project, rather than just area residents who wanted to see the co-op come to fruition.

Aside from getting the right people in place, the venture has also faced the difficulty of having an audience that’s spread throughout several communities surrounding Walpole.

“Co-ops require an active, engaged ownership, so that’s been a challenge,” Mastrianni said in April. “But we’ve got a better handle (on it).”

As for the membership goal, Mastrianni told The Sentinel the 1,000-member target would indicate support and show financial institutions and potential lenders a solid base of interest in the project. To ask for funding, she said, an organization needs a “critical mass” of investors.

Along with the leadership change, the Great River board also established four committees based on priorities moving forward in 2019 and sent a newsletter to fellow member-owners asking for their participation.

The committees are finance; marketing and communication; financial development; and farmer-producer-vendor outreach.

“And that’s where the work will really get done over the next six months,” Fortier said of these smaller groups.

For future projections, the board has turned to a consultant that specializes in co-ops to conduct research on the town, region and demographics. Until that work is done, Fortier said there’s no estimated groundbreaking.

“I think it would be irresponsible, I guess, to lay out a timeline without first looking at those numbers,” he said. “... We’ll get the numbers, and then we’ll have a clear path and timeline for moving forward.”

With nearly a decade under his belt on this project, Fortier said he thinks the co-op has plenty to offer the Walpole area. As an example, he said, it would help the regional economy by keeping shoppers’ dollars local.

Fortier also values the nutritional benefits of getting food from a co-op.

“For me, it’s very important for the health of our communities that we have access to fresh local produce and other food items, for all the reasons that we know that that helps contribute to positive health outcomes,” he said.

Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at Follow her on Twitter at @SierraHubbardKS.