Moment of truth for co-op supporters

It's decision time, natural foods fans.

A long and tangled effort to open a food co-op in Medford faces a self-imposed deadline to raise $500,000 seven days from today and it is, as of this writing, just over $100,000 short.

Collecting that considerable sum in a week will put into motion renovation of a Riverside Avenue building set to hold the store, and customers will be able to shop in it by autumn, organizers promise.

Failing to meet the deadline? We'd be willing to bet that would be the beginning of the end for a co-op here for a long time.

Or, in the words of Medford Food Co-op board president Jim Sims: "We can't expect the community will be tolerant of many more delays."

Sims is wearing himself out these days in a race to collect donations. The organization has contacted all its members, and Sims has been making the rounds of community organizations and individuals he expects to be sympathetic to the cause. It released its business plan to members and the Mail Tribune (

Timing would seem to be on the side of the effort. Nationally and in the Rogue Valley, organic, natural and locally produced foods are hot, even in a struggling economy. People from Medford and cities near it make up 20 percent of the membership at Ashland's Food Co-op. Walk Medford's farmers market any Thursday, and the crowds reveal that this city has shoppers who want that kind of product and are willing to pay prices that often exceed those in mainstream grocery stores to get it.

Still, Medford's vibe here is reluctant, an issue likely traceable to mistrust that formed during a failed effort several years ago to open a co-op. That organization, from which Sims' group grew, launched a too-big plan and lacked experience in what it was trying to accomplish. True believers signed on by buying $100 shares and then were told the effort was kaput.

Sims' group has had its own share of issues. Fundraising has dragged on just about forever. The group has struggled to get its message out, and it hasn't always shared all it could with members. It has announced, or nearly announced, locations several times. And when it really picked one this spring, the spot didn't seem to many members to be the match they wanted. There's been some community grousing about that.

But we think people who want access to this kind of food ought to jump aboard now even so.

The organization has nearly all the money it needs to make a go of the store. It has the backing of Batzer Construction, which owns the building and is willing to put almost $300,000 into renovating it for the co-op. It has worked so long on developing the project that it has facts and experience and plans.

Although some natural, locally grown food is available from farms, farmers markets and other stores some parts of the year, Medford has no complete, year-round source of it now.

Far from threatening what's available already, establishment of the co-op would only improve the market for natural foods here, encouraging more healthy food and at better prices.

If the effort fails, it will be because people who want better access to this sort of product didn't step up and take part when they had the chance.

Will they choose to make it succeed instead? They've got seven more days to decide.

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