Urban Earth’s members met on January 5 to review the state of the co-op, some learning for the first time that the community owned store’s growing pains were more serious than anticipated. After reconfirming the importance of the venture to the neighborhood and reviewing management options, the quorum of members attending decided the co-op should stay open for at least another six months to develop a workable plan.
To overcome its current shortfall and continue to grown into a viable neighborhood resource, Urban Earth needs more purchases from the public plus more people becoming members, contributing and volunteering.
A group of folks in CARAG, ECCO, EHFNA, Kingfield and Lyndale neighborhoods banded together in 2006 to start this member owned co-op that opened in October of that year. Urban Earth specializes in organic annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs, seeds, fertilizers and is known for its eco-friendly ethic and dedication to educating its customers.
“If someone asked me what the ‘current status’ of Urban Earth is, I would say that we are in a state of a much-needed rebooting of the business,” said Neil Cunningham, board member since January 2007. “A critical part of the ‘rebooting’ process was to reconnect with the folks who created the vision for the store and hold an open and candid conversation about the decision at hand – to close or stay open and pay down our debt. Like any small retail business, we’ve learned to struggle through the ups and downs of a highly seasonal business. We’ve had many moments of great sales, but we’ve had plenty of downs, too, so staying open was not an easy decision. It required a new pledge of commitment.”
“To our (pleasant) surprise, a majority of members responded by voting to keep the store open,” Cunningham continued. “It made sense to attempt to pay down our debt as we enter a traditionally high sales season, but we needed the support from members to put an alternative plan into action. As a result, we elected six new board members who are already working to bring the store into 2009 with a fresh sense of direction and energy.”
“Regarding the future?” Cunningham inquired. “Despite the gloomy economy, there are many indications that people who live in the city are growing increasingly interested in gardening for food, increasing the value of their homes through gardening, native plants, supporting biodiversity, edible landscaping and/or urban farming, rain harvesting, as well as bridging landscape design with urban ecology.”
“Urban Earth, like other independent garden centers, is a unique response to those who want to embrace the gardening aspects of a green lifestyle. This in mind, coupled with Urban Earth’s status as a cooperative, holds special meaning for folks needing a break from big box store models. I’m giving myself permission to be optimistic about the next six months,” concluded Cunningham.
“It was clear from the Annual Meeting that members do not want to lose this small neighborhood garden center,” said Gay Noble, manager.
Neighborhood residents who form the Board of Directors are Rick Krolak, Neil Cunningham, Shelia Bland, Jeff Forester, Ruth Brooker, Betty Seifert, Mary Anna Harstad and Duane Peterson. The Board meets the second Monday of each month.
Urban Earth Cooperative is located at 910 West 36 Street (at Bryant Avenue).For information about membership, products and classes call 612.824.0066 or go to www.urbanearthcoop.org.