A regular week for the farmers of Cowichan Valley Co-operative Marketplace would see an average of 30 orders placed through their system. When COVID-19 hit British Columbia and the restrictions were put in place affecting farmer’s markets and restaurants, the CVCM system saw a peak of 250 orders/week. It may look great at first, but it’s been challenging. “We had no procedures in place,” says Cammy Lockwood, CVCM board chair, referring to the lack of resources at the time to manage the sudden change.
The CVCM connects local farmers and consumers in the Cowichan region through a centralized food hub, cow-op.ca. So when the challenges came up, they needed help. Community Evolution invested $18,000 to allow the CVCM to scale its operations, and launched a fundraiser to invite external support.
“They are showing up as an incredible pillar of support to us at this time, enabling us to truly step into the big shoes of providing an economically reliable sales outlet to local agriculture,” says Derrick Pawlowski (above on the right), Cow-op’s market manager. “Being able to capture the growth that is knocking at our door right now will have long-term implications for our success.”
The co-operative also relied on their community. “We found our volunteers via word of mouth,” says Julia Fisher (left), Cow-op’s community facilitator. Among the team of about 20 volunteers, there are friends of farmers, people engaged with the Cowichan Green Community (entity that led to the creation of Cow-op), members of their supportive network and consumers who saw their calls for help on social media.
“When I saw the request for volunteer drivers, I thought about it for a couple of days and then decided that it was something that I could do without putting myself in any danger,” says Jane Nares (below on the right). She moved from Toronto to Ladysmith last October, and was looking forward to meeting new people and exploring the area. “The Cowichan Valley is truly beautiful and I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore as well as feeling that I am doing something constructive during this difficult time.”
According to Julia, the CVCM saw an abrupt change to delivery, which required many hands in the first week, when volunteers were helping pack and deliver orders. From the second week on, volunteers were doing deliveries only. “We hired three people to do the packing,” Julia says. The goal was to avoid rotation of staff managing the packages, and ensure food safety protocols. In addition, drivers have also worn masks and carried hand sanitizers with them.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to help this program expand and grow at this time,” says Auriel Charpentier (below), who has also volunteered with Cow-op in this time of crisis. Auriel says she believes in the Cow-op’s mission and vision to connect the community with healthy food from local farmers. “It’s convenient for the consumers and the businesses they support.”
This connection was about to be disrupted, and Jane was aware. “I’d already been thinking about the fact that farmers would soon be harvesting crops and needing some way to distribute them,” says Jane. She says that, although she knows there are a few spaces open for groceries, she’s not comfortable going. “And I’m sure that there are a number of people who also feel this way.”
Energy and kindness
As a volunteer driver, Jane knows she’s not only been helping farmers and producers distribute their food, but also helping consumers like her who are not going out for a variety of reasons. “And I’ve got to see all kinds of amazing places that I hadn’t been to,” says the former resident of Toronto.
Julia says that the success of the Cow-op’s new home delivery system is a direct result of the volunteer support. “They are an amazing group of people of all ages and backgrounds who see how the Cow-op is making a difference for so many producers, and have chosen to share their energy with us week after week,” she says. Julia believes the volunteers’ kindness and willingness to help is one of the most uplifting parts of the Cow-op cycle. “They have made this growth possible.”
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Originally published by Community Evolution.