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Pending co-op hopes public eats up ‘Modified’

Pending co-op hopes public eats up ‘Modified’

There are 64 countries which label food GMO — genetically modified organisms. Canada and the United States are not two of them. Aube Giroux investigated why, directing and producing “Modified,” screening this coming Thursday at the Empress Theatre.

As the film presents “an intimate mother-daughter journey fueled by a share of love,” the screening benefits the fledgling Cultivate Community Food Co-Op, which hopes to build a “brick and mortar” grocery store “owned” by health-conscious individuals.

Paula Schnese can’t wait to see the public’s reaction to the film — and a hopeful buy-in to the co-op which she believes is vital locally.

“What we hope is that people will see there’s a need for a food cooperative in the area; that a food cooperative supports these values that are in the movie,” said Schnese.

It’s about “supporting bio-diversity farming methods and an awareness that the food cooperative will serve a very missing need in the area so that people will become owners,” said Schnese. “That’s the ultimate.”

Schnese hopes to gather enough support to open a food co-op by 2021, either in Benicia where she lives or Vallejo.

For financial viability, co-op needs to sell 1,200 owner shares before doors open and reach 1,500 after three months. These 1,500 owners will bring in about 38 percent of the fundraising goal $1.2 million, according to the co-op web site. Another 35 percent of the money will come from owner loans and ” preferred shares.” The balance will come from financial institutions.

The co-op’s mission is to be “Solano County’s first community-owned, natural grocery store dedicated to providing high-quality, locally-sourced, culturally-relevant, ethically-produced and affordable products.”

Among the goals: Reach low-income residents; support local producers and sustainable agriculture; provide health-enhancing foods; keep prices as low as possible; create a sustainable business based on member ownership and democratic decision-making; be sensitive to the working and living conditions of those who make what we sell; be a community resource; welcome all.

“A good food cooperative is people coming together to serve a need,” Schnese said. “It is a community-owned grocery store where anybody can shop. But if you become an owner, you have benefits. You get discounts. You get a vote. You have a say.”

It’s about access to local, sustainable food, Schnese said. And if it’s grown out of the U.S., it’s fair trade. It’s also about local individual growers.

“I’m opposed to lining the pockets of big corporations,” Schnese said, believing a co-op helps building a “thriving, engaged community.”

A co-op is also environmentally-sensitive to packaging, she added, hoping to get to a “zero waste-type thing.”

The Cultivate Community Co-Op has 163 owners, slightly more than halfway “to our next goal of 300 owners so that we can conduct a market and feasibility study,” Schnese said.

The study will help identify “the best area for a profitable and successful food co-op for years to come,” Shnese said.

Though Schnese formally lived in Richmond, she found much better healthy options in Berkeley. She moved to Benicia five years ago and saw “the sad state” of food offerings that matched the philosophy of a food co-op.

“People looking for healthy alternatives have to go across the bridge,” she said, calling Vallejo “a food desert.”

A food co-op “is so needed here,” Schnese said, acknowledging that “some in Vallejo will not shop in Benicia and some in Benicia will not shop in Vallejo. We want to break the divide. People will go where there’s good, clean, healthy food.”

With the target 2021 of securing location, “this is the year we’re really getting the word out,” Schnese said. “There’s a lot of behind the scenes working and educating going on; getting the board running.”

The nearest food co-op is Davis, “our mentor,” Schnese said.

“That’s another thing about cooperatives, there’s cooperation among co-ops,” she said. “They share information with each other. It’s amazing.”

Schnese said there are between 350 and 400 established co-operatives nationally with another 150 “up-and-coming.”

She hopes Thursday’s film screening motivates viewers to join the co-op.

“First of all, the movie is wonderful,” Schnese said, concerned about the “incredible wealth and power” that comes in selling genetically modified seeds.

“That just got me,” she said.

One of 10 kids, Schnese remembers health was her favorite high school class. She recalled her mother serving “buckets of ice cream” to the family.

Schnese would scrutinize the label “and even back then, I would say, ‘I don’t know what these ingredients are.'”

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