Foodshed brings bulk to Inverness

09/20/2012

By the end of September, a small room behind the Inverness post office will be transformed into a new food cooperative.

It is the latest addition to the renaissance of a sleepy town that has gained a coffee shop, an oyster bar and this newspaper’s offices in the last two years. The Foodshed plans to offer a sustainable option for buying bulk foods and fresh produce. “I want to be really clear that we are not a store,” Molly Myerson said.

One of the self-described young agrarians organizing the co-op, Ms. Myerson hopes to expand on the informal buyers’ clubs that already exist in rural West Marin, in which several families get together and buy bulk products to share.

Members will purchase a quarterly membership that allows them to come in and shop whenever the co-op is open. Ms. Myerson and others will take on the hassle of ordering, storing and displaying the wares.

The project started as a conversation among eight friends, but turned into a reality when the owners of Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax donated the bulk bins from a store they recently vacated.

They obtained a discounted rent for the small, high-ceilinged room in downtown Inverness. They painted the walls a cheerful yellow, held cleaning parties and coated a large refrigerator with black chalkboard paint so they could list the offerings of the day—such as eggs or sauerkraut or meat—on the door.

Now all that remains is for their first order to arrive and fill the bins.

“It really is a wonderful service,” Melinda Leithold, an herbalist and Inverness resident who is looking forward to the co-op, said. Right now Ms. Leithold gets bulk food from orders her daughter places, but she looks forward to the convenience of being able to bike downtown and buy small amounts. “It’s food without all the fuss,” she said. “Most people don’t have room for a lot of five-gallon buckets in their kitchen.”

The co-op was motivated by concerns about food quality and food security, Ms. Myerson said. Her team hopes The Foodshed can act as a reserve to help sustain the community in the event of a disaster—but their main goal is to provide ethically sourced food. “We have a triple bottom line. We want it to be affordable, healthy and ecological,” Ms. Myerson said.

Doing the research to make sure their purchases meet those standards has been time consuming for the all-volunteer venture. For now, most of their orders will come from a natural foods distribution company with standards that are acceptable, but not optimal.

In their initial offering of 50 bulk products that will soon be available to members, ten already meet the group’s more rigorous criteria, and come from Capay Valley or closer. But as time goes on, the organizers plan to find more producers that meet that triple bottom line. “We want local, we want seasonal, we want organic, we want high integrity, we want non-GMO,” Ms. Myerson said.

“We’re working on a progressive pricing policy, because we want to make sure that staple goods are more affordable,” she added. Because even those staples tend to get expensive when they are grown locally and responsibly, the co-op will experiment with shifting cost away from the basics and onto luxury goods. In other words, local organic rice and beans would be cheaper than usual—but coffee, sugar or chocolate might be more expensive.

“We have a bit of a radical streak,” Ms. Myerson said. “This really is a community effort. We know that these are things the community believes in, and we’re relying on the community to make this happen.”

 

The membership drive for the new co-op will kick off at a fundraising dinner, titled “50 Mile Dinner,” taking place next Monday, September 24 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Saltwater Oyster Depot, next door to the co-op, in downtown Inverness. Tickets are available for a sliding scale of $35 to $75 at www.saltwateroysterdepot.com, the Blackbird and West Marin Pharmacy. Those who cannot attend the dinner but are interested in learning more about the co-op can call (415) 669.9656 or email the foodshed669@gmail.com.