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As Small as a Mustard Seed— But Growing Fast

Mustard SignHow can Hamiltonians make responsible food choices, and how can we make these choices better together? A steadily growing corps of volunteers is working toward a practical answer to questions like these: they plan to open the Mustard Seed, a cooperative grocery store, as early as May of this year. We caught up with a few of them during a recent information session hosted by Homegrown Hamilton on King William Street.

As Deann McGlinchey explained the concept of the Mustard Seed, the member-owners of the co-op are people who “have a passion for food,” who envision “a beautiful place to shop” with a “vibrant sense of community,” who love their city, and who believe in “food for people, not for profit.” The planned grocery, Deann said, “enables us to work together for the good of our health, our environment, our local economy and our community.” She and other volunteers are actively recruiting more member-owners, with the goal of 800 members by the time the co-op opens; while the store will be open to the public, a one-time membership fee ($100 per household or per business) means a 2% discount at the store, and more importantly, a voice in how the co-op works. But membership is only the beginning: Deann hopes that new members will also join one of the co-op’s action teams (for instance, she serves on the Membership Team) and tell others why they’ve chosen to join the Mustard Seed.

GrahamHow did this co-op start? Emma and Graham Cubitt, who attend New City Church, said that they first discovered grocery co-ops about two years ago, and the idea for starting one in Hamilton grew steadily from there, from conversations on feasibility in early 2012 to the opening of the membership drive last November. As this is a faster startup than most co-ops have experienced, Graham highlighted the attention being given to the assessment of interest from the community, the need for members, the selection of a location, and the sourcing of the goods that the Mustard Seed will sell. For example, a priority on local sourcing will need to be balanced with members’ concerns for organic produce, special dietary needs, and so on. Graham also stressed the importance of education for the co-op’s future, expressing a hope for workshops where participants “learn together, as those interested in food issues of access, security, and justice” — issues, he insisted, that shouldn’t be limited to debate among “foodies” and the economic elite.

More generally, these issues reflect the fact that the Mustard Seed is guided not just by its members, but by seven international cooperative principles, emphasizing values like voluntary and open membership, education, and care for community. For the Cubitts, these principles resonate with their faith perspective, too. “Fundamentally, our confidence as Christians is that in the resurrection, all things are renewed,” Graham said. “Practically, how do we work toward that today? How do we help ensure everybody has enough, or take action on restoring ecological balance?” Given the complex relationships between political power and food supply, “how does the ideology of cheap food from anywhere fit in with the idea of sustaining the local economy?”

For more information, including dates and locations for upcoming meetings, find the Mustard Seed online at www.mustardseed.coop/, and on social media at www.facebook.com/themustardseedcoop and twitter.com/mustardseedcoop. To learn about “Sustaining Place: Food, Land & Faith,” Graham and Emma’s breakout session at the upcoming TrueCity conference, visit truecityhamilton.ca/posts/2012/sustaining-place/.