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Farmers, customers burned by Home Grow-In look to rebuild

A group of farmers and customers who are now out of pocket and in the dark about what led to the bankruptcy of the local food enterprise they invested in met last night in Vancouver to determine what, if anything, can be salvaged from it.

Last week, The Tyee reported that the Home Grow-In Grocer Ltd. was declared bankrupt, that it's director and owner Deb Reynolds had not been heard from or seen by associates in days, and that her suppliers had stopped receiving payments.

One of those suppliers, pork and blueberry farmer Jerry Gelderman, moderated the meeting, which was attended by nine suppliers and approximately 35 customers who had paid into Reynold's produce and meat box programs.

Gelderman explained that the Home Grow-In produce and meat box programs were ending prematurely because he and other farmers had not been paid for the product they were supplying.

Payment was supposed to have come from members, who paid between $400 and $750 to participate in the programs. They were advertised as a way to provide upfront funding and security for farmers who were supplying the customized boxes of produce or meat that members picked up each week at Reynold's Cambie Street store throughout the winter.

There were three box programs in effect when Reynolds declared bankruptcy last week. A winter produce box program, which began late last fall and was supposed to run for another four weeks; a meat box program, which was also several weeks away from completion; and a spring/summer box program, for which fees had been collected but had not yet begun.

Gelderman said most suppliers received no payment for produce supplied to the winter box, and none have received payments that were collected for the spring/summer box. The cheques and payments for each produce box program went to the now bankrupt Home Grow-In Grocer Ltd.

Those in attendance expressed support for the farmers and a willingness to do what they can -- even volunteer their time -- to keep the spring/summer box program going. Many said that the high-quality produce and meat they received in the winter box program was worth the administrative hiccups that they experienced. A few also said they were surprised at how much produce and meat they received each week, compared to what they paid.

The Home Grow-In Cambie Market store, which Reynold's opened late last fall to serve as a retail shop and distribution hub for the box program, has not been declared bankrupt and is still open for business. Gelderman and at least 10 other suppliers and investors paid Reynold's money to lease and operate the store.

It's not clear at this point what will happen to the Cambie Market or the box program, which are two separate, unresolved issues.

The next step, said Gelderman, is for suppliers to crunch the numbers for the cost of another box program and determine if there is enough interest to move ahead. Essentially, existing customers who want to participate in a spring/summer box program would have to pay again.

There was also general support in the room to keep the Cambie Market in business under a new brand. However, those in attendance represent potentially only a fraction of those affected by the bankruptcy. Gelderman said that while he was encouraged by the interest to keep the Cambie Market store open, he commented that "30 people cannot keep the store afloat."

Reynold's reportedly told members and suppliers that she had a waiting list of 1,000 for the spring/summer box program, but there are no records available of how many people signed up for each box program, or how much they collectively paid. Staff members say they have not been able to contact Reynolds, and the cellphone number that she gave this reporter in September has been disconnected. The Vancouver police are now investigating this case.

Gelderman encouraged any Home Grow-In suppliers, customers or anyone else who believes they are owed money by Reynolds to contact Jamie Robinson (604-640-4919) at Deloitte and Touche Inc., the professional service firm that is handling the bankruptcy.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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