DOWN ON MAINE STREET
Fallon’s future is shining a little brighter as plans to make the downtown area “the place to be” are shaping up.
Maine Street is seeing a slight sign of a Renaissance as the city of Fallon, the Chamber of Commerce and Churchill Economic Development Authority are taking the next step to make the downtown corridor a hub for a food cooperative.
For two days, business and community leaders recently attended a workshop at the convention center to develop plans to make the downtown area more appealing and to seek funding for projects. Since Fallon was one of two dozen entities selected for a federal Local Foods, Local Places Initiative, CEDA Executive Director Rachel Dahl and her staff have been following up with a plan to make a food co-op a realty; in turn, she said Fallon can build upon the plan.
“It was a huge step for us to have DFA (Dairy Farmers of America) come here, “she said. “That was a good services business. Food services is very near and dear to our heart, and we need to keep reflecting that to those outside our community.”
Since Fallon’s application was selected out of 300 submissions, Dahl and her staff went to work to identify a downtown building that could serve as a food hub.
This is what CEDA wrote in its application about the food hub and co-op:
“It is our vision to create a gathering place in the heart of our historic downtown which provides an outlet/market for local farmers, local small food producers, and an emerging small manufacturing sector.
“This will provide for better access to locally grown products including value added local agriculture products. The building we are targeting is located in the heart of downtown, closer to the eastern edge of the community, within easy walking distance to the impoverished and disadvantaged neighborhoods, and the senior housing inventory.”
A FOOD ECONOMY
Jason Espie and Amanda Douglas from the Renaissance Planning Group guided the participants through various stages to improve the local food economy. In order to know more about the community, Dahl took Espie and Douglas on a walking tour of Maine Street and then out to Lattin Farms and the Frey Ranch.
“Our goals is to establish a locally owned and operated food store in downtown Fallon with capabilities that will help support a more vibrant local food economy with values added production and distribution for return,” Espie told attendees, adding that it’s important to look at ways to drive more traffic to Maine Street and increase business.
Already, changes are beginning to occur. Espie said a nonprofit group is in the process of buying the Fallon Theater with a plan to restore it, and now CEDA is looking at using the former Kent’s grocery store on the comer of South Maine and Center streets.
Espie cited an example of how a city in Minnesota similar in size to Fallon had the opportunity to establish a co-op. A group acquired and restored a building, sold shares and established a grocery store. Likewise, Espie said Kent’s is ideal for a food hub, and it can be used as an anchor to bring more people to the downtown corridor.
“The Kent building is the gem,” Espie added. “But we all have stories of Maine Street, and we want to make downtown more appealing.”
Espie said Fallon made an impression by being picked as one of the recipients to receive assistance in moving forward on its plan. According to the Renaissance Planning Group project manager, various loans are available for developing food hubs, but an action plan must be developed. He said this would be a joining program with federal, state and local agencies.
“What are our designed outcomes?” Espie asked. “We want more economic opportunities for farmers and business, better access to healthy, local food and revitalize downtown’s Maine Street.”
Espie said any action must include goals and strategies for a wide range of people. Furthermore, he said the area’s economy grows when people buy local. For every $100 spent on local products, he said $68 remains in the area, but of nonlocal products, only $43 stays. Local consumers, said Espy, prefer to buy locally. He said consumers are more cognizant of health, obesity and the use of chemicals.
POSITIVE, NEGATIVE FACTORS
Attendees at the workshop devised their list of positive and negative points regarding Fallon’s quest to develop a food co-op. Among the positive indicators show how Fallon is the Oasis of Nevada, it has active community members, local government supports the plan, the city has undertaken several downtown revitalization projects and the agriculture heritage is strong.
Based on additional information gleaned from attendees, other positive factors include Naval Air Station Fallon, lower unemployment, good community planning and small pockets of parks.
The negative aspects, the group recognized, included two closures of grocery stores and health/economic concerns of the area.
Espie said a local downtown grocery store would enhance the area because it would be community owned and typically run by volunteer managers.
“It operates for the mutual benefit of all members,” he quickly pointed out. “The value added produce market transforms a product from a raw form to a more valuable state.”
As the workshop group continued to examine the needed steps to make a food hub a reality, they know their work has only begun. To start up a grocery store of this magnitude, Espie said CEDA would need to have a steering committee, obtain investors and farmers, finalize a site location, recruit volunteers and secure financing.
EXPANDING LOCAL MARKET
Keeping produce in the Lahontan Valley is critical for area producers.
According to Rick Lattin, owner of Lattin Farms, 99 percent of what he sells is outside of Fallon to consumers in Reno. He also said other area farmers travel to Reno for the Farmers Market and to sell their food to the Great Basin Food Cooperative.
Lattin said the Great Basin Food Co-op has nearly 10,000 members.
Meanwhile, he said a Carson Food Hub is looking at building a facility in downtown Carson City.
“We have farmers actually producing foods,” Lattin said of the food co-ops.
Lattin, along with other growers in western Nevada, also sees another market for their food — school districts.
“That will be a whole new market for us,” he said. “We need to broaden the base.”
Another group of people who want fresh, locally produce in the Lahontan Valley are NAS Fallon families. Lattin said local producers are disseminating the word at the air station about homegrown produce and other items.
Additionally, business owners said anything produced locally is a big hit
Carol Leanza, co-owner of Leanza’s Bakery, said she caters some activities at Lincoln Housing at NAS Fallon. When she does, Leanza provides information to the patrons about other businesses and hands out coupons.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Natalie Parrish agrees.
“I have talked to a lot of commands and groups,” she said. “People love Lattin and Frey Ranch. They love our agriculture.”
Parrish said the chamber, CEDA and producers need to tap into all resources at the base.
Lattin said he would like to conduct a survey of the farmers and ask them what they like to grow. He said if some producers think they can grow potatoes, then his response would be, “If you think you can, sell them.”
Both Lattin and Espie agree that specific goals must be achieved prior to moving forward with a food co-op. Espie said an abundant water source should be available, although the current drought could present a problem. He added farmers and the school district are important constituents who must buy into the program, and the co-op could expand other cultures and crafts.
The workshop group also discussed volunteers, both from the air station and community, and the number of days a food co-op is open.
“I know running a store with active volunteers is difficult,” he said. “I would start first with a few days … Thursday, Friday and Saturday. In our community, Sunday is not a good day.”
Leazana concurred and said those three days are the most productive. From a farmers’ market standpoint, Lattin said Saturday is his best day.
“It’s easy to add but hard to take away days,” Leanza said.
In the weeks ahead, the group will be involved with telephone conferences to work through more steps in order to make a food co-op a viable part of the downtown corridor.
As Dahl said, the idea is to improve Maine Street and restore prosperity to the downtown corridor for the future.