The Growing Circle Food Cooperative

Date of Incorporation:  December, 2001

Membership: 500 members (presently representing 8 workers, over 100 producers, and over 400 con­sumer members)

Activity: The Growing Circle Food Cooperative's primary mission is to link local consumers with local producers, through a predominantly organic food store, and to provide local growers and producers with broader access to the market. The co-op furthermore promotes community self-sufficiency and local food security by creating a venue which supports and encourages the sustainable development of a vibrant local agricultural economy. Organisational Form: The Growing Circle Food Cooperative is a unique example of a multi-stakeholder co­operative. The three stakeholder classes are workers, consumers, and producers.

Area Served: Salt Spring Island,1 British Columbia

Story of the Co-operative

The Growing Circle Food Cooperative's store is located in the town of Ganges, the commercial centre for Salt Spring Island's year-round population of 10,000.  Salt Spring Island, the largest of British Columbia's Southern Gulf Islands, has an established farming community, and is often referred to as "The Organic Gardening Capital of Canada". Salt Spring is also known for its numerous cottage industries such as soap and candle making, goat and organic cow's milk cheese production, and tofu production, among other things.  The island is a popular tourist destination and is a chosen home for many artisans.

During the summer months the island's population doubles in size.  Many of the visitors and tourists visit the local Saturday Market and the numerous artist studios. Local crafts and fresh produce are the highlights of a visit to the market. Salt Spring's producers also sell their goods to islanders and visitors at farm gates.  In addition, many artists and farmers offer tours to tourists and residents, which not only provide information and knowledge about island life but also help to sell their products. The summer months are busy with the tourist industry; during the winter, Salt Spring returns to the day-to-day activities of its local population.

The Growing Circle Food Cooperative developed out of two primary needs that were not being met on the island. The first was consumers having consistent year round access to locally grown and produced food and a broader selection of bulk organic products. The second was the need for local producers to have broader access to the local food market. Though Salt Spring already has two supermarkets and a small natural foods store, none of these outlets was adequately meeting these needs.

As is the case with most communities in North America, the island relies on food that is imported from all over the world. Salt Spring produces only 3% of the island's food needs, which was disheartening to founding membersof the Growing Circle given the amount of organic and natural food grown and produced on the island. However, Salt Spring Island is blessed with a land capability and climate that would allow it to eventually realise the goal of self-sufficiency.

In March 2000, Jana Thomas, the co-op's founder, recruited eight other individuals who together formed the co-op's original steering committee.  This committee spent nine months developing a business plan and surveying the community in order to determine the feasibility of a food co-operative.

The founding co-operative members were determined to develop a business that would meet the needs of Salt Spring's producers and consumers, and would provide employment opportunities for the area's residents.  All members agreed that a co-operative model was the ideal way to form and run the business, because of the co­op model's ability to reflect the Growing Circle's social, economic, and environmental values.  The members found that the decision on what type of co-op to incorporate as was more challenging to make. In the founding stages of the venture, a consumer co-op, a producers' marketing co-op, and a worker co-op model were all considered. The members finally decided that the type of co-operative structure that would best serve them would be a multi-stakeholder model, comprised of three classes of membership: producer, consumer, and worker.

As Jana Thomas points out:

Although there are inherent difficulties in meeting the needs of three competing interests in our local market, we chose the multi-stakeholder model because we believe that finding the balance between our three member groups is key to co-op's current success and indeed essential to live up to our mission (Jana Thomas, 2001).

Salt Spring residents have a keen sense of community, and the Growing Circle's founders recognise the importance of co-operating to build a strong local economy that creates a balance between social, economic, and environmental concerns. The steering committee expanded to include other committed and energetic islanders, including a number of growers and producers. In a short period of time, these people defined the spirit of their intentions and directed them into concrete actions.

In December 2001, the Growing Circle opened its doors, with approximately 50 members, approximately 20 of whom were local producers eager to market their local produce and value-added products through the co-op. By the time the co-op held its first Annual General Meeting just over a year later, it had grown to just over 500 members, including more than 100 local producers.

