John Day’s greenhouse may soon be a co-op.
John Day City Manager Nick Green gave a presentation on the greenhouse to the city council during a study session on March 31.
Green said they recommend the greenhouse convert into a cooperative formation to reduce operating costs and open up revenue opportunities that are not available to cities such as grants specific for co-ops.
“It’s really more about accessing other revenue sources and helping the community feel like this is their asset and not some government project,” Green said.
Transitioning to a co-op would not heavily impact the current employees, but would require a manager for the operation.
Green said that entering a co-op would allow the greenhouse to hire additional staff at normal wages without needing to pay PERS and the added cost of a government employee.
This also provides a chance for members of the co-op to volunteer their time to do the harvest in exchange for produce, if they want.
“There’s options, and we can start looking into how we can structure the co-op to include other users and other groups,” Green said. “If we go down this road, we just need to start exploring these various interest groups that could participate.”
Laurabeth Wallenstein, the project manager at the greenhouse, said she loves the interest that people have in the greenhouse and the work they do. She added that there is a lot of work to be done, and the additional help would be appreciated.
“I’m totally in support of the co-op,” Wallenstein said. “It would help with the funding, the structural issues that we have and getting a little bit more help with the work.”
Green said, in the past year, sales have been consistently low due to the restaurant restrictions and lack of tourism in the summer because of COVID-19, which they had not anticipated.
“We’ve averaged about $2,500 in net sales a month, and we’re growing quite a bit more food than that,” Green said.
Tomatoes and leafy greens continue to be the most requested items from the greenhouse in their lineup of 24 products. Online, 261 customers have been acquired since the start of the online website nine months ago, but Green said the increase in customers would slowdown as they run out of product.
“We’re already starting to lose customers because they see sold out on almost every product line when they come to our website,” Green said. “That’s a function of how much space we have and several other factors.”
The greenhouse completed their first internship program with Zachary Ostberg, a high school student who started his freshman year. Ostberg worked with the greenhouse crew for a month in August. Jesse Douglas, a junior from Grant Union, just started his internship at the greenhouse and works closely with Wallenstein, learning about hydroponic crop production.
The city also met with Eastern Oregon University and the Rural Engagement and Vitality Center to partner up and create an academic opportunity and internships, according to Green.
Modifications continue to be made at the greenhouse to accommodate issues with climate controls, keeping bugs out of the produce and redesigning several aspects of the grow operations for efficiency.