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Co-op finds rapid success

Six Rivers is a community marketplace that caters to those seeking local products

By Virginia De Leon | The Spokesman-Review

Alicia Best of Newport, Wash., checks out a display of flowers at Six Rivers Market, a cooperative market in Sandpoint. The display features flowers grown at BeeHaven, a flower farm in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Co-op members also meet the third Wednesday of the month in the basement of the Sandpoint Business and Events Center for Community Day, where members can meet farmers and other producers.

Their motto is simple: Good food. Grown here.

Every Wednesday afternoon in Sandpoint, people who grow food meet with folks who wish to buy local produce and products. Together, they hope to build community as well as create a sustainable food economy that promotes healthy living, local production and local jobs.

Their weekly gathering at the Sandpoint Business and Events Center is known as Six Rivers Market – a food co-op, year-round farmers market and local food distribution service all in one.

“This is a way to invest in your own community,” said Vicki Reich, the manager for Six Rivers Market. “It means something to know that your food was grown by your neighbors and that you’re supporting them by eating their delicious food.”

Like most farmers markets and co-ops, Six Rivers is a hub for area producers to sell their goods as well as educate the public about local and sustainable ways of growing food. What makes it a little different, however, is the fact that members can do all their shopping online.

Every week, Kendra Gray of Sandpoint visits the Six Rivers Web site ( to buy everything from lettuce and potatoes to tofu and cheese. Then on Wednesdays, she stops by the Sandpoint Business and Events Center to pick up her bag of groceries.

“We have so many great local products and producers,” said Gray, who also has a share of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) from June through September through Greentree Naturals. “It’s important for me to support them.”

Other shoppers especially appreciate the online convenience, they said. Instead of having to get up early on Saturdays to make sure they get the best selection at the farmers market, all they have to do now is order online.

And unlike a CSA share – which often means getting an assortment of vegetables, fruits, eggs from just one farm – Gray and other Six Rivers members can shop for exactly what they want by choosing from a long list of produce and products from more than two dozen farms and vendors within a 100-mile radius.

“I’ve been able to try different kinds of potatoes from a local guy who has 30 different kinds,” said Gray, who also donates to the local food bank each month through Six Rivers. “It’s nice to be able to choose.”

Every third Wednesday of the month, the market hosts Community Day, which features food samples, informational booths and hands-on activities for kids. It’s an opportunity for co-op members to meet the farmers and other producers in a relaxed and festive atmosphere.

“They’re not trying to sell to different people so they (the producers) have a little more time to talk,” Reich said. “You can learn a lot more about the food you’re buying.”

Six Rivers Market began with Meadow Summers, a Sandpoint mother of five who came up with the idea of a co-op while taking a class on small acreage farming from Diane Green of Greentree Naturals. Although it was winter time when she was taking the course, Summers noticed people in her class bringing greenhouse-grown vegetables, eggs, honey and other products that they shared and sold to each other. The availability of fresh food in February prompted her to explore the possibility of having a year-round market, a place where she and her neighbors could buy and sell locally grown food.

Last summer, she and her husband, Clint, conducted a survey asking people if they would support a local food co-op. More than 80 percent who responded online and also at the Sandpoint Farmers Market indicated they would be willing to be part of a Web-based, year-round market.

Before long, Meadows and others gathered to discuss their common passion for locally grown food. Last fall, Six Rivers came into existence during a fund-raiser potluck, that featured dishes made with local ingredients. Those involved decided to name the co-op “Six Rivers,” as a way to delineate their geographic location – a region defined by the Pend Oreille, Priest, Kootenai, Clark Fork, the Upper and Lower Pack, and Moyie rivers.

Inspired by the example of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative and Idaho’s Bounty, located in Ketchum, Idaho, Summers and other organizers launched the Six Rivers Web site in January 2009. The first distribution took place on April 1.

“Our mission is to preserve and promote local agriculture while providing the community with a vibrant and convenient year-round home-grown food source,” according to the Six Rivers Market Web site. “Our goal is to join our community together in providing food for one another.”

Right now, the co-op has about 100 members and roughly 30 producers. Those figures are expected to grow this summer and fall, said Reich, who served as the Moscow Food Co-op manager for nine years before moving to Sagle, Idaho, two years ago.

