The fresh food that makes it to our tables follows a rough and rocky road. It must survive the legal, organizational and natural trials of a farm business. At Our Table Co-op, in Sherwood, OR, they are doing their best to take the uncertainty out of our food’s future with an innovative and intentional business structure.
Our Table is the farm business part of a three organization system, all working together to realize a shared vision. The group started when their not-for-profit fiscal arm, Community by Design, LLC, purchased the 58-acre farm in September of 2011.
Community by Design was founded by Machelle and Narendra Varma. The couple founded the not-for-profit exclusively to realize the vision that has become Our Table. Narendra brought the capital necessary to implement the vision and purchase the farm. The mission of the not-for-profit is to promote a local food culture and economy. “It essentially serves as a land trust for the farm,” said co-op member Gianna Banducci. Community by Design will keep the land in sustainable agriculture in perpetuity.
As part of the initial process, Community by Design asked local farmer, Josh Volk, to join the team of design consultants. Josh was running a small CSA, Slow Hand Farm, just north of Portland on Sauvie Island. Our Table quickly moved forward into actualization, and Josh decided to roll his operations into the co-op. The first CSA shares were ready in March of this year. “Josh was so impressed with the vision,” said Gianna. He became one of the nine current co-op members, moving his CSA to the farm in Sherwood, and rolling the business into Our Table.
In addition to Josh, farmer Paul Shaw joined the co-op to manage an existing blueberry crop and land restoration efforts.
Officially, Our Table rents the land from Community by Design. The lease began in May of this year. It will automatically renew each year for three years, at which point everyone will reevaluate the terms with a clear idea of what is needed, explained Gianna. Rent is set at a level required to cover costs such as property taxes and rises minimally each year with inflation.
All construction is currently paid through Community by Design. Our Table Cooperative is currently looking for additional investors to help the co-op meet operating shortfalls during its early years until it turns a profit.
The third arm of the vision is an educational entity, The Manav Foundation.
As the project forges forward, the intention is to begin to include other regional producers in the co-op. These producers would buy in and have a different level of membership.