Yampa Valley Co-op represents new market for local products
Steamboat Springs — What started as a way for South Routt County residents to access healthier, natural foods has grown into a valley-wide locavore push.
Yampa Valley Co-op has been around in some form for eight years, but 2013 marked the start of its campaign to actively court consumers and producers in Northwest Colorado.
Since hiring Tracy Zuschlag as its coordinator, with funding from LiveWell Northwest Colorado, the co-op has seen growth in consumers buying and producers selling and is plotting a path toward a sustainable business model.
Zuschlag said her job has been to get the word out about the co-op and local products. She said she’s been working with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and the Community Agriculture Alliance to reach more people.
Yama Valley Co-op’s model is somewhat rare, according to the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, as it’s one of fewer than 20 co-ops that have opened online stores for their local goods.
Different from a community supported agriculture model, consumers registered with Yampa Valley Co-op are in control of what they’re buying, Zuschlag said. With CSA subscriptions from farms or ranches, weather and other factors can affect the size and assortment of deliveries.
“This is like an online farmers market,” Zuschlag said about the co-op’s model.
The local producers first sign up as consumers, she said, then go through the process to be registered to sell their goods and list them in the online ordering system.
There’s an upfront $10 for consumers to join, and they pay a 10 percent co-op fee on orders in addition to taxes.
Zuschlag said the co-op has worked to remove some of the obstacles that were cited as discouraging consumers from ordering, including making the ordering cycle weekly so it’s easier to remember and more convenient.
After making a purchase, consumers bring payment to a pick-up location in Oak Creek or Steamboat.
Yampa Valley Co-op saw an increase of 16 consumers purchasing items in at least one order cycle in 2013, from 30 to 26, according to information from Zuschlag. The amount of producers selling products for at least a month went from nine to 17 during 2013.
The average sales of local products jumped from $293 per month to $742 per month in 2013.
Currently, those who volunteer for the co-op have their 10 percent fee waived, and those are the people making the largest orders, according to information from Zuschlag.
The co-op estimates that it needs between $6,000 and $7,000 in annual income to “manage and grow the co-op.” Its projected revenue for 2013 is $3,000.
Zuschlag, as the coordinator, splits her 20 hours per month between managing the order cycle and marketing the co-op.
The co-op’s goal for 2014 is to grow revenues to $7,000 by maintaining a monthly order average of $583 while adding producers and consumers.
Yampa Valley Co-op is meeting a niche for consumer and producers, according to Zuschlag.
“It’s supporting local producers that might not otherwise be selling their goods,” she said.
There’s a consistency with the co-op, Zuschlag said, that can help bridge the gap between part time production for a summer farmers market and a year-round business.
Farms that have their own CSAs set up or master gardeners that have extra produce also can take advantage of the co-ops customer base and online ordering system.
“We’re just another marketing piece for a lot of these people,” Zuschlag said, adding that the co-op presents a market that producers might not otherwise meet.
Products currently listed on the website include a number of lesser known potato varieties from Cacklin’ Hen Farm, greens from Elkstone Farm, beef, pork, eggs, all sorts of baked goods, granola, coffee, tea and even gardening supplies.
A lot of the people who’re involved in the co-op now have been around since it started in 2005, Zuschlag said, such as herself.
“We really like local food,” she said. “For me, it’s a very intimate relationship.
“I understand what I’m getting, the prices I’m paying.”
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Editor’s note: The story was updated at 8:33 p.m.