We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

June was an educational month for the folks of the San Clemente Community Market.

On the 17th and 18th, five of us attended the Consumer Cooperative Management Association’s conference held at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego.  It was two days of workshops focusing on cooperative development, including marketing, management, corporate governance, financing and membership.  The best part however, was the opportunity to network with over 400 other cooperative specialists, including grocery managers, directors, and educators, to learn their stories firsthand.

Each of us have our own stories, but for me, one of the most memorable was from The Mercantile (aka The Merc), a cooperative grocery store located in Lawrence, Kansas.  In response to their community’s needs, the Merc established an educational non-profit called the Community Mercantile Education Foundation.  In 2009, they started a new program, the School Garden Project, as a way to connect children and food.  To accomplish this, the project was specifically designed to be operated by teenagers.

Student Garden in Lawerence, KSTo be hired, the teenage applicants go through the same job interview process as a typical job applicant, conducted by the Merc’s own human resource department.  Job description includes: garden operation, maintenance, succession planting, weeding, harvesting, produce sales and educational mentoring.  This year, five applicants were selected, taking on the responsibility of five gardens totaling over ½ of an acre.

By June of this year, these five young people had already harvested over 500 pounds of fresh produce with over 300 pounds going directly into the school cafeterias.   (Can you image, a school lunch program where they eat fresh local, produce grown by their peers?)  Now that school has recessed for the summer, they are focusing on selling their produce at a local farmers’ market and at The Merc.Student selling produce.

In just two years, the Foundation has seen the success of the School Garden Project.  It has become brought into conversation, school gardens, nutrition, cafeteria food, youth employment, local economics, man’s relationship with foods, job training, and community collaboration.

Indeed, the five of us learned a great deal at the CCMA conference.  We have learned skills from seasoned cooperative grocers and from them the wisdom of how a Community market will reflect its Community’s values.   So it is very exciting to see what our community will bring us, because “Toto, we’re not Kansas anymore!”

For more information on The Merc and their School Garden Program, please visit their website at:  http://communitymercantile.com/

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