You can count on Manitou Springs for unique merchandise. Handmade pottery, leprechaun ornaments, animal t-shirts, fine wine, hemp energy bars, and even a life -ize Santa Clause doll can all be found in the community’s quirky businesses. While it may seem that Manitou has it all, there is a key component to the identity and practicability of any town that Manitou lacks entirely – and that is a grocery store. However, that is about to change in a big and local way.
In March 2013, local resident Elise Rothman, Director of Transition Manitou Springs, decided to take the matter into her own hands and liberate the residents of Manitou from having to commute out of town to get groceries. Since last March, Local First Grocer has transformed from a novel idea to an organized, budgeted, expanding, local powerhouse that is expected to open March 1 of this year. Along with co-founder Luke Cissell, Rothman has put together a team of workers including farmers, chefs, college students, contractors, city council members, and even a geologist and poetry teacher who are all making this project and business model possible.
The mission of the grocery store goes far beyond that of the average market. While the goal is simple – to reclaim and re-localize Manitou’s food system – the manifestation of the vision involves a synchronized collaboration between local farmers, schoolteachers, government employees, community organizers, and, of course, local residents. Manitou Local First Grocer will function as a co-op, meaning the store will be owned and run by the members of the store. Anyone can become a member by paying a first-year fee of $150 and $50 each subsequent year. Members receive a variety of benefits and responsibilities including deciding what products are sold in the store, voting on the annual board members, and volunteering two and a half hours per month to help run the store. The aim of Local First is to provide all the essential items that can be found in a mainstream grocery store such as fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, baked goods, packaged goods, and household supplies, while simultaneously functioning as a space for kids and community members to learn and talk about local and sustainable ways to eat and grow food.
One of the many unique characteristics of the store will be carbon footprint labeling on almost all food items. I was recruited to lead this task after meeting Elise during the planning of first semester’s Food Day event held in Cornerstone by the Food Coalition and PeaceJam. In this role I will be in charge of tracking down the amount of carbon used to grow, process, and distribute each food item from farm to store shelf. Carbon labeling allows consumers to be aware of the environmental impacts that their food choices have, and also enables costumers to learn about the difference between an industrial versus local food system.
In addition, directly across the street from the grocery store at 116 Canon Ave., will be the Local Food Cart, where community members can sell their prepared and grown food to anyone walking by. All the proceeds from this cart will go the sellers, not the grocery store. To engage Manitou’s younger generation, the store will have windowsill gardens so kids can plant herbs and watch their food grow every time they stop by the store with their parents.
Earlier this month, the group hosted a community event at Adams Mountain Café to help promote the project and bring the community together for the first of many social events the store plans to orchestrate. Over 100 residents showed up to the event, including City Council member Nicole Nicoletta, who has voiced her enthusiasm and support for this endeavor. After a presentation given by Rothman, Cissell, and myself to the Manitou City Council and Mayor, Nicoletta posted a message on Facebook, which read: “Awesome presentation by Local First Grocer in Manitou Springs given to Manitou City Council. It is dreamy to think of the potential and all the co-op will bring to this town! Thank you for all your hard work!”
While initial funding has been successful, there is still a lot of work and investments that need to be made in order for the store to open on time. To rake in some more funds, the group has launched a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise $17,000 in just 21 days. As of today, there are 16 days left to reach the goal, and if it is short just a single dollar at closing, the group gets nothing. Contributors to the Kickstarter may receive rewards including baskets of fresh food, raw chocolates, or a stay at Avenue Hotel B&B. Ask your teachers, family, and friends to help support this important public service from which we will all benefit.
The link to the Kickstarter page is: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1437600457/local-first-grocer-reclaiming-our-food-economy