Cooperation will save the world, and so will cooperatives like FEED Sonoma, a farmer-worker owned co-op in the making said to be the first of its kind in California. The California Center for Cooperative Development, which is based in Davis, has been working overtime to sell the idea of cooperatives to the whole state.
Tim Page, FEED Sonoma’s co-founder, calls himself “the facilitator of goodness.” He has bought into the notion of cooperation big time. A bit of a prankster as well as a fellow with business savvy, he performs a hell of a lot of good these days.
Once a week for the past six weeks, I have purchased a $35 box with veggies and fruits from Feed Sonoma, which is growing like crazy during the pandemic. Like me, many local, hungry families eager for fresh produce have signed up online at shop.feedsonoma.com for boxes filled with lettuce, radishes, kale, savory spinach, white turnips, spearmint, Valencia oranges and smoked salt (which makes everything taste a little bit better).
Subscribers can also buy ground beef, organic honey and cheese from the Bohemian Creamery in Sebastopol. Boxes are picked up at a dozen or so distribution points, from Healdsburg to the town of Sonoma and Oakland.
During the past few weeks, sales have jumped from 90 boxes to 450 to 1,800. The goal is 4,000. Eighty or so local farmers—from Sonoma to Petaluma—participate, including Paul Wirtz, who says, “Tim makes it financially feasible and leaves it up to me to decide what to grow.”
Twice a week, masked employees fill boxes at a 14,000-square-foot warehouse near Penngrove. Since March, Page has worked 15-hour days, six days a week; and without a sales or marketing team. He uses newsletters and Instagram to inform customers, but word-of-mouth helps more than anything else.
“We’re not yet perfect,” Page, whom I have known for the past four years, says. “Sometimes subscribers get the wrong box and sometimes spinach gets bruised.”
Sitting in the shade outside the warehouse, Page says they want to feed “all the people,” not just “supply elite restaurants.”
“Sonoma is not the only beautiful place in the world with real diversity,” Page—who wants to make the world a better place, box by box—says. “There are others like it, from the Pacific Northwest to New Zealand. But Sonoma is definitely one of them. We want it to continue to be an agricultural powerhouse.”
Jonah Raskin is the author of “Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.”