Reprinted from TBNewsWatch

Everything at the True North Community Co-operative comes from the hand or from the land.

Renate Nitsche believes local food should be available to as many people as possible.

That’s why she joined the True North Community Co-operative, a not-for-profit organization that aims to build a stronger localized economy.

The co-op, housed inside The Green House on Algoma Street, offers locally-produced items from conventional farms and small-scale organic gardeners to handcrafted arts, clothing and jewelry.

They also have things like locally-produced meats, grains and cheeses.

Nitsche is one of more than 70 producers in the co-op and her business, Nature’s Choice, consists of homemade soups, pies and baking made from organic vegetables she grows.
She sells her products through True North and also supplies some local cafes.

Joseph Leblanc, President at the True North Community Co-op

The benefit for a local producer to sell through the co-op is it makes her products more accessible, said Nitsche.

“My customers can stop in at their leisure and pick up the products they would like,” she said. “They’re not restricted to Saturday mornings at the market. It gives them the freedom.”

Another benefit to producers is they set their own prices.

“That is really a foundational piece,” said True North president Joseph LeBlanc.

“Typically it’s large buyers that set the price for specific items and farmers are suffering because of that,” he said, adding people have told the 11-member co-op board that if they were to sell their product to a large chain store, they would lose money.

“It’s difficult to find a viable market for that,” said LeBlanc.

The True North Community Co-operative was formed in 2009 after some community meetings and hearing from local producers about their needs. It was incorporated as a non-profit in November 2009 and is run by a board of directors with a group of volunteers that staff the store.

While there are different models for cooperatives, LeBlanc said True North falls under a non-profit, non-shareholder model.

“That means that people pay an annual membership which helps support the co-op and there isn’t a sort of individual or group of individuals that profits. We have to cycle everything back into the co-op,” he said.

Memberships for commercial organizations are $40 annually and it’s $25 per year for producer members. A membership for an individual is $15 per year.

Anyone with a membership saves five per cent off any purchases at True North.There are about 650 individual members.

True North isn’t only about food and handmade crafts. They also have musicians and three local authors that have joined.

And it’s not just about the city of Thunder Bay. True North’s focus is on the region of Northern Ontario, which includes the rural and remote north.

The group includes seven First Nations communities and in 2012, True North shipped 50,000 pounds of food to Fort Albany First Nation.

LeBlanc said making connections with northern communities and being able to facilitate the market there is one of their main focuses right now.

“To make local and regional food accessible to people in northern communities is an innovative approach and certainly not something we see in other parts of the country,” he said.

True North Community Co-operative is located inside The Green House on Algoma Street and is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

By Jodi Lundmark, Jan. 27, 2013

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