This is a bit of a different post from our usual here at First Ascent. We’re in the middle of a shelter-in-place order to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and people, as well as small businesses, are hurting. For that reason, it’s important that we all pull together to help each other how we can.
Co-ops are rare in Chicago, but they’re an excellent way to support local agriculture and eat seasonally and healthfully — critical components to success for serious climbers!
What’s a co-op? A co-op grocery store is a grocery store that is owned collectively by the people who shop there, ensuring that it serves the local community’s needs. Why should you care?
Well, we interviewed co-founder Grant Kessler to find out:
What drove you to launch Chicago Market?
Our founder Greg Berlowitz had been a member and employee at Common Ground Co-op in Champaign while he was in school and really missed the community and local food access that a co-op offers. Yes, the Dill Pickle was open across town, but that was (and still is) the only co-op in Chicago and it’s not convenient for those of us on the north side. A metropolitan area as large and as interested in fresh, healthy, local foods as ours can surely support more than one co-op. The Minneapolis/St. Paul area supports over a dozen!
So that was the starting point, but the important thing to know about why we’re working to open Chicago Market is that the idea of a community-owned store that prioritizes local foods and sustainable practices is something the people in our area clearly want. We have over 1840 Owners now and they’ve spoken up and shown interest in this kind of store, by volunteering, by buying an Ownership share, by making loans to the Co-op and more.
Our site search was fairly broad across the north side of Chicago, but we knew we wanted to be transit-friendly; we knew we also needed a parking lot for shoppers with cars who will come from further to get the products we’ll carry, and we knew we wanted to be a fairly large store to carry the broad range of goods our foodshed offers, as well as household staples. When the CTA made the former ‘L’ station at the corner of Wilson and Broadway available, we knew it was a great fit for us. We also feel we’re a great fit for Uptown – we love the diversity of the community and have received so much support so far. We look forward to being a community hub that brings people together around shared food values and provides great local jobs.
Why a co-op instead of a specialized grocery store?
Co-ops start because people, individuals in a community, see a grocery need that isn’t being met and want to address it themselves. They also want to retain power and ownership of where their food comes from, where their shopping dollars are spent, how staff and farmers are paid and treated, and where profits go. And another great thing is that every co-op around the country is a little bit different. Each chooses their own priorities to meet their community’s needs. In our case, we feel local foods are hard to find on a daily basis and we know the farmers and food producers are out there – we will champion them. And we know our Owners also look forward to a store that focuses on sustainability by reducing packaging where possible; by having an extensive bulk section and encourage fill-your-own containers; and we’ll be sure to compost.
How does a co-op fit into one’s life vs shopping at farmer’s markets? Advantages, compromises?
We love farmers’ markets and don’t see ourselves in competition with them at all. In fact, we’re proud to say that both the Andersonville Farmers Market and the Green City Market are Owners and supporters of Chicago Market. Many of their farmers would like an additional wholesale outlet for their goods. The primary differences are that we’ll be open with traditional grocery store hours so you can access those goods every day. And although it’s true you will not buy directly from your farmer like you do at a farmers market, we will work hard to keep you connected to the people producing your food with information, events and visits from our farmers.
How can one learn how to eat more seasonally and locally if mostly used to grocery stores?
One of our core tenets is a commitment to education. (In fact, all co-ops adhere to the 7 Cooperative Principles and Education is Principle #5.) So we’ll help shoppers with seasonality for sure! If something is fresh – not pickled, canned, frozen or otherwise made shelf-stable – and it’s from a local grower, it’s in season. So through our commitment to transparency, you’ll always know what’s local and seasonal, just as you do in a farmers market. And shopping seasonally helps our local growers, is likely more healthy for you, and can be less expensive as those are the things most readily available and traveling the shortest distance to you.
When will the Market open?
Chicago Market is excited to have a home, but the space is an empty shell. It will be expensive to build out and requires Owner loans and donations to fund construction. Becoming an Owner is the first step and also speeds our timeline. If this kind of store in your community matters to you, it takes all of us pulling together. Become an Owner here!
And learn more at: chicagomarket.coop
Huge shoutout to FA Uptown member extraordinaire Amanda Sturgill for helping put this together!