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New cooperative grows out of old vision

The Colorado Farm and Art Market Cooperative was recently incorporated as a producer and consumer owned Farmer’s Market, which is planning to open Memorial Day weekend 2004. This effort began four years ago as the shared vision of farmers, artists, chefs and others interested in creating a marketplace as a central component of a broader effort to revitalize downtown Colorado Springs. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) Cooperative Development Center is providing direct technical assistance for the organization of the market.

The market cooperative is partnering with an LLC called the Depot Arts District Association (DADA). The DADA group has negotiated the purchase of a 36,000 square foot city utility building, located on Colorado Avenue and the Fountain Creek, adjacent to downtown Colorado Springs. DADA will renovate this building over the next two years, creating affordable and higher-end lofts, workspace for artists, and an indoor, year-round market area. In the meantime, the market will start as an outdoor, seasonal event and will be the first operational component of the larger project.

The project is being designed to respond to the key development goals and objectives of the city of Colorado Springs, Southwest Urban Renewal Plan. The intent is to transform an existing blighted area into a distinctive mixed-use neighborhood that brings cultural, historical, and commercial appeal to this highly visible entrance to downtown.

The City of Colorado Springs is the major urban center for southcentral and southeastern Colorado. Its population exceeds 360,000 according to the 2000 Census and approximately ten additional counties draw on its services. The city, as well as the region in general, have systemic barriers to local art and agricultural production and the availability of fresh, nutritious food. Artists have difficulty finding affordable work and living space in Colorado Springs, and there is currently no established arts district. A pronounced absence of accessible farmers markets, long-term drought, and development pressures on irrigation water are contributing to the instability of family farming.

The farm and art market will address challenges through the cooperative ownership structure. Producers of food, fiber, arts and crafts, as well as consumers, are eligible for membership. Producer members will pay $500 membership fee, while consumers will pay $50. Producers will be entitled to annual dividends and the consumers, a 10 percent discount on all purchases. The board of directors will consist of five producers, two consumers, and two at-large members.

The involvement of consumers members in the cooperative is viewed as a key element for creating a stronger local food system. This new model that the RMFU Cooperative Development Center is championing, has its roots in the community supported agriculture (CSA) movement. CSA’s are known for partnerships between producers and consumers. Producer-consumer cooperatives will take this relationship to the next level by actual joint ownership.

Contact Dan Hobbs at the RMFU office for more information, 303-752-5800.