Vision, Purpose and Goals

The mission to strengthen the local economy through the renewal and encouragement of the local agriculture sector guides the Growing Circle Food Cooperative. The co-op's mission statement, which was developed by its founding steering committee, and approved by the board in 2001, says in part:

The Growing Circle Food Cooperative's mission is to enhance the local economy, while fostering a vibrant sense of community.  The primary vision is to beneficially link Salt Spring consumers with Salt Spring growers and producers through a predominately organic food and natural goods store, and to provide local growers and producers with broader access to the market (GCFC Mission Statement 2001).

GCFC's mission statement also demonstrates how, as the first multi-stakeholders food co-op in B.C., it is breaking new ground:

The Growing Circle Food Cooperative is strongly committed to cultivating responsible stewardship of Salt Spring Island, and working to sustain a healthy living landscape through the renewal of a vibrant local agricultural economy.  The co-operative model is well suited to reflect these values and a retail food co-operative is an excellent way to merge economic and social goals to positively impact one community, while setting a positive example.

The Growing Circle supports and encourages farmers on Salt Spring Island by providing them with a secure and consistent market for their produce and products, as well as by offering them the opportunity to participate in how their products are marketed. The co-operative promotes environmentally responsible farming practices, and is working toward the renewal of the local agricultural economy.  This reciprocal relationship benefits the co-operative as a whole as much as it benefits the producer members.

The agricultural community on Salt Spring Island represents many small farm operations. The Growing Circle aspires to sustainably expand organic farming on the island, and to encourage farmers to become more productive in their farming operations. Producer members have started planning for winter crops and also work together to ensure diversity in their crops so as not to overlap produce sold through the co-op and to provide a year-round supply.  Many residents of Salt Spring recognise the importance of farming and see their involvement in the co-operative as a way to support local producers and to feel secure in the quality of food they are feeding their families.

The vision of the Growing Circle Food Cooperative is reflected in the buying criteria developed for the store. For example, the GCFC has adopted the following seven levels of priority for buying produce, which ensure that consumer demands are met by local supply first.

Level one: certified organic local members

Level two: non-certified local producer members

Level three: certified organic bio-regional producer members

Level four: non-certified bio-regional producer members

Level five: certified organic local producers (non-members)

Level six: non-certified local producers (non-members)

Level seven: certified organic suppliers elsewhere

As the cost of organic certification is prohibitive for many smaller producers on the island, the co-op's producer members are required to supply the co-op with information regarding their growing practices. Furthermore, as being certified organic is not necessarily a market advantage on the local level, the co-op has a policy to pay more for local certified organic produce, but sells both local certified organic and non-certified organically grown produce at the same price. Producer members are also discussing implementing a system of local certification.

The Growing Circle also has a buying policy in place whereby if a local value-added certified organic product marketed through the store is able to meet the consumer demand for that product, then the co-op will not purchase another off-island product to compete with it. For example, although there are less expensive options for certified organic tofu and flour that could be imported from elsewhere, the co-op only carries tofu and flour that is produced on the island.

The Growing Circle evaluates its success by measuring increases in membership, by the percentage of sales represented by local produce and value-added products to its members, and by how well it is meeting the needs of its three member classes. The co-operative has committed to creating a sustainable and healthy work environment and to maintaining its ability to supply quality, primarily organic food to its consumer members, while paying producer members a price that adequately reflects the 'real costs' associated with producing food. The continued success of the co-operative will depend on developing a balanced financial foundation and strategic plan to meet the changing and competing interests of consumers (who would like food costs to come down), producers (who would like higher returns on their produce sold through the co-op), and workers (who would like higher wages and benefits).

Starting the Co-operative

The founders of The Growing Circle Food Cooperative began discussing their vision for a food co-operative on Salt Spring in March 2000. The primary vision of the founding members was to link Salt Spring Island consumers and producers through a predominantly organic food store, and thereby provide producers with broader and more consistent access to the local market. This vision was realised nine months later, in December 2000, with the grand opening of the retail storefront in Ganges.

Three members of this group were able to qualify for Co-operative Development Assistance funding through Human Resources Development Canada2. This program provided a living allowance for a period of ten months to eligible persons in order that they could devote full time attention to the development of the co­operative. However, within ten months, two of the original three members left The Growing Circle.  The HRDC program did not meet the financial needs of one member, and the second member left for personal reasons. Two new members, who also qualified for the same HRDC funding, took over the vacant positions. This financial support was a key factor in enabling the group to move the co-op from the visioning stage to the actualizing stage.

