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Supporters of THRIVE: It's just what local economy needs

Undaunted by a grim economic forecast, The Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy, better known as THRIVE, launched an individual membership campaign last month. Those who have joined already say the national economic situation is a perfect reason to support THRIVE and the local business and agriculture the nonprofit promotes.

"That's how we're going to fix the national economy," said Kelly Cruser, who joined as an individual member. "My feeling is it's going to be best addressed by all of us personally supporting our local economies."

Cruser discovered the Ashland Food Cooperative 13 years ago and has shopped locally and organically ever since, she said. In 2008, she participated in a CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, which delivered a weekly box of fresh produce to her throughout the growing season.

"I really believe it is critically important to support local sustainable agriculture," she said.

THRIVE saw an opportunity to create more consumer awareness about local economies and connect consumers with local businesses who are already members, said Augustine Colebrook, development coordinator for the nonprofit.

"We feel like there's a real disconnect between the foods that are produced here and people knowing about them," she said. "This is really a public awareness campaign."

Individual memberships start at $75, which includes monthly discounts from member businesses and a quarterly newsletter. For higher donations, members receive free tickets to the annual farm tour hosted by THRIVE or tickets to the annual Rogue Flavor gourmet dinner, produced entirely from local products.

Colebrook is also planning new events for the upcoming year, such as a "meet your farmer" barn dance to connect consumers with local growers, she said.

Those opportunities to meet with farmers and THRIVE members were a motivating factor for John Rinaldi and his family to purchase an individual membership, along with supporting the group's efforts to diversify the local economy, he said.

"They kind of emulate everything we think is important and love about Southern Oregon," he said. "Business is about more than making money; it's about relationships."

He and his family moved to Ashland just over two years ago from southern Nevada, where there is very little locally produced agriculture. Now that local produce is available to them, they want to be sure to support it, he said.

Stephen Spelman and his wife Judith joined THRIVE after several years of supporting an international slow food organization that worked to counteract fast-food culture and promote local agriculture. They switched to THRIVE because they wanted to support local as much as possible, because it is more natural, with fewer pesticides, processing and shipping costs. The food is fresher, and buying local enables direct contact with the grower or producer, he said.

"Whether the economy is good or bad, we need to spend money on food, and for a long time we have gone more toward the natural, more toward the local, more toward the healthy foods," he said. "It was more of an ethical decision on our part, and it has been that way from the beginning."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.