Rural Alberta food co-operative bridges gap between producers, consumers

A group of farmers in east-central Alberta has banded together to create a food co-operative that markets their collective products directly to consumers. 

The Gathering Place Co-op was created to help small producers share some of the risk associated with direct marketing, said founding member Mandy Melnyk.  

“It’s navigating this crazy, ever-changing, small market access,” said Melnyk.

Marketing directly to consumers takes time and connections that many farmers don’t have, said Melnyk, who owns Meadow Creek Farms near Waskatenau, Alta., about 90 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. 

The Gathering Place provides a platform for producers to sell their goods and access to a centralized delivery system, she said during an interview with CBC.

Free range turkeys are some of the products offered on The Gathering Place Co-op’s online store. (The Gathering Place Co-op )

“It’s about us being able to make the products, grow the products in our area and keep that money in our area.”

The co-operative wants to address a gap for farmers who are located away from urban centres and can’t make regular trips to farmers’ markets. 

“Capacity in the north is our issue because we don’t have access to a lot of processing. We don’t have access to markets that are big enough,” she said.

The model also allows its members to learn from each other’s experience, said Melnyk.

“Farming can be very lonely and isolating when you’re very remote. So as producers, we share ideas, we share the good days and bad days.”

Eight producers have come on board since The Gathering Place launched last fall. The members all have their say in how the co-operative will evolve, Melnyk said.

The group plans on expanding to a physical location by May, near the intersection of Highways 28 and 831. 

Lasagna made entirely from Alberta-grown ingredients is a popular item with customers, says Melnyk. (The Gathering Place Co-op)

The location will include a store and a commercial kitchen where producers can transform their products into packaged goods, said Melnyk.

“Just to simply have more control of the process and keep more of the value of what we’re growing in the hands of the producer and the co-op and the community. That’s super important.”

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