Also key to the initial co-operative development of the Growing Circle was funding ($9,814) received through an initiative called the Cooperative Advantage program, which was created by the former BC Ministry of Community Development, Cooperatives and Volunteers to assist groups starting a co-operative enterprise.3 The funding specifically enabled the co-op to conduct a survey of the marketplace, complete a business plan, clarify the structure of the co-op, train board members, and develop the rules for both the governance and the incorporation of the co-operative. The Cooperative Advantage grant allowed the Growing Circle to contract the services of professional co-op developers. Without the assistance of these developers, the start-up process would have been considerably longer and more difficult. The co-operative also applied for and received a grant ($5000) from the Maureen Robinson Fund.4 This particular grant allowed the Growing Circle to build a much-needed walk-in cooler during the first few months of operation.

Co-op members readily acknowledge their appreciation of the grants the co-op received. The importance of the grants is reflected in one member's comment:  "Without this support the Growing Circle, with little assets, could not have opened its doors" (2001).

In addition to the funds mentioned above, the community contributed the equivalent of over $70,000 in goods and services. The majority of this amount was from members who donated time, labour, and building materials, and from members of the business community, who donated items for a raffle.

In addition to financial resources that were accessed for co-operative development, the founders sought professional help from individuals, other food co-ops, and business organisations to aid them in the development of a solid business plan for the retail venture. For example, the Growing Circle received business and operational advice from the following groups and individuals: Lee Fuge, grocery manager at Capers Community Markets in Victoria; the member owners of Edible Island, a worker co-op in Courtenay; the management of The Kootenay Country Store, a consumer food co-op in Nelson; and the many food co-operatives across North America that participate in the on-line Cooperative Grocers Information Network.5 Founding GCFC members also accessed the business planning resources offered by the Women's Enterprise Society of British Columbia (WESBC).6

As the founding members of the co-op were not able to personally capitalise the start up of the business or personally qualify for traditional business loans, alternative lending options were researched. As the local credit union on Salt Spring does not have any alternative lending programs, the co-operative applied and received a $20,000 business loan from Coast Capital Savings in Victoria through Coast Capital's Rising Tide community lending program.7

One of the challenges in the start-up phase of the co-op was the perception of some community members that the co-op had an unfair advantage in the marketplace because it received government funding. Initially, there was a misunderstanding by some people on the island who thought that the Growing Circle was privately owned and that the grants given to it were for operating expenses. As word of mouth is often 'make or break' for local businesses on Salt Spring, it was important for the founding members to overcome this perception through local media and word of mouth. Articles written for the local paper stressed the fact that the co­operative was owned and operated by members of the community and therefore benefited the community as a whole as opposed to any particular private individuals. The articles also stressed that the government funding the Growing Circle received was for co-operative development and not capital financing.

Another challenge confronting the co-operative is the reality of trying to balance staying competitive in the food industry while gradually educating consumers about the real cost of food. The larger supermarkets on the island can offer consumers lower-priced groceries because of their ability to buy large volumes of the products that they sell. And often, certified organic produce from California is less expensive than local produce.  In the face of these challenges, the Growing Circle focuses its marketing on the whole concept as opposed to price points, and consumer education is a primary marketing tool. The Growing Circle also encourages consumer members to bulk buy together in order to keep food costs down, publishes a quarterly newsletter to further member education and participation, and sponsors and/or participates in local events (such as the annual Fall Fair, Real Food Faire and a yearly farm tour of producer-member farms).  The co-op's Board of Directors has also established a fundraising committee to seek members and other financing for large capital costs, and to fund educational projects.

Education and Training

The budget prepared by the Growing Circle includes funds for training and capacity-building for worker-members and board members. Capacity building in the form of co-operative development and communications of board and staff has been particularly important for The Growing Circle as a multi-stakeholder co-operative, as the structure often brings up complex issues and there were no similar models to draw from. Capacity building for founding worker-members, none of whom had direct experience managing a retail grocery store, was also essential.

