A food co-op for Sierra County

by Heather Rische | February 25, 2021
6 min read
Last December’s closing of Las Cruces’s food co-op, where the author had worked for 15 years, inspired her interest in helping to create a similar cooperative grocery to be based in Truth or Consequences. Photograph by Heather Rische

Earlier this month, a group of Sierra County residents had their first (virtual) meeting regarding the hope of opening a natural foods co-op in Truth or Consequences. The group discussed the steps needed to ultimately open a grocery store that is owned by the community. It will feature, they envision, locally grown and produced foods, organic and natural foods and other sustainable products.

How does this work? The cooperative business model has been helping communities pool their resources to fill a specific need for several centuries. From providing hardware to housing, agricultural supplies to electricity, foods and more—co-ops gain strength through . . . cooperation.

Heather Rische
Heather Rische sees co-operatives as both an act of rebellion against America’s homogenous corporate culture and an expression of love for friends and neighbors.

A food co-op is a food outlet organized as a cooperative, rather than a private or public company. Food co-ops typically have hundreds of member-owners, who elect a board of  directors, who in turn hire a general manager to oversee staff and operations. The board, which represents the membership, also steers the vision and mission of a co-op.

To become a member, a minimum requirement is an equity investment, often $20 per year. A lifetime membership might run $200. Each member receives one vote, regardless of numbers of shares owned. One does NOT need to be a member to shop.

What are the benefits of being a member-owner? While a co-op’s policies regarding benefits aren’t decided until incorporation and establishment of a board of directors, typically co-op member-owners receive a share of profits in years when their co-op has been profitable. Some stores achieve this through actual payments after the year-end financials have been calculated, while others offer discounts as the members’ share of the profits; still other stores offer a combination of both. Usually, member-owners receive special discounts even in unprofitable years.

Other benefits include learning and volunteer opportunities, and, for the community at large, education and enrichment. For example, co-ops often hold cooking and health-related classes on site, support community gardens and sponsor community events. They offer similar programming to local schools and youth programs.

This winter, Samantha Yarrington mentioned to me that she wanted to start a food co-op in Truth or Consequences. She knew that I was a co-op veteran, having worked at Mountain View Market in Las Cruces for 15 years, where I focused on community outreach and co-op education. After moving to Sierra County 10 years ago, I continued to support my co-op in Las Cruces, while practicing as a home birth midwife and building our off-grid home and family farm in Monticello with my partner and children.

When Mountain View Market closed after 45 years of operation in early December, 2020, it was a devastating loss to me and my family. While the closure of a grocery store isn’t often something that a family deeply mourns, the closure of a co-op is different. Co-ops are centers of community, and the co-op was a second home and family for my household and many others. When Samantha approached me, I knew this project was one into which I was ready to invest my time and heart.

Samantha has been spending her winters in Sierra County for five years and gave birth to her two daughters here. In fact, that’s how we met. I was honored to be her midwife for both girls. Samantha and her family are now hoping to put down permanent roots in Sierra County, and, as they’ve fallen in love with the community, they are also ready to do the work needed to build the community resources they desire.

samantha yarrington and her family
Samathan Yarrington and her family are ready to do the work required to create the community resource they desire.

Samantha’s goals for the co-op includes locally sourced produce, dairy and meats, as well as freshly prepared products like breads, pastas and granola, and locally made cleaning, health and body care supplies. A natural foods store also needs to have reliable and consistent staples, and we hope to source anything we can’t get locally from organic, fair trade and ethically manufactured sources. We dream of a community gathering place that has a nourishing environment.

I asked Samantha to share her “favorite” of the seven core principles espoused by cooperatives around the world. “If I had to choose one, ‘Concern for Community’ is critical and really a driving inspiration,” she responded. “I see in our community many talented and wonderful individuals, but there is a certain element not yet at play, which is a cohesive binding tool bringing everyone together. We will all thrive if we collaborate on creating more sustainable networks to provide the community to enhance our community through fresh, nutrient-rich food.”

For me, the cooperative principle of “Autonomy and Independence” is possibly the most compelling, as I’m deeply concerned with the unchecked growth of homogenous corporate culture. I find the concept of owning a grocery store with my friends and neighbors to be an act of rebellion and love. A cooperative can operate outside the reach of the corporate oligarchy, forging new and age-old pathways toward wealth equality, justice and sustainability. Local food systems and a focus on accessibility to organic and natural foods are not only beneficial to the health of our communities and ecosystems, but also to our sense of autonomy and independence.

As Samantha and I began to research the nuts and bolts of starting a food co-op, we enlisted the help of mentors from the co-op world and the local community. We learned that turning the idea of a co-op into bricks and mortar is a labor of love that can take years. Thankfully, the organization, Cooperative Development Services, has developed a framework for co-op startups comprised of “Four Cornerstones in 3 Stages.” The cornerstones of   vision, talent, capital and systems are all needed within each of the three stages of food co-op development: organizing, feasibility and planning, and implementation.

We are asking community members to join us in moving through these phases, as the second core value of a cooperative is “Democratic Member Control.” Our co-op can’t just embody the dreams of two people! We’ve taken the first step to solicit ideas by launching an online survey that, along with a local market study, will help us determine the capabilities, size and scope of a co-op that will serve the needs of our unique community.

About 230 community members responded to our survey, an outpouring of interest that prompted us to call our first virtual meeting on Feb. 16. At that meeting, several people came forward and offered their strengths for the work ahead.

After the work of dreaming and researching comes the work of legal incorporation and election of a board by the member-owners. Then begins the work of applying for grant funding for cooperative startups and economic development.

If you’re interested in helping to guide this endeavor, please start by completing the survey here and providing your email. Keep in touch via our Facebook group, T or C Food Co-op. We’ll hold our second open meeting on Zoom on March 2 at 6:30 p.m. Please join us at https://zoom.us/j/92512656813, meeting ID 925 1265 6813. We can’t wait to hear “What’s YOUR Vision for a Food Co-op in T or C.”


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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

1 thought on “A food co-op for Sierra County”

  1. I support efforts to establish a co-op in Sierra County. I would like to be involved.

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