We are writing to advise you about the status of the Cloverbelt Local Food Co-op (CLFC).
It is with great sadness that we must announce that at the September 10th 2019 special member meeting it was decided to proceed with dissolution.
At our June 4th, 2019 member meeting, our directors brought forward concerns about declining engagement, which began in the fall of 2018. Although we hoped it was a temporary trend, the decline rapidly increased in severity. Producers became frustrated with declining orders, and some elected to stop posting inventory “until things turned around”. In turn, consumers had less product to shop for, and became even less interested. New regulations brought forth from OMAFRA and the Northwestern Health Unit posed additional hardships for producers, and as a result, the only egg grading station in the Kenora District elected to close. The loss of fresh farm eggs was of great detriment to the market as a whole. As discussed at both meetings, new website changes in 2018 brought about unanticipated challenges which also contributed to this decline. Many consumers simply state a lack of convenience as their ultimate reason for neglecting to order regularly.
After a May board meeting, the board reflected on the ideas brought forth from the membership to increase engagement, and reviewed a cash flow forecast. It was decided to decrease the administrative coordinators hours to reflect the current order volume and revenue. The board tried to augment marketing efforts on a volunteer basis. One director took over social media, and another was compiling the weekly newsletters. Although we ideally operate with 7 board members, we have had only 5 directors serving for quite some time, which limits our capacity. In addition to these measures to reduce our expenses, a partnership had been established with Open Food Network, a new online platform, which our webmaster has been investigating for over a year. We hoped to be able to change online ordering platforms to help boost engagement, but had to a) be sure the platform would better serve our purposes now and in the long term and b) make some modifications to allow it to serve our needs. We were just now at a point that we could consider making a switch.
Along the years, maintaining adequate financial records for our legally required audits has been an ongoing challenge, due to persistent staff turnover and limited expertise. These audits carry a cost of $8,000-$10,000 per year and our auditor is currently struggling to complete 2016’s audit. This picture limited our ability to continue to pursue funding support. Several attempts have been made over the years to improve this situation. In September, a sudden employment decision forced us to terminate order cycles abruptly. We did not have adequate resources to attract, train, engage and oversee a staff member who could continue operations adequately and catch up neglected financial records over the last few months. An additional crisis arose which required immediate and urgent attention, and is still being investigated for resolution. Furthermore, our current debt load now significantly exceeds cash on hand.
On September 10, 2019, the Co-op held a Special Membership Meeting at the Dryden District Agricultural Centre, with online participation enabled for members throughout the region. A nearly unanimous decision was made to dissolve Cloverbelt Local Food Co-op and divest its assets based on the challenges outlined above. This was a very difficult decision for all who have been closely involved with this organization.Although this decision is disheartening and unexpected, we thank our members for their unwavering support and understanding. CLFC has accomplished many wonderful achievements since its inception in 2013. We believe it carried out its mandate to make local food more visible and accessible, through many innovative avenues. In addition to the online market which drew 1600 members throughout the region, and serviced up to nine Northwestern Ontario communities, we operated a school education program, supported more healthy food in classrooms, constructed and operated a community greenhouse, held numerous workshops, hosted fun community events such as the restaurant competition “LocaWars” and the farm to fork event “Honey Love”, created an online map of regional producers, constructed a draft regional food charter (after many community consultations), which highlights the vision of local food for our region, and many other wonderful initiatives. We also created jobs, invested money in many local business through the above ventures, and supported expanded markets for our regional farmers. Thank you to all of our partners, volunteers, supporters, producers, and directors who contributed to these great successes along the way.
The CLFC Board is currently working with Brenda Bell to guide the disposal of our remaining assets in accordance with the law.
The CLFC Board of Directors