Both the board and the general membership are committed to supporting ongoing educational activities, both for themselves as well as for the general public, regarding issues relating to local food security.   These educational activities include hosting local food fairs with guest speakers, workshops, organic farming discussions, and publishing the recipe of the month, which highlights ways to use local seasonal produce. The co-operative hopes to achieve several outcomes through conducting these activities, which include raising awareness about food issues, encouraging more people to grow their own food, and increasing the co-operative's membership base.

Short-Term Goals

The Growing Circle's short-term goals include the development of solid policies and effective operating procedures, and working to achieve a 10% increase per year in its producer membership until most local producers have joined the co-operative. The co-operative also plans to continue to build the capacity of its membership. In addition, the Growing Circle's financial goal is to surpass the break-even point by its third fiscal year of operating. The objective is for the Growing Circle to show a profit by year three of its operation. Another short-term goal is to run the co-operative so that it can compete effectively in the marketplace. The group that runs the co-operative is working to determine how to operate with a balanced product/price ratio. Operating within this ratio will enable the co-operative to show a profit while paying fair prices to its producers and fair wages to its workers as well as offering reasonable prices to those who consume the products it sells.

Organisational Structure

The rules of the Growing Circle Food Cooperative were finalised in December, 2001.  After exploring various models employed by other food co-operatives and discussing its options with co-operative developers, the Growing Circle chose to organise itself using a multi-stake holder model. The aim of this model is to allow for the needs of all stakeholders to be represented equally.  The rules stipulate that all three of the member groups be represented on the board. Overall, the co-operative operates within a modified consensus framework. This means that if, after several attempts to reach a consensus, the co-operative members still maintain a difference of opinion, the membership is required to vote on the issue.  A two-thirds majority vote is then required to determine the co-operative's decision.  In general, this multi-stakeholder model is unique, as each member group's economic success depends on how well stakeholders collaborate and co-operate with one another.

The Growing Circles Rules stipulate the responsibilities of each class as follows:

Consumer Members - Must make at least one purchase from the co-operative in each fiscal year.

Producer Members - Must supply at least one product to the co-operative in each fiscal year.

Worker Members - Must work at least twenty hours per week for at least 32 weeks in the co­-operative retail store in each fiscal year.

The Board of Directors

The Growing Circle's Board of Directors is comprised of nine members, who represent all three membership classes: the consumers, the workers, and the producers. The co-operative's rules require that a minimum of two members from each of the three classes serve on the Board of Directors. The remaining three board members can be drawn from any of the three membership classes. In addition, the Board endeavours to ensure each class of membership is represented on every Board Committee. Current Board Committees include Finances, Human Resources, and Governance. A Board member also sits on each of the Membership Committees, which currently consist of Producer, Consumer, Worker, Fundraising, and Outreach and Education Committees.

The Growing Circle operated with an interim self-selected Board of Directors for its first year.  At the first AGM, in March 2002, all of the nine board positions were open for election. Five board positions were elected for a two-year term and four for a one-year term. To ensure Board continuity, in the year following the first AGM, and in each subsequent year, only four board positions will be elected annually for two year terms. An exception will occur when a board member resigns, in which case the board will be required to appoint a member in order to fill the vacated seat. That seat will then come up for election at the following AGM.  The Board of Directors election process at the AGM is as follows:

  • Each member votes for up to nine candidates.
  • Ballots are sorted into classes and votes are tallied for each candidate within each class.
  • The two candidates from each class with the most votes from her/his class are elected to the board.
  • After these six candidates are determined, all votes for remaining candidates are tallied (i.e. from all three classes) and the three candidates with the most accumulated votes are elected.

The structure of the Board of Directors helps to an equal and democratic representation of the interests of the entire membership on the Board, regardless of the percentage of members each class represents out of the entire membership. A board member is permitted to serve for a maximum of three consecutive terms.  This approach is designed to make use of the experiences and the accumulated knowledge of directors and the need for some degree of continuity in the workings of the board. The Board elects amongst itself a Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer and Secretary.

