Volunteer Spotlight: Site Selection Committee

Did you know that the day-to-day work to open your Rooted Carrot Co-op is done by volunteers? It’s a huge endeavor to start a full-service cooperative grocery store, and we are grateful to all of the people past, present, and future who have given time and talent to this project.

In this June Garlic Press spotlight, we highlight and thank the Rooted Carrot Site Team and more specifically introduce you to two of the fascinating individuals serving on this committee.

The Rooted Carrot Site Team is responsible for researching and vetting potential store sites against the time-tested and data-driven requirements for a successful start-up food cooperative. Examples of the site team’s work include real estate research ranging from opening conversations to lease agreement work, market and industry study, teaming with partners like the city and local economic organizations, project management with architects, engineers, developers and designers and communication with those impacted, like future site neighbors and member-owners in general.

“Our site team’s goal is to vet these variables with an eye of potential rather than hasty dismissal,” explains co-chair Kate Dunning. “For example, some of the requirements can be achieved with thoughtful tweaks to the building plan or through stand-out signage. In the end, a site needs to meet most of the requirements in order for the site team to proceed in good faith on behalf of membership.”

Site Selection volunteers include co-chairs Kate Dunning (businesswoman and board member) and Christine Sexton (registered dietician and board vice president) along with Tom Blanford (businessman, capital campaign co-chair), Terry Stewart (retired military, former board member), Mark Westbrock (local producer, owner of Solstice Farm), Deanna Wheeler (real estate broker/owner), and Tom Wickersham (non-profit program director, board member, capital campaign co-chair).  

This current team has worked together for almost 3 years. “Our team is extraordinary,” Kate Dunning says. “The seven of us spur into action with energy, and divide and conquer in an organized and effective manner. The passion we have for this work plays out in the problem-solving and action that we carry to the finish line together.” This can be challenging, as that finish line may mean walking away from one project despite years of effort. However with this team’s robust and collaborative decision-making, new site opportunities open up which, in turn, receive the same detailed vetting and, if appropriate, execution of next steps.

If you have interest in assisting with this team, the co-chairs would appreciate hearing from you. Most specifically, they encourage individuals with legal expertise to reach out. Of course, all input is welcome. As the co-chairs point out, “We are acutely aware that our work is for our member-owners in that the better we execute now, the better the odds of sustained store success for years to come… and they WILL come!” 

Here’s a closer look into the experiences of two of the Co-op’s Site Team members:

Deanna Wheeler 

Since March of 2020, Deanna Wheeler has been an invaluable member of the Rooted Carrot Co-op Site Team. With her background in real estate, she has brought a critical lens to the important work of this committee. She dove in immediately, researching and vetting all possible sites – including existing buildings, potential new-builds – as well as revisiting prior possibilities and tending to any leads that were suggested. And she did this all during the first month of a global pandemic!

Deanna is good at prioritizing the Co-op’s needs and vision which is crucial in her role, along with legal counsel, representing our business in lease-work. Once our Co-op has a contractor, she will serve as the Site Team’s vital point-person. Committee co-chairs describe her as “hard-working and whip-smart” and highlight her strong communication skills. She is the one who makes sure the committee stays clear on both the big and small things.

When asked why she chose to volunteer, Deann first points to the way she was recruited – the ask came from a respected client and friend. “My  ‘Why’ (for this volunteer role) is  simply, ‘Why not?’” she says. “The way I see it, to be a part of something that will have a positive and lasting impact on the community is not only an important mission, but it is a necessity for me to give back to this community I love and have been a part of for over 30 years.” She fully believes in the mission of this grassroots effort. “This is so much more than just a ‘project.’ This is a long-term benefit for our community.”

A University of Northern Iowa graduate, Deanna majored in psychology. She has since raised 3 children in the Cedar Valley who are all adults now and, as she proudly describes, “flourishing on their own.” A business owner herself for more than 20 years, and in the real estate business over 30 years, Deanna appreciates the importance of locally-owned businesses. She also has a fondness for the outdoors and regularly takes advantage of the amazing Cedar Valley trail system, having trained for and run several half and full marathons. She lives by one of her favorite sayings: I can’t, therefore I must…We can all do better, be better… and just continue to strive to give back.

Mark Westbrock joined the Co-op soon after he and his family moved to town from New Mexico where they’d been active members of a co-op. “We were excited to find that there was an effort to open a food co-op in our new home,” he explains. A few weeks later, he began volunteering through the Operations Committee. In that role, he assisted with the pro-forma sub-committee, comprised of members of both Operations and Finance Committees. As soon as the sub-committee for the site formed, he joined and has been a member of that team ever since. “I thought I could be helpful in volunteering on the site selection team partly from my experience in helping run solar company back in New Mexico,” he explains. “Our business had to move locations twice, and I played a major role in finding our new buildings and managing the build outs.” When asked to step in as an interim board member for an unexpected vacancy, Mark quickly agreed and subsequently had a brief stint experiencing Board work.

Many Co-op member-owners recognize Mark as the face of Solstice Farm, a small, diversified farm that specializes in pasture-raised poultry, mushrooms, and fruit. Whether working on his farm, at his stand at the farmers market, or delivering eggs, chicken, and/or mushrooms to your doorstep, Mark is friendly and knowledgeable about his product, and is always experimenting with new ways of growing, raising, and/or processing food. Recently he’s been pressing and fermenting apples to turn them into cider. “We plan to have cider as a full-fledged enterprise on our farm soon,” he says. 

When asked what he looks forward to in our future Rooted Carrot Co-op, Mark has a plethora of areas to highlight. To start, he wants “a place to shop for food that was grown locally and/or produced with responsible practices.” Having been a member of an established co-op, Mark understands the benefits beyond grocery shopping. “It will be a great community gathering place,” he explains. “I look forward to seeing friends there as well as meeting new folks who have similar visions for the future of food in our society.” Last, but certainly not least, he looks at this through the lens of a local producer. “I look forward to the Co-op as a place where myself and other small farmers in our area can sell our food and have our sustainable farming practices highlighted for customers.” We couldn’t agree more!

Huge thanks to Mark, Deanna and all of the talented volunteers who are providing so much to bring our Rooted Carrot Cooperative Market to the Cedar Valley!  If you have time and talent for this committee or others, let us know.

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