Expansion Update: Design Review

By Matt Stanley/General Manager

On May 3rd at 5:30 p.m. at Astoria City Hall, the Astoria Design Review Committee will review the design of the building to ensure it meets local design standards. This is again another public forum where your support is much needed!

We know that our community is excited to see ground break on our new store. Every day a friendly customer asks “when do you break ground?” We have come so far and spent several years on our journey toward realizing the co-op our community and co-op leadership envisions; ample parking, expanded produce, a full service deli with hot food and lots of seating, an expanded offering of meat, an improved work environment for our staff and more. It only seems reasonable that customers and staff would be wondering “when will we start to see the physical manifestation of all our work?” Even in my own work carrying the project forward I must constantly remind myself of a Lao Tzu quote; “Nature doesn’t hurry yet everything is accomplished.”

The work toward our new store really is a “little engine that could” story. Consider how competitive natural and organic foods are these days. Consider the resources at the disposal of our competitors. To do things the cooperative way is to move slower and more conservatively, to listen to our members and the community at-large along the way, and ultimately to make informed and consensus-based decisions that ensure long-term success of our business. Our collaboration with over 150 food co-ops across the country goes a long way toward supporting our local efforts too (again, cooperative power at work).

We’ve surpassed some major hurdles toward making our new co-op a reality. These include everything from finding an ideal site, connecting with a developer-partner who believed in the project, raising our member-sourced capital, securing a necessary zone change from the city, and receiving a conditional approval for the outside lending needed to complete the project. And yes, where we find ourselves today is the culmination of several years of work. More work lies ahead!

Our most imminent hurdle is one more public approval necessary before we can complete engineering of the building and seek building permits. On May 3rd at 5:30 p.m. at Astoria City Hall, the Astoria Design Review Committee will review the design of the building to ensure it meets local design standards. This is again another public forum where your support is much needed! Please show up to help us demonstrate that this project has broad community interest and that our public representatives should make haste in helping us get shovels in the ground.

So how do I answer the daily ask, “When do you break ground?” If we get Design Review approval on May 3rd we can proceed to permitting and potentially break ground this fall. 8-12 months after breaking ground we’ll open our new store. The timeline will remain fluid due to the complexity of the project and the inevitable surprises that will occur along the way. We will continue to keep you updated on our progress. Of course, don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have concerns, ideas, or questions. Your continued support and cheer leading along the way is invaluable to our cooperative spirit. Our persistence and strong vision mean we’ll be saying hi to each other in our new co-op digs before we know it!

Cheers,

Matt Stanley, Co-op GM

Every Day is Earth Day!

Everyday is Earth Day at your co-op! We operate your grocery store with the health of the planet in mind. Here are some examples:

Local Food
Local products at food co-ops around the country average 21% of total co-op sales, compared with a national grocery store average of just 1.8%. This cuts down on fossil fuel-burning trucks from delivering our food.

Organic Food
Organic farming methods are more sustainable and have been identified as a key way to slow down climate change. 1 out of every 3 products sold at the food co-ops is organic.

Tackling Food Waste
Did you know we hardly throw any food in the dumpster? In a year we donate about 24,000 pounds of edible nutritious food. The rest local farmers pick up for compost or animal feed. Food co-ops divert about twice as much food as similar-sized grocery stores.

Reusable Bags
When you shop with a reusable bag at the co-op we donate to a local charity through our Beans for Bags program. This reusable bag incentive program has been a great success. In just a few short years since it’s inception it’s helped reduce the use of more than 100,000 single-use paper bags and has resulted in donations of more than $5,000 to local charities. Click here for more information about Beans for Bags.

Co-ops Reduce Impact
Food co-ops have been looking for ways to reduce impact for decades—many co-ops were formed by communities that wanted to buy food grown without synthetic chemicals and get dry goods like flour, oats and rice in bulk to reduce packaging waste. Read more about what our fellow co-ops are doing to reduce impact and benefit the environment.

Fresh Eggs from Backwater Farm

By Emily Renne Vollmer
Photos by Trav Williams, Broken Banjo Photography

A soft clucking from high up in the hay bales reveals a hen nestled on a clutch of eggs. Farmer Bruce Craven mentions in a patiently exasperated tone that some in the flock know that they can fly, and this is one of those hens who flies over the fence, and waits for him to open the door so she can get to her favorite spots in the barn.

Backwater Farm, run by Bruce and wife Desiree, delivers fresh eggs to the Astoria Co-op once a week. Their 40-acre farm on Puget Island is named for the peaceful backwaters of the Columbia River that border their pastures in the form of the East and West Sturgeon Sloughs.

A diverse flock of hens are fanned out across the red stems of mowed buckwheat: Black Australorp, Speckled Sussex, Welsumer, Novogen Brown layers, Americauna and other breeds. The buckwheat cover crop was planted to improve soil tilth after the heavy traffic of pasturing their heritage Lowline Angus beef cattle over the winter. In midsummer, when the buckwheat bloomed, it became a source of nectar for their honeybees, and now the chickens scratch for fallen grain and insects. A henhouse that Bruce custom built on the frame of an old Winnebago trailer can be pulled with a tractor to rotate the chickens through the fields. These integrated natural and sustainability-focused farming practices are central to how Backwater Farm is managed.

The eggs from these free-range chickens are flavorful and have rich orange-yellow colored yolks due to their varied diet. In contrast to chickens raised in confinement, these chickens also lay fewer eggs since they expend more energy when they run about and forage.

In Bruce’s packing room, the eggs fill the cartons in orderly rows with colors ranging from creamy brown to chocolate, and the occasional teal or white egg. They’re packed as ungraded eggs, which means that they aren’t sorted by size so each dozen contains a mixture of small to extra-large eggs. In general the small eggs are laid by younger chickens, and a hen lays larger eggs as she gets older.

While delivering to the Astoria Co-op one week, Bruce was walking in with cartons of eggs when a family approached him and said, “You’re the egg guy?! Can I shake your hand?” They shared that the kids really enjoyed the eggs from Backwater Farm.

Bruce compliments the Astoria Co-op on how great they have been to work with. The Co-op has been understanding of the realities of sourcing from small scale local farms, and they’ve been willing to accept the natural, seasonal fluctuations in egg production, or unexpected demands of the farm that might delay a delivery.

The constant need for problem-solving and creativity is an engaging aspect of farming for Bruce. “More often than not, I don’t decide what I’m going to do; the farm tells me what I’m going to do for the day.” There are frustrations, like the fence he spent several hours on only to have a hen fly over it two minutes after he’d finished. On the other hand they also find themselves part of a community on Puget Island where neighbors will come over to help out when needed. He finds he enjoys the daily variety and physical activities.

Bruce’s first connection with Puget Island was as a place to go fishing when he worked and lived in Portland. While technically retired now, Bruce is too busy to go fishing as he and Desiree build and manage the farm so that the chickens, beef cattle and honeybees contribute to the mortgage. Yet, he says they find their days are pretty rich and full.