The Caledonia Food Co-op Board has received a USDA Rural Development Grant for $50,300 (total project cost $68,080) to provide funding for finding a site and founding member recruitment.

“We are evaluating new construction as well as existing buildings in St. Johnsbury and will ultimately choose what is best suited to the Co-op’s needs and budget,” said Co-op Board Chair Eric Skovsted.

The funds allow the co-op to hire professionals who bring expertise in marketing, financial analysis, real estate, grants, loans, and future funding identification. They will also work with Columinate, a national food co-op consulting firm that will give the board training in governance and project oversight.

This grant builds on the $22,040 USDA grant awarded in 2019 (total project cost $29,900), which focused on feasibility research, a pro forma financial forecast, and membership recruitment.

Rick Witt, board member and lead on the co-op’s financial research, said, “The Phase I market study showed that the St. Johnsbury area can support a food co-op and made recommendations about the essential store characteristics required to achieve optimum sales. The pro forma got us off to a great start with our financial modeling and analysis.”

The investment of founding members is linked to a successful co-op. In the case of this grant, every $100 founding membership leverages more than $800 in additional funding and in-kind services. The more founding members recruited, the more equity is available to leverage this and other future financing. Strong community support demonstrates to potential financial partners that the area supports this project.

“Even if the numbers work out great on paper, we cannot open without the support of founding members, said Skovsted. “We are up to 261 founding members, our goal is to increase that number to 800 in the coming year.”

A founding membership or equity stake in the Caledonia Food Co-op is $100. Membership applies to the entire household and ensures one vote at the annual meeting to elect board members.

“We are excited to feel the momentum building,” said Skovsted. “The process of starting a co-op takes 3-4 years with a lot of heavy lifting by our volunteer board and advisory members. We are now at the phase where our team and professional partners can ‘hit the road running’ to locate a site, build up the number of founding members, and realize success.”

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