CMEF Board of Directors
Vanessa Sanburn - President
Bruce Passman - Vice President
Marianne Wille - Treasurer
Dennis "Boog" Highberger
Nancy O'Connor - Executive Director
Community Mercantile Education Foundation
A Seed is Planted
Since it opened in 1974 the Community Mercantile Co+op has always been dedicated to its community – to serve as more than a grocery store. The Merc Co+op is a community source for education on sustainable food systems and healthy living.
In 1999 that commitment was formalized with the establishment of Community Mercantile Education Foundation (CMEF) as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. CMEF’s goal is to further the education and outreach of our sister organization, The Merc Co+op, by providing nutrition education that promotes personal health and well being, strengthens our community and supports sustainable and local food systems.
CMEF received USDA funding in 2000 for a three-year project called “Local Food to Local People, Expanding a Regional Food System Through Nutrition Education.” That project laid the groundwork for what has evolved today into a growing school garden effort in our community.
From 2004 through 2010 CMEF worked collaboratively with the social service agency Van Go Arts and their summer JAMS program (Jobs in the Arts Make Sense) to bring fresh, local food to youth involved in an eight-week summer job-training program. The program, Locally Grown JAMS, provided much of the inspiration and experience CMEF needed to grow to the next level.
A School Garden Grows
In 2010, the Growing Food, Growing West (GFGW) Garden project was established with financial help from a LiveWell Lawrence grant and a generous donation from The Merc Co+op. In its first year the garden captured the attention of our community and drew hundreds of students and visitors to visit and study in this living, outdoor classroom. Over 1,000 pounds of produce was harvested from the garden in its first year, 280 pounds of which went directly into the school cafeteria for all West students to enjoy. The remainder was sold at an on-site student-run Farmers’ Market which helped raise funds to sustain the garden in years to come.
- Stimulated discussions across our community about the importance of making fresh, locally grown foods available to our school children.
- Created school pride and excitement.
- Increased students’ knowledge and acceptance of healthy, locally grown vegetables resulting in increased consumption of these foods.
- Created opportunities for students to teach each other about how delicious fresh produce is and for students to communicate their garden experiences to the community through various media including blogging and writing about it on Well Commons, preparing a community dinner and participating in the Kaw Valley Farm Tour.
- Provided leadership development and job training for students employed by The Merc Co+op to be West Garden stewards.