The Board itself is responsible for long-range planning, for monitoring financial obligations, for ensuring the mission statement is practiced, for developing policy, and for supporting the General Manager in her work. The General Manager is an employee of the co-op and is not a member of the co-operative. The co-operative chose this arrangement due to the potential for a perceived or actual conflict of interest for the General Manager if s/he were to belong to a member class. Therefore, the General Manager is hired by contract to manage the financial and organisational affairs of the Growing Circle on behalf of all three of the co-operative's member classes.

Paid Staff

The staff operates the store under the guidance of a General Manager who is hired on a contractual basis by the Board of Directors. Although a management team originally directed the Growing Circle's operations, after the first year of operation and much deliberation the co-operative decided to change the structure to its present one. Although worker members wished to continue with a group management style, the interim Board was concerned about the accountability of three managers. The group came to consensus to hire a General Manager, and Ramona Scott, one of the former managers, was appointed in 2001 to the position.  Ramona explains that the Growing Circle's board feels that the position of General Manager better represents the three membership classes of the co-operative:

When the co-operative operated without a General Manager, the management was more complex. Each co-ordinator had different responsibilities for the store operations. Each co­ordinator functioned independently, as that individual was responsible for different aspects of the day-to-day operations of the co-operative, although the co-ordinators shared the overall vision of the co-operative. Now the General Manager represents all the concerns of the three classes of membership. This system better represents the diversity of the membership (Ramona Scott, 2001).

In addition to the General Manager, the co-op also has Finance, Grocery, and Produce co-ordinators.  The Finance Co-ordinator prepares budgets, makes daily deposits, authorises some operating expenses and prepares the required financial reports for the General Manager and for the co-operative's members.  The Grocery Co­ordinator is responsible for the purchase and management of all grocery products, bulk items, cooler items, household cleansers and body care products. The Produce Co-ordinator purchases and manages the freshness and quality of all the fresh produce, meat, and eggs, and co-ordinates local producer-members with the help of the Producer Committee. Both the Grocery and Produce Co-ordinators ensure that they purchase as much as possible from local Salt Spring Island producers in order to fulfill the overall mission of the co-operative. The remaining staff members work as clerks who assist in daily retail operations, such as assisting customers, operating cash registers, and stocking shelves.

Presently, there are eight paid employees working in the retail store - four part-time and four full-time staff.  In the summer months, however, the co-operative employs additional staff.


The share purchase to become a member of the co-operative is $100 for all membership classes. Members are given the option to work a total of twelve and a half hours as a way of paying for their membership. Revenue Canada, however, considers labour that is exchanged for a co-operative membership to be taxable income; thus, members are required to claim this work as employment income on their tax returns. Members can only work for one share, but can buy up to ten shares. Although multiple shares can be bought, this does not affect the one vote per member policy of the co-operative. The co-operative does not allow for non­member investors and at present the Growing Circle does not plan to pursue outside investors, even though is now permitted by British Columbia's new Co-operative Act (2001).

The Growing Circle is structured in such a way that any annual financial surplus is distributed to each class, although worker-members receive a higher percentage of the surplus than do the other two classes.  At present, 30% of profits go to both consumer- and producer-members and 40% goes to worker-members. Workers receive a greater percentage of the surplus because they are actively running the business.  Each class can determine what to do with its surplus; however, there is a provision that 30% of the co-operative's total surplus must be retained as equity.  The Growing Circle's Rules require that 30% of any surplus be retained as equity, and cannot be changed without a special resolution.  However, the way remaining surplus is distributed is a Board policy and can therefore be re-evaluated in the future and changed to accommodate new circumstances. Each member class can decide what it wants to do with its surplus; for example, consumers could distribute their surplus back to members based on patronage, producers could direct theirs towards a group certification project, while workers could decide to reinvest in the co-operative through self-directed RRSPs.

Links to Community, Networks, and Outreach

The Growing Circle Food Cooperative is a member of the Island Natural Growers8, the Cooperative Grocers Information Network, the Canadian Workers Co-operative Federation,9 and the Canadian Co-operative Association - British Columbia Region.10 Members attend conferences and workshops in order to establish links with, and to learn more about, the co-operative movement. Locally, the Growing Circle has organised tours of producer member's farms as a fundraiser for a new freezer and to raise awareness about issues relating to local agriculture and organic farming among both island residents and visitors to Salt Spring. The co-operative has also created a garden-share network, posted on a member bulletin board in the store, so that members who have a garden can offer to share their plot of land with other members.

