News Column

The Santa Fe New Mexican Bruce Krasnow column

August 26, 2014

By Bruce Krasnow, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Aug. 26--For BJ Pheiffer, it took going to Lovington to find a lender who could finally understand what Greenhouse Grocery, the Santa Fe Community Coop, is trying to accomplish.

But when she found the Western Commerce Bank, it took just a 10-minute telephone conversation and some follow-up documentation for the grocery to get loan approval for $3.68 million to help fund what is envisioned as a nonprofit co-op where members work as a way to keep the cost of their food and produce affordable.

"They understood what a startup is and that we would be backed by our members," Pheiffer said. "For the bank, it's really quite amazing. It's really a compliment to the vision of the coop."

Pheiffer also said the bank understands rural agriculture and the healthy-food movement, which is a key part of the co-op's plan for financial stability.

Now Pheiffer is hoping to move forward on an agreement for the purchase of the co-op's permanent home at 2904 Rufina St., the site of the former Santa Fe Greenhouses.

Pheiffer herself has business experience with IBM and JP Morgan, and is a master gardener and chef. Her board and advisory panel includes author Deborah Madison, local organizer Jeffrey Birnbaum, Tony McCarty of Kitchen Angels and Kate Rowe, a registered nurse.

The Greenhouse Grocery hopes the location near Siler Road would offer service to underserved communities on the south side and provide food options without marketing, packaging or transportation costs. Pheiffer envisions the site can be used not just as the retail outlet for the grocery, but as a broader initiative to educate families and schoolchildren about nutrition.

The 3.4-acre property has been empty since Santa Fe Greenhouses closed in 2012.

Pheiffer said financing for the project "is like a puzzle," and part of the loan is dependent on a guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which promotes rural agriculture and healthy-eating initiatives. That guarantee has not yet been finalized, so a final closing on the property might still be six months away.

She also expects contributions from local impact investors who want to support a homegrown project.

But the project also depends on Santa Fe residents stepping up to join the co-op -- and now is the time, Pheiffer said, as many have been waiting to see where the grocery would be located. "The [bank's] commitment is conditional on the co-op's injecting $1.4 million in member and nonmember equity into the project," she said.

Pheiffer said she has gone slow and even turned down other investors. The reason: "I told them I don't think a co-op is going to work in Santa Fe unless there is support from our members."

A business plan put together by Pheiffer, the founder and president, estimates the co-op would have 700 members with $10 million of sales within three years and a gross profit margin of $1.9 million.

"Every Member will pay an annual $25 Membership Fee, make a one-time $100 Pledge, and be required to fulfill the Coop's work requirement, currently two 23/4 shifts every four weeks. All adults over 21 in your household must be Members," according to the coop website.

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A report by the U.S. Department of Commerce shows how uneven the economic growth was for New Mexico in the last part of 2013.

Yes, there was growth, and it was relatively strong compared with the rest of the United States, as the fourth quarter of 2013 saw state gross domestic product climb 4.5 percent, the sixth best growth rate in the United States. Overall GDP for 2013 in New Mexico was at 1.5 percent, still below the national average of 1.8 percent.

But if you look at what is driving the economic activity, it really comes down to just one or two sectors -- mining and real estate rental and leasing. Each contributed 1.45 percent to the growth in the last quarter of 2013 -- meaning 65 percent of all the growth statewide came in those two sectors. And my guess is a good part of the second category (real estate rental and leasing) is also connected to the mining sector.

"Mining contributed only 0.27 percentage to real GDP growth for the nation in the fourth quarter of 2013. It was, however, the most prominent contributor to growth in Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wyoming," according to the report issued by the agency's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Contact Bruce Krasnow at


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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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