A Food Co-op Serving the Española Valley

 

Andy Salazar

 

When the Española Community Market (ECM) Cooperative opened its doors on the city’s main street almost five years ago, its founders’ intent was clear. They wanted to start a cooperatively run business that could provide the valley’s residents with organic and locally grown foods. They believed in the typical values associated with a co-op: autonomy, self-responsibility, democracy, community, equity and community solidarity. The co-op’s mission was embodied in its by-laws: “ECM is organized to provide high-quality, natural and organic products at the lowest prices possible, as well as education [about the products it offers] and information about cooperatives, for the social and economic benefit of the community at large and the membership.”

 

At the beginning, membership drives and fundraising were successful, with 67 families becoming lifetime members with contributions of up to $300. In addition, over 100 families became regular members. Startup funds were raised from a few foundation donors as well. More than 60 local farmers and food producers have become the co-op’s reliable sources for fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and eggs. In 2016 ECM paid over $25,000 for those products to be delivered so they could be sold in the store. Some of the principal local suppliers include Camino de Paz School & Farm (goat meat and dairy products); RZ Bees (honey); Taos Roasters (coffee beans); KJ Farms (eggs), La Cosecha de Norte (vegetables), and Tortilleria Temosachi (handmade tamales, wheat and corn tortillas).

 

La Montañita Co-op has been especially supportive of ECM, contributing retailing and marketing advice, store displays and funds for inventory. La Montañita’s wholesaling arm—Cooperative Distribution Center (CDC)has also become ECM’s main supplier for shelf items that complement the co-op’s featured products: locally sourced fruits and vegetables. Among the products sourced from CDC and other wholesalers are those that are canned, packaged or frozen and are organic or gluten-free or certified to be free from pesticides or preservatives. The store carries meat products from regional ranchers or poultry farmers that certify their livestock and poultry to be free from hormones on and antibiotics.

 

Many such products are not found in grocery stores in the Española Valley, but some can be procured in Santa Fe or Albuquerque, although possibly at higher prices. ECM’s store has continued to feature affordable prices for all of the grocery items it stocks, often several percentage points below those found in natural food stores in bigger cities. This is only possible because the store has tried to maintain a low overhead and uses volunteer labor. The store has experienced growth over the past five years and has been able to manage its operation without loans or grants from government agencies. All profits are plowed back into the operation to upgrading refrigeration units or enlarge inventory by adding a greater variety of wholesome foods sourced locally or procured through the CDC arm of La Montañita.

 

The Española Community Market Cooperative store, located at 312 Paseo de Oñate near the old El Río Theater on Española’s main street, is open for business 16 hours per week: 3-7 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays, and 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays. Staffed with volunteers, the store has no full-time employees and is cooperatively managed by a board of directors consisting of up to nine unpaid members who contribute their time and energy toward managing and supporting the store’s operation. Other members contribute time and services in performing tasks such as bookkeeping, equipment and plant maintenance, advertising and volunteer coordination.

 

The store prospers today only because of the tireless work of loyal volunteers who are the friendly faces of the ECM and who relate to the clientele as store owners because they are ECM members themselves and are usually “foodies” or at least care about nutrition, naturalness and freshness. As a token of appreciation, the store offers its volunteers a discount on purchases, depending on the number of hours worked. Regular members get a shopping trip discount once a month after they sign up for a year’s membership.

 

The store accepts personal checks and credit or EBT cards as payment for purchases. A special grant from a healthcare provider has allowed the store to participate, for a limited time, in SNAP-UP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), whereby, after a regular purchase, an EBT cardholder can receive a coupon of equal value for an additional purchase that can be paid out of the grant. The current funding level from the grant will allow ECM to continue this benefit for a few more months.

 

The store is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month and has invited everyone to attend an ECM membership meeting. For more information, call 505.747.3006 or visit www.espanolacommunitymarket.com

 

Andy Salazar, a native of northern New Mexico, has been president of the Española Community Market board since January 2016.