I am so happy to be working with people from so many walks of life to build our food co-op together. I have gotten to really know and count as friends people from different ethnic backgrounds, economic backgrounds, faith backgrounds, and geographic locations.
I would have never met Eddie Jenkins, Jr. who has had an amazing life working in a chemical plant in Muskegon, serving as a union leader there, working for the city of Muskegon to help nourish Black-owned businesses, serving as a leader at Brown-Hutcherson Ministries, and now serving on our co-op's Top Circle.
I would have never met Deborah Eid who grew up shopping at food co-ops in Minneapolis, raised three kids the same ages as mine, performed in a family folk music band, worked with unions in Minneapolis and Chicago, and somewhere along the way learned Spanish and Portuguese. She helped me found our food co-op.
I would have never met Ayanfe Free who lived most of her life in the south, attended a historic Black college, learned midwifery and other healing arts, makes amazing copper jewelry, and is now managing the New City Farm and working as an urban gardener and young people mentor there. She also serves on our Top Circle as our facilitator.
I would never have met Rochella Robinson who raised three kids on her own, relied on food pantries when they were young, and now works full time at Trinity Health as well as a second job at Marshalls, and still finds time to lead our Outreach circle with energy and grace.
Our co-op brings together so many people who would have never met each other because they live in different parts of town, attend different places of worship, move in different circles. I ask you, what other business enterprise can do this kind of city-wide community building? What other group is actively trying to bring people together from all walks of life to build a business that meets our needs and the needs for sustainable food in our region? Only co-ops can do this! What a noble mission we have.
Our owners include city and county leaders including City Commissioners Rev. Nathaniel Moody, and Ruth Kelly. County Commissioners Stephen Wooden and Monica Sparks.
We have business owners who are also co-op owners including Ryan Knapp, cofounder of Madcap Coffee, Steve Wiltjer, owner of the Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge, Larry Hamlet, owner of Pure Hot Yoga.
We have affordable housing developers Ryan Schmidt (ICCF), Stephanie Gingerich (LINCUP), and Stephen Wooden (Dwelling Place) as co-owners of the co-op.
We have co-op owners who are women who sing at the bedside when people are close to dying who are members of the Grand Rapids Threshold Choir, Betty Kronemeyer, Marcia Good, Stephanie Gingerich, Ginny Kelling and Rebecca Kirk.
We have people of all ages, income levels, working, raising families, going to school, paying bills and serving their community in many ways and all of them are co-owners of this food co-op.
When you join the co-op, you are joining an amazing group of people and you will get to know people you would never have met any other way. We look forward to welcoming you to our amazing and wide-ranging community.
We welcome our newest board members: Ayanfe Free, Eddie Jenkins, Jr., Tony Moayyer and Scott Urbanowski! They were recently elected at our annual meeting in November. We also bid a fond farewell to our board members who are leaving service: Deborah Eid, Carrie Liebrock, and Michael Ludwig.
Deborah has served on our board since the very beginning. She and I met at a meeting of neighborhood organizers and when I mentioned that Grand Rapids needed a food co-op, she agreed. After guiding us through our founding, incorporation, bylaw writing, and countless conference calls, meetings, parties and cozy meals, she is moving off the board to devote time to her own counseling business. She'll still be involved with the co-op, just not as actively.
Michael and Carrie were a delight to work with this past year. Michael took great care of the website and our newsletter and other outreach activities like brewpub meet-ups and other social events. Carrie got our volunteers trained and involved in tabling events and house parties and made sure the materials were there when they were spreading the word about our co-op.
My deepest gratitude to you all for your love for the co-op and your steadfast service to our vision!
I'm looking forward to getting to know our new board members and finding out what skills, gifts and talents they will bring to our community. You can read more about them on our Meet the Board page.
This is a milestone in our development. Our second board elections have been held and we have 50% new board members. That is the signal of a healthy organization where new people are welcomed into positions of leadership. May we all grow together as leaders of this exciting co-op in wisdom and grace. And we hope that you will become an active part of this co-op in the way that works best for you. We look forward to working with you to build our store!
“Many Hands Build Strong Co-ops”
Happy summer to you all! I’ve been traveling quite a bit this summer and I’ve been able to see some pretty wonderful food co-ops along the way. Each co-op has its own character, vibe and challenges. Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, North Carolina has this amazing outdoor eating area under the most magnificent oak trees I’ve ever seen. Durham Food Co-op is so welcoming with a diverse staff that beautifully reflects its surrounding neighborhoods. These experiences help build our dreams for our new co-op here in central Grand Rapids.
