Catonsville co-op growing

Catonsville Cooperative Market will host a DIY workshop April 18

The Catonsville Cooperative Market will host a do-it-yourself workshop on April 18, an event that organizers hope will both educate residents on ways to live a more natural, sustainable lifestyle and help the co-op continue its growth.

"We're growing," said Holly Leon-Lierman, vice president of the co-op. "We're steadily growing."

A co-op is an association of consumers who purchase products at discounted prices. It is owned and operated by fee-paying members.

When the Catonsville co-op was founded in 2011, its goal was to eventually open a storefront in Catonsville for members to come in and shop any time they wanted.

Four years later, the storefront goal has not been met. But organizers say they're closer.

In late January, the co-op partnered with the Immanuel United Church of Christ on Edmondson Avenue to establish a regular distribution to members on Tuesdays from 4 to 7 p.m..

The profit from sales goes toward establishing the storefront, which Leon-Lierman said could be at the church site.

"We are holding our vision pretty strong," she said as she packed up a bag of fresh produce for a member in the church's kitchen on Tuesday. "We believe what we're doing right now is the co-op."

For Nancy Belisle, who joined a year ago after reading an article about the group, the co-op was exactly what she was looking for. An avid consumer of natural and organic foods and products, she was growing weary of lengthy drives into the city and the nearest Whole Foods Market, or Columbia, for Mom's Organic Market, just to pick up some groceries.

"I love this. I love having my food not processed," said Belisle, who volunteers most Tuesdays to help with the distribution. "I was really excited when I heard about it."

Last week, Belisle had picked up milk, yogurt and spinach. With a garden of her own at home, she is proud that a good portion of the food she eats comes from places she knows and trusts.

Other members picked up tubs of ice cream, loaves of bread, plants and more.

Through the co-op, members can purchase items from local producers, in addition to national natural producers through the Frontier Co-Op, an online distributor that sells from companies such as Burt's Bees and Seventh Generation.

Locally, producer participants include Atwater's Bakery, Baltimore Bumble Crafts, Ferguson Family Farm, Houghton Hoffman Honey, Thread Coffee and Trickling Springs Creamery, among others.

Co-op volunteers make pick-up runs once every other week, ahead of distribution, and build relationships with the local retailers.

Sometimes, the producers the co-op works with have even joined the co-op themselves after hearing about the other products offered, Leon-Lierman said.

With an estimated 115 families involved in the co-op, distribution days are busy. But many members know each other and even those who are new to the co-op end up hanging around to discuss the latest produce or event.

A number of the members are involved in activities such as home brewing, gardening and fermenting, and several exchanged advice. Belisle and Leon-Lierman, who volunteer together on most distribution days, made sure to tell each member who stopped in about the upcoming workshop next Saturday.

Laurie "Polly" Bezold, a Baltimore City resident, joined the co-op to support the group. She used to live in Catonsville and told the members while she was picking up her supplies about her effort years ago to begin a food club buying program storefront.

"We always talked about a storefront too, but we didn't have the energy," she said, adding that this co-op might just pull it off. Even though she lives about a half hour away, she said she joined the co-op to support the group's cause.

"It's definitely worth the drive," she said.

The Catonsville Cooperative Market's do-it-yourself workshop will take place Saturday, April 18 at 1 p.m. at the Immanuel United Church of Christ, 1905 Edmondson Avenue. It will feature demonstrations in fermentation, composting, beekeeping, meditation, acupuncture, gardening, brewing and more. For information, go to facebook.com/catonsvillecooperativemarket.

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