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Flying the Co-op 

by DANIEL WALTERS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & beehive light fixture, intended to hang at a planned Main Market co-op downtown, drips with symbolism. Jennifer Hall, Main Market's community food builder, says the business of bees provides an easy parallel to the co-op philosophy: hundreds of bees gathering different types of pollen, each from their own unique flower groves. "Each bee distinctively influences the flavor of that hive," Hall says. "The more members you have, the better the flavor of the honey."

In an August 6 presentation for community members, Hall laid out the plan for a cooperative food market in downtown Spokane. Like many co-ops, Main Market would be a place where local producers could sell their goods like fresh strawberries from Green Bluff or juicy peaches from Colville, for instance. That sort of focus on local and organic producers is pretty common for co-ops, but Hall says Main Market will contain innovative features as well. A garden on the rooftop will provide vegetables for the deli downstairs. Customers will be able to rent a frozen locker to preserve large quantities of meat if they don't have the storage space at home.

Most of all, Hall says, Main Market will focus on giving members of the community a place at the table. Literally. There'll be a "community table," where co-op members will meet and educational programs will be taught. Members will have equal representation, Hall says, no matter how much they give.

Several people turned out for last week's meeting, asked questions and swapped stories. A Main Market intern handed out organic energy bars that look like compressed birdseed, but somehow tasted delicious. Brock Baker asked other audience members if they'd like some organic garlic from Montana, then dropped free garlic cloves into people's palms. Meanwhile, Sandy Boyman sold cherries, melons and peppers from an organic farm in Royal City, Wash. She came to the meeting to see if a Spokane co-op might be another outlet for her goods.

Bob Haddock peppered Hall with questions about the specifics of the Main Market business plan. Haddock had been on a committee to start a co-op in Great Falls, Mont., but that effort fizzled out.

"To start [a co-op], even as a committee, you have to have petty cash," Haddock says. The Great Falls co-op board launched a slew of advertisements to raise money and while a few people tossed in $10 and $20 here and there, it just wasn't enough, Haddock says.

For now, Main Market already owns the outside shell for the co-op, a vacant building at 17 W. Main. But it needs to raise $250,000 to build the inside and kick-off the co-op. From there, the thinking goes, it will be self-sufficient. They will ask for volunteers to help in the stores, Hall says, but donations won't be necessary to function.

The co-op development comes at a time when several Spokane businesses are struggling to stay afloat. But for Hall, the slow economy simply highlights the need for a downtown co-op. With a weak dollar and high oil prices making imported food costly, the prices of local food are becoming more attractive. And as apartments and condos rise, Hall notes that the one major thing the downtown lacks is a decent grocery store.

"Certainly when people first think of a food co-op, it's essentially a grocery store," Hall says. "It's our goal to strengthen our food system here. We can give [local producers] a market to do that and serve as an advocate and mentor in the process."

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