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Is Auburn ready for a food co-op?

Placer Local Food Alliance and Placer Sustain to hold informational meeting
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Auburn could soon be stepping out from under the shadow of one of the most successful food co-ops in the region. The Placer Local Food Alliance and Placer Sustain groups are discussing the idea of establishing a co-op in Auburn and will soon be gauging local interest with an exploratory meeting open to interested residents. Chris Maher, general manager of the BriarPatch Co-op in Grass Valley, will join Tes Sullivan, of Newcastle?s Natural Trading Company as featured speakers. The meeting will take place from 6-8 p.m. June 6 at Dingus McGee's Restaurant, 14500 Musso Road, in Auburn. The BriarPatch was established 34 years ago and has become a hub for Nevada County residents looking for healthful food. The single location in Grass Valley recorded $18.5 million in revenue last year and has an active membership base of 4,900. Auburn resident Jeanie Bardakjian, of the Placer Local Food Alliance, said that she and others looking into the co-op idea are also exploring the possibility of a buyers? club and food hub. ?When I went to the grocery store recently, I didn?t see one piece of produce from California,? Bardakjian said. ?Everything I touched was from Mexico, Chile or the Honduras. That seems crazy, to be outsourcing all those jobs, not to mention the costs of shipping and gas.? Placer Sustain is an organization of people that have a goal of building a local, sustainable food culture. The Food Alliance includes master gardeners, local vintners and farmers interested in much the same goals. Bardakjian said the demand for fresh food from local growers is already in Auburn but that establishing a food co-op would take time. Projections are a three-to-eight year development stage, she said. BriarPatch isn?t planning to start a branch co-op in Auburn so a local group would have to be established, Bardakjian said. ?It?s a really good model and Placer County has so many foods already being grown,? she said. ?It?s amazing to me that we don?t have one here.? The co-op idea is already gaining traction with some local residents. Newcastle?s Kathryn MacRoberts said she supports the idea but, in the meantime, she?d like the possibility of developing more buying power with local farmers by establishing a buyers club. ?People can get together and say they want tomatoes for canning and then go to a farmer with some buying power,? MacRoberts said. One of the positive results of buyer interaction with agricultural producers will help form more of a community bond. ?I think the trend for the future is to get away from big ag and go back to local,? MacRoberts said. Auburn?s Bob Shepard said he?s read about large co-ops in other locations such as Davis and Sacramento. Shepard said he currently drives into orchard country north of Marysville every year to buy flats of peaches and plums for bottling. A co-op might be able to help provide that fruit locally, he said. ?I don?t know how much it will cost but it?s worth checking out,? Shepard said.