The Growing Circle Food Cooperative gives weekly donations of produce to the local food bank. The co-op also plans to initiate a "Grow a Row" program where members who have gardens can sign up to designate a row of food for the food bank. This action is part of a larger initiative being developed by the Canadian Association of Food Banks, the Composting Council of Canada,11 and the Canadian members of the Garden Writers Association of America, which is encouraging Canadian gardeners to grow extra produce for local food banks.

The working involvement of members from the consumer and producer classes is important to the success of fundraising and community outreach activities. The co-operative has developed a "Working Member Program" whereby members participate in the operations of the co-op on a weekly basis and earn coupons for discounts of 5 or 10% off co-op purchases depending on the amount of hours worked. The co-op also has a database of casual working members who volunteer sporadically.  Working members perform such activities as helping to display produce at the store, restocking and receiving groceries, and working at co-op sponsored events.

As noted earlier, hours worked can be credited toward membership fees.  Incentives such as discounts on purchases in the store and recognition of people's contributions to the co-operative in the Growing Circle's Island Beet newsletter are some of the ways in which volunteers are rewarded. The Growing Circle's in-store bulletin board, suggestion box, and newsletter (which is also mailed to members) are all ways in which the Growing Circle maintains its links with its membership and the community at large. Ramona Scott emphasises that "customer service and the way we treat members is critical. Members must know they are co-owners, so concern for the success of the co-operative is important to them. They can make a difference" (2001).

Future Plans and Challenges

Currently, the co-operative faces several challenges: to continue to find ways to remain financially viable in light of the extra costs associated with focusing on many local suppliers as opposed to one large wholesaler; to establish and maintain an active membership base; and to address retail space issues. The co-op's members realise that in order to promote sales, maintain membership loyalty, and increase its membership base, it is important to have adequate retail space. Commercial space on Salt Spring is expensive and limited, which will make it difficult for the co-operative to find an appropriate, suitable, and affordable location. This is already a concern because the building where the Growing Circle's retail space is now located is already constricting.  It is also an awkward space for the staff to work in.  Although customers like the feel of the store, they realise that the space limits product diversity and the co-op's ability to generate profit.  Consequently, as the co-operative's membership grows, it will be necessary to relocate to a larger space in order to meet the demands of the increasing membership, to accomodate a projected increase in local produce, and to develop a larger outreach program.

The co-operative also seeks to offer reasonable wages and benefits for its staff, and hopes these actions will encourage other island employers to offer "equitable wages" to residents. One of the goals of the Growing Circle is to raise the rate of pay for its workers as its revenues and profits increase. The Growing Circle also plans to create a Community Demonstration and Market Garden, which will supply produce to the store. Jana Thomas explains:

The co-operative also plans to establish a non-profit society to increase the educational reach of the co-operative. The society would enable the co-operative to further its educational mission, without compromising the benefits of membership provided by the retail store. Again, this is a way to educate the public and co-operative members regarding Salt Spring Island's incredible organic farming possibilities (Jana Thomas, 2001).

In the long term, the Growing Circle plans to work in partnership with the community on projects and events that promote sustainable agricultural stewardship.

Lessons Learned

The Growing Circle's membership has experienced a steep learning curve. Through hands-on experience, outside assistance, and simply working things out, it has discovered how to develop a complex multi-stakeholder co-operative. The chair of the co-op's interim Board, Ellie Parks, says that she had learned that the critical ingredients for starting a co-operative enterprise (or any business venture) include "extensive research, surveys, and a solid business plan" (2001). She also advises to not hide from problems, to ask for help, and to draw upon "the diverse experience of other members" (Parks, 2001). Clearly, good communication and relationships among the members are also crucial to developing the co-operative successfully.  Parks notes that "interpersonal dynamics can derail the co-operative's vision" and that it is extremely important to "spend time building trust" (2001). She maintains that respecting communication and managing conflict, which is often about the positions and not the persons, are key strategies in the co-operative process and are, therefore, fundamental to building a successful co-operative. Parks adds, "make every meeting a party and every party a meeting" (August 2001).