The market offers a variety of products that have been grown and produced in Sandpoint or within a 250-mile radius of the town. Some of the offerings include fresh produce, breads, cookies, cakes, fruit pies, jams, jellies, candy and honey, eggs, meat and any food produced with a license. Anything that’s cooked has to be made in a commercial kitchen and approved by the Panhandle Health District.

To ensure that products are locally grown, farmers and other producers provide an affidavit about their production practices and sites, where their food is grown or processed. Reich said she also regularly visits the farms.

Orders can be placed by Monday evening each week and payment can be made via Paypal on the Web site or with a check during pick-up.

To be part of the co-op, buyers and sellers pay an annual membership share of $100, which can be paid in installments of $15 a month. The membership fees are used for equipment maintenance, licensing, insurance, management and other expenses to make the co-op work, according to Reich. The more people who buy goods from the co-op, the lower the costs for each user, she said. During the co-op’s annual meeting, members vote for representatives for the co-op’s governing board. They also receive member discounts, special sales and an annual patronage dividend when the co-op makes a profit.

Reich hopes the co-op will encourage more people to build greenhouses and grow food all year long because they know they have a place to sell it, she said. She also wants to see more people selling baked goods. Besides offering a wider variety of local products, the co-op also hopes to offer food preservation courses some day as well as other classes that encourage people to eat healthy and local food.

By creating a resilient food source and strengthening its local economy, people involved in the co-op hope their efforts will allow the Sandpoint community and surrounding areas to be able to survive and even thrive despite the economic downturn experienced by many in the United States and worldwide.

“You’re investing in a business – you are an owner and you have a say,” said Reich. “You’re also investing in the local food economy and making it grow.”

Here are some recipes from members and vendors of Six Rivers Market:

Garlic Scape Pesto

From Vern’s Veggies

1 cup chopped garlic scapes

1/3 cup walnuts

1/4-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

3/4 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor. Cover and process with several on-off turns till a paste forms, stopping the machine several times and scraping the sides. With the machine running, gradually add the oil and process until the consistency of soft butter.

Refrigerate for one to two days or freeze up to one month.

Yield: Varies

Snap Peas with Bacon, Chevre and Craisins

From Vicki Reich, of Sandpoint

1 tablespoon olive oil

4-5 garlic scapes, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (or 2-3 cloves garlic)

2 strips cooked bacon, crumbled

2 cups sugar snap peas

1/2 cup Craisins (sweetened, dried cranberries)

1 scallion, chopped

5 fresh basil leaves, chopped (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup Wheyward Goat Cheese Chevre

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add the scapes and sauté until soft and slightly browned. Add the bacon and sauté for another minute or two. Add the snap peas and Craisins and sauté, tossing frequently until they are almost all bright green. Add the scallion, basil, salt and pepper and toss and cook for another minute. Turn the heat to medium low. Add the chevre and stir until the cheese is melted and coats all the other ingredients. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 side dishes

Fresh Green Beans Mediterranean with Bacon and Red Potatoes

From Just Simply Good Stuff!, a Sagle, Idaho based spice maker,

2-3 strips bacon

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1-2 pounds fresh green beans, tips cut off and snapped in half

10-15 pearl onions

8-10 small red or white potatoes

1 chicken bouillon cube

1-2 teaspoons Just Simply Good Stuff! Mediterranean Medley

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cut bacon into 2-inch pieces sauté in 2 quart sauce pan on low, fry 2-3 minutes (do not drain grease!) add crushed garlic, green beans, pepper, Mediterranean Medley. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Add bouillon, turn down to a simmer; cook about 1 hour. Add potatoes and peeled onions to the pot. Cook an additional 30 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Meadow’s Creamy Kale and Potato Soup

From Meadow Summers, of Sandpoint

1 onion

1-2 cups chopped kale (depending on how green you want your soup)

1 cup shredded carrot

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon butter or oil

6 cups water

6 teaspoons condensed chicken soup base

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 can cream of mushroom soup

2-3 cups instant mashed potatoes or leftover “real” mashed potatoes

1 cup of milk

Shredded cheese, for garnish

Sauté veggies and garlic with butter or oil in a large pot until tender. Add water, soup base, salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in mushroom soup, mashed potatoes and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with shredded cheese when serving.

Yield: Serves 6-8 servings

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