As many of you are well aware, the Co-op has been a leader in all things local since its inception back in the 1970s. We have been buying local produce since the beginning and have made supporting local producers a main component of our business practices. In 2008, we created the Eat Local Challenge and helped develop the widely recognized Local Food Month. Over time, however, we have struggled with our definition of local. We have wanted individual shoppers to define local in whichever way best fits their worldview, and we have strived to be inclusive of our regional foodshed. Meanwhile, the term “local” has become a more widely used term in the marketing world—some define local as coming from anywhere in California. While we are thrilled that more people care about local, we are also concerned about the word starting to lose its true meaning. No matter how we have defined local over the years, it is important for us to recognize that we haven’t been telling the local story as effectively as we could recently; a main obstacle being that we are not all on the same page about what local means.
It is with all of this in mind that we have spent the last several months taking a hard look at our definition of local, looking at each department individually, having passionate conversations about what makes a company local, and listening to our community. We have discussed the matter in many different forums, asking for input from Department Heads, the Merchandising team, management, and the board. We have been asking ourselves tough questions, and have worked tirelessly to simplify an issue with many subjective intricacies and nuances.
After coming to the realization that our definition of local—a 250-mile radius from our stores—may not be truly reflective of our members’ values, we surveyed member-owners through the Co-op News to learn about what local means to our community (October 2016). Indeed, the responses were unified in their message, but not completely in line with the Co-op’s 250-mile definition of local. Of the 45 responses, the words mentioned the most times were: community, support, family, neighbor, and people. We made a word cloud from the responses (see image below), and have to say—what a beautiful definition of local!
What makes this response even more lovely is that we at the Co-op couldn’t agree more. Local products and the people behind them have always been the heartbeat of the Co-op. We hear so many stories about how we were a company’s first retail account, and how our team was able to provide guidance and support in the formative days of many producers’ entrepreneurship.
All of the above efforts have resulted in a proposed local region defined as Humboldt, Trinity, and Del Norte counties. Gone are the days of products made in Alameda County being called local. We are bringing local home, where our community feels it belongs. With this simplified definition, we are developing great promotional programs for our local vendors. We want to shout our love for local from the mountaintops! We are also working on some behind-the-scenes support for our local vendors. They are our partners in creating a marketplace for locally produced goods, and our strong, organized support of their efforts is crucial for everyone’s success.
In the coming months, look for a renewed celebration of all things local here at the Co-op, as we finalize our new definition of local. Have an idea for how we could better tell the story of local? Please don’t hesitate to send a letter to the editor:
Letters must include your name, address, member number, and phone number. If you'd like us to publish your letter, please be concise (preferably 250 words or less). We regret that we may not be able to publish all letters due to limited space. Email your letters to email@example.com or send them to: Co-op News, 811 I Street, Arcata, CA 95521.