In addition to the insights above, members of the Growing Circle recommend the following strategies for starting and running a retail food co-operative:

  1. Join the Co-operative Grocer's Information Network on the web.12
  2. Seek out the guidance and knowledge of co-op developers.
  3. Learn from the co-operative community.  Other co-operatives are happy to share their knowledge and expertise. Successful co-operatives start from a common need that inspires people to work collectively to reach their objectives.
  4. Clearly identify the roles and responsibilities of board and staff members.
  5. Recognise the need for each other's role.  Everyone has something to contribute; the co-operative will become stronger with the participation of as many of the members as possible.
  6. Ensure that the board and staff work together to develop the policies and procedures.
  7. Start board development work early.

The Growing Circle has connected with the broader co-operative community and has gained valuable insights from the expert advice of co-operative developers. Adopting the multi-stake holder co-operative model has meant that a skilled, energetic, and diverse group of people have come together to work toward a common vision. Although the co-operative model may not be everyone's choice, the membership agrees it works well for the Growing Circle. It also complements the social and economic values of many of the people living on Salt Spring Island.

This next year will offer many challenges, but with hard work and dedication, the Growing Circle Food Cooperative will move forward. Increasing membership will bring more ideas and new energy into the co­-operative.


1 Salt Spring Island is accessible by three different ferry (vehicle and foot passenger) routes. From the Swartz Bay terminal near Victoria to Fulford Harbour takes approximately 35 minutes; from the Crofton terminal (located on Vancouver Island) to Vesuvius Bay the trip is about 25 minutes; and, from the Tswassen terminal (located on BC's mainland near Vancouver) to Long Harbour, the trip is about 90 minutes.  For more information see:

2 The source of this funding is HRDC. The funding became available through a (unique) national pilot project called the Co-operative Employment Assistance Program.  This program was created through HRDC (Saanichoffice) and the Co-operative Enterprise Centre (CEC), located in Victoria, BC.  The program is administeredthrough the CEC. Employment Insurance (EI) eligible clients were provided with a living allowance for up toten months while developing a co-operative enterprise. The success of the pilot project led to the programbeing extended to the clients of HRDC Greater Victoria on April 1, 2001.  More information on this programand others see the CEC website: - or contact CEC at: #100 - 3795 Carey Road, Victoria, BC   V8Z 6T8

3 In June 2001 BC's provincial government changed.  Subsequently the new Liberal government decided to end support for the development of co-operatives, including the Co-op Advantage program.  The unit that assisted co-ops was dissolved.

4 The Maureen Robinson Fund was created to honour the work and dedication of its namesake. The aim of the fund is to promote the development of co-operatives in BC. Maureen Robinson worked tirelessly promoting the development of co-operatives and credit unions. She died in 1996.

5 Cooperative Grocers Information Network (United States)

6 The Women's Enterprise Society of British Columbia (WESBC) is a non-profit organisation that provides free services to women in business. WESBC is funded by Western Economic Diversification Canada.  Amongother services WESBC provides business plan guides and access to an interactive business planner.  Note that the programs provided by WESBC are only offered to businesses and co-operatives whose membership istwo-thirds women. See -  or contact WESBC at:  #103 - 1635 Abbot Street, Kelowna, BC V1Y 1A

7 The Coast Capital Savings' Rising Tide Loan program offers alternative financing for community economic development initiatives. These grants are given to small businesses that are supported by their community and that do not qualify for conventional credit. To qualify for funding, projects must make concrete contributions to the social and economic stability of the community they are a part of. For more information visit the Coast Capital Savings website: or phone the Coast Capital head office at 250-380­3100 or TTY for hearing support at 250-361-2075.

8 Island Natural Growers is a part of the Canadian Organic Growers



11 For more information on the Grow a Row project see or contact them at 16 Northumberland Street, Toronto, Ontario, M6H P7. Telephone: 416-535-0240, Fax: 416-536-9892 or Email:


Creator - Author(s) Name and Title(s): 
British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Publisher Information: 
BC Institute for Co-operative Studies, University of Victoria


Salt Spring Island, BC
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