Our VoiceNews & Politics

Food Co-ops: Good for America

Jill Garvey • Mar 10, 2009

Food co-ops may be able to lead the way to a healthier, greener America, but first they must compete with capitalism and carve out a space in mainstream American consumerism.

Location is an important factor as they are essentially all the same save for the state laws governing their operation; in some places they flourish, in others they are barely able to survive. They usually share common characteristics including being democratic and volunteer-run businesses whose owners are the members of the co-op. Profits (if any) are shared among members, however most food co-ops are aiming to provide affordable natural foods to their members or community rather than turn a profit. In New York, Minneapolis, California and Oregon food co-ops have brought major change to their communities by providing healthier, socially conscious, and sustainable ways to shop. Often though, food co-ops don’t get started in the neighborhoods that desperately need affordable grocery stores with natural or organic products.

If you live in a city like Chicago you may not have even heard of a food co-op. Chicago is a patchwork of unique neighborhoods; some are poor, some wealthy, very few are diverse and almost all have fascinating histories. In Chicago, neighborhoods can be insurmountable barriers to opportunity, while conversely embodying the hard grit that makes this the city of broad shoulders. Perhaps Chicago’s precondition to division is why food co-ops have such a hard time here. After all, co-ops by definition seek to address a range of social issues, from health to economic equality to sustainable consumerism, in one fell swoop, and the cooperative lifestyle may just prove to be too, well, cooperative for Chicago pragmatism.

On the other hand co-ops may be just what the city needs to weather tough economic times, and there really aren’t any drawbacks for a community when a co-op sets up shop. They offer better food choices than grocery store chains, tend to keep prices lower, support local growers and independent food producers, and send profits right back to shoppers.

Many Chicago communities, especially poor and minority, are in desperate need of accessible food stores. There are many places in Chicago, mostly on the South side, where there are no easily accessible stores to buy everyday healthy food items that most of us take for granted. It has long been a contributing factor to the continued disparity and racial inequity dividing this city. With stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s unlikely to venture into poor communities, food co-ops may be the best hope for under-served neighborhoods.

A dedicated group has been developing a co-op called the Dill Pickle in Chicago’s diverse Logan Square neighborhood for several years, and they may be just months away from opening their doors. Let’s hope this signifies just the beginning of a better way to shop for Chicago residents.

Dill Pickle Food Co-Op from Jill Garvey on Vimeo.

The Dill Pickle Food Co-op will be opening Spring/Summer 2009 and located at 3039 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago, IL.

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