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Cottonwood Organic Food Co-op offers members access to healthy food

Trent Moranz

Trent Moranz of Cottonwood Organic Food Co-op, which operates out of the building it shares with Family and Community Support Services on Second Avenue.

A discussion about buying organically-grown almonds led to establishment of a Fort Macleod food co-op.
Cottonwood Organic Food Co-op now has a membership of about 55 who have access to an extensive list of food.
Trent Moranz was buying almonds from a California co-op and offered to let Chris Chambers, Jenny Burke and Dave Carlson in on the deal.
The group then decided to find a supplier of short grain rice, which was not available in Fort Macleod.
Moranz found a farm in California where the rice he was seeking was grown, and learned he could only buy it through a distributor.
The distributor in Washington State put Moranz in touch with Canadian distributor Tree of Life Canada in Calgary.
Tree of Life in turn told Moranz he would have to set up a wholesale account and sent him the application.
“At this point in time we’ve got maybe 10 people who are interested in buying rice,” Moranz said. “I just told him the truth. I filled out the application and sent it away, and heck, they gave us an account.”
Tree of Life Canada sent a 60-page price list of products it had available in the Calgary warehouse.
“It’s not all organic, but a lot of it was,” Moranz said.
The first order from the Fort Macleod group was mostly rice in April 2010.
“Then we started in earnest,” Moranz said.
They found a co-operative model that was suitable and Cottonwood Organic Food Co-op was incorporated.
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.
“It’s about ownership of the company,” Moranz said. “You lay down your money and you’ve bought a small portion of the co-op. It belongs to you too.”
There are seven principles that guide co-operatives:

    • Voluntary and open membership.
    • Democratic member control.
    • Member economic participation.
    • Autonomy and independence.
    • Education, training and information.
    • Co-operation among co-operatives.
    • Concern for community.

“The thing we didn’t anticipate was how much interest there would be in what we are doing,” Moranz said.
At the outset the group anticipated a membership of 30 families. Today, Cottonwood’s membership includes 55 families from Fort Macleod, Lethbridge, Coaldale, Glenwood and Pincher Creek.
Members come from all walks of life including doctors and other professionals — people who are interested in providing good food for their families.
The establishment of Cottonwood came out of a growing awareness of food and a desire to buy organically grown products.
Members are willing to pay 10 per cent over the wholesale price of the food.
“We would have much more membership if it was easier to purchase things,” Moranz said, explaining Cottonwood has been using Google Docs on-line. “Not everybody wants to spend the time to make that work or try to understand it. Lots of people are lost when it comes to computers.”
To address that issue Cottonwood has accessed a package through the Cloud that was designed for food-buying clubs.
“I’m setting that up now and I think it’s going to revolutionize what we’re doing on a local level,” Moranz said.
One of the discoveries the Cottonwood group made following its establishment was how many organic producers are in the immediate area.
“There are organic producers 10 minutes from here,” Moranz said. “I thought when we started this we would be having to get up to Calgary or beyond, that it would be hard to scare up people. They’re all around us. They’re right here.”
Items available through Cottonwood include organic unbleached white flour, whole wheat flour, whole grain red wheat, barley flakes, raisins, cranberries, almonds, chia seed, hulled hemp seed, dried green peas, yellow peas, popcorn, cane sugar, kasha, bulgur, couscous, quick oats, steel cut oats, ground Sri Lankan cinnamon, Himalayan pink salt, Breton sel gris, quinoa, soya beans, garbanzo beans and wild rice.
Other items that are available include alfalfa seed, spelt, triticale, lentils, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, flax, dry beans, seeds, flakes and flours, eggs and maple syrup.
“Co-ops, some people get it some people don’t,” Moranz said. “It’s a change.”
Some people are turned off by the idea of buying in bulk and find it difficult to plan food needs for months in the future.
“It’s just smart to buy in bulk and split it down and get the savings,” Moranz said.
Moranz stressed Cottonwood is about healthy food — not competition with Hansen’s Family Foods or Extra Foods.
“I have great respect for what they can do over there,” Moranz said. “I really admire the level of efficiency they foster over there.”
“As far as putting them out of business, there is no chance of that and we never attempted it in the first place. If there was an ideology that was coming to bear it was just raising the bar. The bigger stores are starting to stock organically grown stuff now, and so we’ve had some success with that, just promoting the idea of better food.”
“The food’s better, and that’s all we were after.”
Information about membership in Cottonwood is available at or