Northwest co-op builds for a local food future beyond big ag
‘I’ve always felt like this was something to do in case the world doesn’t end.’
Just over a year ago, on a brisk late September day in Spokane, Washington, two medium-sized cargo trucks backed up to the open garage door of a small warehouse in an alley behind a carpet store and a used-car dealer. Inside the warehouse, a forklift beeped incessantly as its operator stacked pallets of cardboard boxes full of meat, cheese and produce onto the trucks’ lowered loading gates.
A farmer drove up in a faded red minivan. He unloaded bags and boxes of crisp red, orange and yellow bell peppers and tomatoes as big as softballs, the last in a procession of morning deliveries from farmers to the warehouse of the Local Inland Northwest Cooperative, or LINC Foods. The co-op is a marketplace, an online and physical hub where restaurants, schools, grocery stores, hospitals and individual shoppers can order produce and other food from small farmers in the region instead of relying on huge wholesalers.
Beth Robinette, one of LINC’s co-founders, checked to make sure orders were complete. Then the trucks pulled out of the alley. One headed south toward the college towns of Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Washington. The other went east, to restaurants and health food stores in Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, Idaho, before returning to Spokane to zigzag between businesses and schools.
The smooth operation that morning was a far cry from LINC’s early days. In the summer of 2014, when the co-op was just getting started, Robinette and LINC co-founder Joel Williamson didn’t have their own warehouse. Instead, the two received produce in an alley behind a downtown motel. They’d wait next to a dumpster, “hoping for someone to throw us some carrots out of the back of their car so we could heap them into the back of Joel’s Scion,” Robinette said. Today, the co-op has nine employees and sells food from about 50 producers.
LINC is part of a growing nationwide network of local food companies that work with small farmers to help them reach bigger markets. These so-called food hubs allow producers to spend less time marketing and selling at venues like farmers markets and more time growing the food itself. LINC is unusual in that, unlike most food hubs, it is cooperatively owned by the workers who run it and the farmers who grow the produce it sells.
See the rest of the story here: https://www.hcn.org/issues/52.11/north-food-northwest-co-op-builds-for-a-local-food-future-beyond-big-ag
Carl Segerstrom is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, Washington.