Cloverbelt Local Food Co-op (CLFC) is an online farmers market, offering fresh local produce to citizens in North West Ontario. The vision for CLFC is to become the central hub for production and distribution of local goods in Northwestern Ontario. A prominent goal of the co-op is to foster a thriving local food community through increasing famer-consumer relationships; promoting naturally grown, fairly priced, healthy food; and, educating individuals on environmentally sensitive agriculture.

Accessibility to local, sustainably produced food is the inspiration behind the creation of CLFC. Jen Springett, a new citizen of Dryden in 2011 wished to purchase local, sustainable foods for her household and experienced difficulty doing so. Motivated by this, Jen connected with various farmers in the region and rallied everyone to discuss the concept of offering easily accessible local foods. With a feasibility study in hand and a group of supporters, the online cooperative came to fruition. Jen currently holds the position of 2016/17 President.

Members of the cooperative are consumers and producers of local food, as well as organizations that support the vison of CLFC. Each membership costs $25 for a lifetime and allows members to buy and sell foods through the online market. The CLFC is a non-profit and uses membership fees to cover capital expenditures. The cooperative governance model allows members to bring forward input and to vote on major changes to the operation of the enterprise. It supports equal participation in the enterprise and helps to shape the direction moving forward.

Since its inception in 2013, the co-op has increasingly expanded the region it serves from Dryden, to include Sioux Lookout, Kenora, Ignace, and Upsala. What started as a membership of 85 in Dryden has grown to 1200 members as of late. Consumers can place orders online between Saturday at 2 pm and Monday at 10 am. From this point, producers collect their orders online and deliver their foods to Dryden. Volunteers sort out and pack all the foods based on what consumers ordered. All orders are picked up on Tuesday. Areas outside of Dryden are serviced by volunteer drivers that bring the orders to central pickup points.

Various challenges have come up from time to time, while some challenges never go away. The transportation of foods is always a difficulty especially when temperatures fluctuate drastically between summer and winter in the Northwest. No consumer wants a dozen frozen eggs in the middle of February. Moreover, ensuring that the volume of goods to any one community is large enough to cover the travel expenses and producer costs is also a challenge when delivering to small communities across vast geographic regions. These logistics can really be a nightmare for the cooperative, but members like Jen continue to search for viable transportation avenues including partnering with Lake of the Woods Brewery when possible.

This social enterprise has created a culture of sustainable farming in the Northwest, fostering healthy relationships between people and the food they eat, as well as increasing the visibility of the small scale farms that produce the food. A total of 120 farms participate in the co-op servicing a total of 5 communities over 350, 000 square kilometers. In the years to come Jen would like to grow the cooperative to service new communities, as well as to take on other projects in the region. Recently Cloverbelt Local Food Co-op has taken up the task of creating a Food Charter, which will be a reference document for decision makers, highlighting goals and identifying strategies, all while raising awareness of and education on food issues. If you live in Dryden, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Ignace or Upsala and want to learn more about Cloverbelt Local Food Co-op check out their website at http://cloverbeltlocalfoodcoop.com/