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San Clemente Food Co-op Focuses on Growth

Co-op members still have their eyes on building a community grocery storefront, a member says.

Just over a year after launching, the San Clemente Market cooperative is setting its sights on increased growth with the ultimate goal of opening a storefront.

With its donated space on Los Molinos hosting community programs, member drives and local events, a sustainable food-buying program and an increased web presence, co-op member/owner and volunteer Jovelyn Murray said the group is making progress toward opening a grocery storefront in town.

"As an organization, we've had a lot of learning to do," she said. "Now we're in the next phase of the process in growth. We have 100 member/owners. Now it's time for us to strengthen our leadership and add to our member/owners."

The idea behind the San Clemente Market cooperative and other food co-ops around the U.S. is to create member-owned grocery stores that sell only environmentally sustainable and organic goods from mostly local farms.

On a small scale, Murray said, the co-op is already partnering with local farms for its members-only food-buying program.

"We've connected with a handful of farms -- in San Diego, Be Wise Ranch we started with last summer," she said. "There's Unity Farms in Riverside, a Lake Elsinore farm -- Upper Loveland Farm. In between, to increase variety, we work with a distributor, but we actually focus on direct relationships with the farmer. Like, 'Check these carrots out; they were picked an hour ago.'"

The aim of the market is to reduce its members' carbon footprint with local and environmentally sustainable products and practices.

"Everything we do here is, on a small scale, the kind of impact we want to have in the community," Murray said. "For instance, we can return the boxes to the farmers so they're re-using the boxes. We have dried bulk goods, and we encourage people to reuse jars and containers. There's so much depth to what we're doing on this small scale."

The co-op leadership figures that once the number of member-owners reaches 700 -- each has to pay $300 to a secure account -- they can do a feasibility study on opening a brick-and-mortar shop. At 1,500 members, the co-op can get a bank loan to actually build and open its facility.

But Murray hopes there's a middle way, with maybe a member donating some commercial space or some other community resource coming through to help get the store launched more quickly.

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