Cultivating Collaboration

One of the lessons emerging from my work at Local Matters is the importance of collaboration. I naively assumed that I would have to know everything and be an idea powerhouse to be a successful Fellow; however, it’s quickly becoming clear that there are a ton of seasoned co-op owners/workers/managers/gurus around the country that I can rely on for sound advice and brilliant ideas.

I spent most of yesterday on the phone with various people, gathering their insights on running a co-op and serving EBT customers. The two lengthiest conversations were with the membership director at Sevananda Natural Foods Market in Atlanta, and the membership director at the Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis. Both of these women provided expertise from years of experience, as well as a wealth of ideas for us to draw from when we open the Near East Side Co-op here in Columbus.

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This is a photo of Sevananda’s storefront – welcoming and beautiful!

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The Wedge’s storefront promotes a similarly professional and welcoming vibe.

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…and here’s a Google Maps screenshot of one of the many possible locations for the Near East Side Co-op. Lots of work to do, huh?

The initial intent of my phone calls was to determine the demographic make-up of each co-op’s membership base, and to see how EBT benefits play into their annual income. Although I got all of this information in great detail, my conversations with the women at Sevananda and the Wedge evolved into dumping grounds for advice, ideas, and encouragement.

Sevananda operates multiple initiatives to give back to the community it serves. One notable example is its “Be the Change” program, which started in 1997 to make contributions to locally based non-profit organizations. Sevananda chooses twelve partners annually and gives to them in a variety of ways, including donating 1% of sales one day per month and allowing customers to round their purchase up to the nearest dollar to benefit the organizations. Since its inception, the program has provided thousands of dollars for 150 organizations.

The Wedge also gives back to its community through several programs. For one, shoppers that bring their own grocery bags are given “Green Patches,” which are credits that shoppers can donate to community gardens and other community organizations. “WedgeShare” is another initiative that grants funds to organizations whose missions align closely with that of the Wedge. The Wedge also operates its own organic farm, which supplies the co-op with produce as well as acting as an educational arena to train organic farmers.

At the beginning of this project, I was viewing the Near East Side Co-op as an island within the community. Thanks to the insight of everyone who I’ve crossed paths with so far, my perspective is shifting to view the co-op as a conduit for community building and collaboration. The opening of the Near East Side Co-op will do more than provide access to healthy food; it also has the potential to partner with other local businesses and create a vibrant community full of partnership, synergy, and mutual benefit.

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About taraeveritter

I'm working with Local Matters to develop a food cooperative in the Near East Side of Columbus. My work primarily includes researching the rich history of the Near East Side and creating a document that outlines how to successfully establish a cooperative in a low-income area. This document is intended for use by communities around the country that may want to undertake a similar project. The staff at Local Matters have an incredible passion for this work, and they've successfully infected me with curiosity and motivation to see this project through!
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