It took many hands and countless volunteer hours on the part of the owners of these co-ops before their dreams were realized and their stores opened. We are in that phase of our development, we would welcome many more hands so we could spread out those countless volunteer hours so no one gets burned out. Like a flock of geese who trade off leaders so everyone shares the work, we are looking for a new group of willing volunteers to move into greater involvement. You may not be an owner yet, and you’ve been wishing us well. Now is the time to go ahead and become an owner. Purchasing your share means you are more than just wishing us well, you are ready to make this dream happen!
If you are already an owner, now you can consider how to best invest your time, talents and gifts to help us achieve our dream together. Come to our Brewpub Meetups and get to know your fellow cooperators. Once you know us better, come to our Third Tuesday Action Circle meetings to learn how to table or get involved with one of our welcoming and fun Action Circles. We meet from 6:30-8:30 at Fountain Street Church. Your abilities will be greatly appreciated whatever they are! Just show up at a meeting, or send us an email telling us what you’d like to do at email@example.com.
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is true of our co-op as well, but Rome was built by many people and that’s the beauty of building a co-op. Many people coming together in unity of purpose to bring a great grocery store to a part of town that will need and love it. And who knows what else we will grow together after that! I’m really looking forward to welcoming you more fully into our growing community.
Linda Jones, President
As President of our budding food co-op, I have the joy of helping to plant the roots of connection with other like-minded folks and groups in town, watering those connections with love for our vision of great food locally sourced, accessible to all, and as affordable as possible in a beautiful store that is warm and welcoming, and owned by our community where everyone can shop and anyone can become an owner.
I have recently met many folks who care about food justice, security and access at a two day workshop called, “From Charity to Solidarity.” The room was filled with people working hard to alleviate hunger in our area through food pantries, food banks, food trucks, food backpacks and education. We envisioned the future of Grand Rapids and saw a strong community of walkable neighborhoods with great food easily accessible. I was gratified to see my vision resonate with everyone else in that room. The idea of a food co-op where we are all co-owners of our food store also resonated with folks in that room. We left that workshop ready to move into action to make our visions reality.
So how does our project help move our community away from charity addressing food insecurity to solidarity with those who experience hunger? A food co-op is owned by anyone in our community who wants to join us. If you are low income, we have a Food for All share of $25 for every low income owner household and a robust scholarship fund for anyone who needs to use it. We trust our owners and don’t ask for verification of income. Our co-op includes everyone as equal owners and contributors to building our store. We are constantly growing our connections with communities of color and exploring together the ways our store can meet their needs and welcoming them as co-owners of our store. Each one of us has the same equal vote.
We have done all we can to break down any financial barriers and our task now is to come together to actually own that vision and buy our shares in this food co-op and bring our voice to the table so our vision will become a reality. Your community owned food co-op will open sooner if you, who see the vision and want it to become reality, move in concrete ways to build up our root system of support. Become a fellow owner, encourage your friends to become fellow owners, and then spend a little volunteer time working on the project with the other great folks who share your vision.
Imagine the benefits to our community that our food co-op will bring. Our local food system will be supported, nourished and strengthened. Our community will be more connected and empowered to make needed changes. Your home will have great food and you will feel healthier and more energetic. And you will have a place to gather with friends and family and share in the bounty of the Earth. I look forward to welcoming you to our co-op!
From the President, Linda Jones:
As I move into my first duly elected role as President of our beloved co-op, I want to celebrate with pride and gratitude all the work that our fellow cooperators have done to get us to this place and time. Because of their faithful work we have grown our co-op to eighty-seven members, created a very sturdy structure and process for getting our work done effectively by empowering our active volunteers,promoted our co-op all around the city, built our community on trust and transparency, and are moving ever closer to opening our co-op grocery store.
From the first time I voiced the idea of bringing a co-op grocery store to central Grand Rapids, like minded and energetic folks have resonated with the idea and gathered together. Deborah Eid was there when I spoke up about a food co-op at a meeting of neighborhood organizers and if she hadn’t agreed that Grand Rapids needed such a store, I doubt that the idea would have gone any farther. We have been co-founders together in every sense of the word, sharing ideas, training, connections, and wisdom from our life experiences. I am sure our co-op is as vibrant as it is today because it was founded on this synergy which then spread to everyone else who got involved.
We started by having a series of study sessions to learn what a cooperative is and how food co-ops are built. One of our early attenders was Catherine Gage who has been on the Development Circle ever since and is now on the Top Circle. She has been our secretary, keeping excellent records of our meetings, keeping us all reminded of our to do lists, and doing important research. She has also led the Membership Circle.
Crystal LeCoy was with us from the earliest days and offered her experience starting a business from the ground up. She is now in Detroit doing great things there.
