The Only Food Co-op In Tennessee: P6 Reflections from Three Rivers Market

This post is by Loralyn Milcarek, the Merchandising Manager at Three Rivers Market. Loralyn is a new board member for P6.

Bikes parked outside of Three Rivers Market during their launch partyWhen Three Rivers Market first heard about Principle Six, we knew we wanted to participate in the movement.  At the time, we were in the middle of an expansion project, so we waited until we were truly ready to take it on.  We were moving from the old Victorian house that the co-op had operated out of for 30 years, and moving into a new, repurposed building with three times the space of our old location.

Co-op families enjoying the evening.

In August 2013, after we had settled in to our new larger store, we were ready to launch the Principle Six Cooperative Trade Movement in our store.  We kicked it all off by throwing a party at the store for our local community.  We invited local mobile food vendors to set up their food trucks and carts outside of our store, and set up a big tent with family-style tables decorated with locally-grown flowers. It was a festive afternoon, and hundreds gathered with their friends, neighbors, and kinfolk to eat great food and celebrate these locally-owned small businesses.  Inside the store, whether they stepped in to buy some groceries or just take a break from the Knoxville summer heat, co-op members and customers were greeted by new signs and banners that had popped up overnight, emphasizing the values of “small, local, co-op.”  Co-op members received 10% off of their purchases of P6 products all day.  With the launch of the P6 program, our customers were given an easy way to ensure that their purchases were supporting small, local, and/or cooperative farmers and producers, much like buying their dinner directly from the food truck owners outside.

TRM P6 and Local SlippiesPrior to the launch of P6, our co-op had labeled local products on the shelf, and customers sought out these products, to support small, local businesses through their purchases.  P6 added another layer to these values, by helping customers make purchases that will support small, independent farmers and producers on a national and global scale as well.

To us, the 3 criteria of small, local, and co-op refocused our attention on the values we had always held, and make it simpler to highlight these values for our customers.  When we talk about local businesses, we mean small, locally-owned independent businesses.  We’ve always had this degree of smallness included in our local definition.  When we joined P6, all of our local products became P6 products, and they were joined by hundreds of other products, grown or made by small, cooperative farmers and producers.  P6 took our local program to the next level, and helped us educate our customers on how their purchases support small, independent businesses outside of our local community.  

3. TRM Small Local Coop BannersThe cooperative focus of P6 is especially valuable to us, as Three Rivers Market has long been the only food co-op in the great state of Tennessee.  The presence of P6 in our store allows us to always be in conversation about cooperatives, through our store signs and through our website.  It is encouraging to know that, although we have far fewer co-ops in our area than our Midwestern co-op friends, we can still participate in this cooperative trade movement.

Loralyn and Luna.jpg-largeLast month, I attended the P6 Annual Meeting, hosted by Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  I’ve been connected to the P6 network of co-ops for two years, but this was the first time I was able to meet with all of them in person.  We spent two days in conversations about the cooperative supply chain, expanding distribution of P6 products, supporting P6 producers in our own communities, and telling the P6 story within our stores.  I was encouraged and inspired by the work done by the co-op stores in the Midwest, and Farmer Direct Co-op in Canada.  The Midwest P6 stores were able to connect Farmer Direct Co-op with a regional distributor, to get cooperatively-grown grains and legumes into the bulk bins of cooperatively-owned food stores.

P6 welcomed new member co-ops this year, including Roanoke Natural Foods in Roanoke, Virginia.  I am happy to see that the movement is growing, and to welcome a fellow Southeast co-op to P6.  I look forward to the continued growth of the cooperative trade movement, and I hope that we can join together with other co-ops in our region to create more co-op to co-op connections.

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