The seeds of West Michigan Co-op were planted in 2006 with a basic idea: How can we help local, small farmers sell their products directly to consumers year-round?
Planting a Fresh Idea
In 2006, our founders – Jerry Adams, Tom Cary, Gail Philbin, and Paul DeLeeuw – recognized the need in the Grand Rapids community for an organization that would connect farmers to consumers year-round. West Michigan is home to a wide variety of local farmers, many of whom maintain their product supply year-round. But at that time the farmers markets closed every year in the fall, and subsequently, those farmers had limited means to sell their products directly to consumers until the markets opened back up six months later.
At the same time, the local food movement was beginning to gain steam in Grand Rapids, fueled in part by some highly publicized food recalls like scallions and spinach from the traditional style farms and supply chains. People were increasingly interested in shopping locally for their food, and doing so year-round.
Our founders sought to create a new model of a farmers market. It would be web-based in order to maximize ease and convenience for both farmers and shoppers; it would be cooperative; it would be democratic; it would be community-oriented; and it would create a fun and cohesive atmosphere, bringing farmers and shoppers together in a way that benefits both.
The First Shoots of a New Business
As the local farmers markets were shutting down for the winter in November 2006, the West Michigan Co-op website went live and the first shopping cycle was launched. This event broke new ground as the Co-op became the first year-round local food source in West Michigan and only the second online farmers market in the nation.
The Growth and Blossoming of West Michigan Co-op
During the first year of operations, the Co-op grew and evolved. Farmers and other producers were attracted to the Co-op as it provided them with another outlet by which to sell their products. The Grand Rapids community also embraced the Co-op because it provided a new venue for purchasing local products.
West Michigan Co-op began in 2006 with a handful of farmers and a small number of shoppers. Today, we boast 50 farmers and producers, 1200 products for sale on our website, and nearly 500 active members.