Farmers in general,” said Carolyne Meehan, who acts as Secretary and Communications Committee member.
The twenty-question survey is a pivotal part of turning the corner from the conceptual “good idea” arena into the practical reality stage. So many of the board’s future decisions hinge on the responses to questions focusing on level of member investment, volunteer hours, store location and reasons for patronage.
To date, over four hundred respondents have taken advantage of the write-in comment section. Comments such as: “Local culture likely to be supportive,” “Positive role model with the good nutrition— healthy body link” and “What are you doing that is going to be different?” are recurring themes.
Beyond those who answered the survey, there have been others in the community who have offered their thoughts.
“When I go into a store to buy dried herbs and spices, all I see is name brand products,” said retired Penn State professor, contributor to WPSU’s Local Food Journey and interim board member Jim Eisenstein. “I am waiting for the day when the available choices include a wide array of ones that are locally grown and packaged.”
Adding to the grown locally idea, State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, who, along with being a bicycling commuter and a strong advocate towards reducing our carbon footprint, said that there would tend to be a higher level of trust with locally produced foods since people would be familiar with their origin.
Farmer Mark Maloney of Greenmoore Gardens has sowed his first planting of locally-grown grain. With his idea of also setting up large-scale malting equipment, plans are to provide the three local micro-breweries (with a fourth one on its way in Lemont) with all the malt they desire.
Transition Town member and Awakening to Change facilitator Andrew McKinnon offered his belief that our philosophical mission would be just as crucial as an emphasis on outwardly sustainable economics.
Questions such as: Is the community ready for a co-op? Will it be better for me in the long run? Can it truly have a positive lasting effect on our quality of life? are important drivers of success.
Local political candidate Carla Stilson, an early supporter of Friends & Farmers, believes a co-operative has the potential not only to support local family farms but to bring like-minded citizens together.
And what could be better than a resilient, food-based, self-sustaining environment that not only provides a fulfilling lifestyle now, but allows society to thrive, indefinitely, into the future?
All are welcome to stop by the Friends & Farmers booth during the Aug. 2-3 Second Annual Farm Fest at Grange Fairgrounds, Centre Hall. Friends & Farmers looks forward to meeting you in person and welcomes your ideas. Take the survey located on their website:; and join on Facebook at:


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