Chantele Longcore joined us and got our checking account and paypal accounts set up and made important contacts for us in the business world. She also hosted many circle meetings at her home. Billy Bennett got our incorporation papers filed with the state. Wojtek Nocon contributed his business experience. Mychelle O’dell attended anti-racism training with Deborah and I and helped clarify our structure and processes. Stephen Wooden presented our pitch to 5x5 night. Dylan Devries and Quinn Vollink were our foodies and helped develop our vision, mission and aims. Quinn is responsible for the phrase, “community awesomeness.” Ben Gibney took notes early on. Steve Arnouts contributed his knowledge of organic farming and did important outreach to the environmentalists in our city. He is responsible for the seed pencils we give out. Cathy and Bruce Odom offered their house for our meetings and hosted an early house party. Kim Crosby has been involved consistently since the spring of 2016 and has served on the membership circle offering her deep knowledge of the city and healthy eating.
Brian Smith also got involved in the spring of 2016 and developed our accounting system, served as our treasurer and led the Finance Circle. He also helped reach out to our city’s Black organizations and spent time volunteering with People’s Food Co-op in Kalamazoo to get a better idea of how grocery stores are run as well as volunteering at Seeds of Promise. His guidance and experience have been extremely valuable to guide us through our development phase. He continues to serve as our bookkeeper and is a member of the Finance Circle.
Nancie Jenner joined us in the fall of 2016 and developed our wonderful logo and produced all of our marketing materials and swag. She headed the Outreach Circle and produced our newsletter and monitored our website and Facebook page. She hosted our first house party as well as many circle meetings where we ate like royalty. Nancy is also still serving on our Top Circle.
Jason Herlands joined us in the spring of 2017. He has worked with the Outreach Circle, scheduling tabling events, setting them up, getting the volunteers, speaking at events and sharing his knowledge about communication. Jason is also still serving on our Top Circle.
Other folks have consistently served on our action circles.
Whitney Potter joined us in the summer of 2017. She is active on the Finance and Diversity Circles and has shared her knowledge of the food industry and hosting skills.
Carol Carr was active on the Finance Circle and offered great experience with grant writing, finance and writing bylaws.
John Hanson and his crew produced a wonderful promotional video for us and highlighted us at his Lamplighter festival.
Loren and Katie Sturris and Suz Edwards were stalwart outreach volunteers helping to table at many community events and showing up whenever they were needed.
Rachel Potter has been active on the Membership Circle and is leading our book group.
These are our wonderful founding volunteers, folks! I know you join me in thanking them all for their commitment to our vision, their work achieving our mission and aims, and their heart for our community. Since our co-op is strong and vibrant because of its member/owners, I can hardly wait to meet all the new member/owners who will be drawn to our project in the coming years and to welcome them into our growing community of cooperation, building this important institution in the life of our city. If you are feeling the call to get involved, we have new volunteer orientations every third Tuesday at 6:30 pm at Fountain Street Church, or simply send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to seeing you there!
This wise statement was made by a long-time co-op organizer. I think this is a profound statement and directly confronts a malady of our society today. We pretty much expect most things to come to us for free. We have free apps on our phones, we can access free news articles, we avoid taxes as much as possible. In our city, Grand Rapids, we have some very wealthy and generous donors who have helped build important venues and social services to revitalize our city and make it a very desirable place to live. So it is very easy to begin thinking that we don't need to invest our hard earned money back into the community to help it thrive.
There is a very subtle trap to this kind of thinking. It keeps us effectively living in a feudal economy. We begin to think that if the big donors aren't behind a project then it will never come to fruition. We rely on the foundations to make the needed changes for social justice. We can bask in their good works. And we are therefore dependents rather than actors. Co-ops are a powerful way to move us out of this feudal mindset and come together to make needed change ourselves. With our own dollars, our own energy and ideas, our own businesses we can envision and bring to fruition the change we want to see. I hope you will join us to bring the best food possible to central Grand Rapids where food access is most challenging. And maybe even think about starting other co-ops to make other much needed changes in our community.
We just got back from a wonderful weekend at the Circle Pines Center near Hastings, Michigan. This is cooperative retreat center located in the woods of central lower Michigan. We met with folks from other food co-ops around Michigan as well as folks from housing co-ops and worker co-ops. Folks came from as far away as Waterloo, Ontario and Durham, North Carolina. We had a very informative discussion of the current state of food co-ops with people who have been involved with food co-op management for years as well as people who are just starting food co-ops. We learned that there is a great deal of competition right now in the area of organic and natural foods, the very area that food co-ops developed! Now everyone is doing it! So what do food co-ops have to offer as the new, cutting edge niche? And perhaps more importantly to my rebel mind, why do the food co-ops always need to find a new niche? Why isn't our business model the dominant one and the "free" market capitalists the ones working around us? I hope these questions will generate some dialogue here. What are your thoughts? What do food co-ops offer today that makes us special? How can co-ops become a more important presence in the marketplace?
Here's the definition of capitalism: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. (Merriam Webster, emphasis mine.)
If our economy is based on private decisions regulated by a "free" market, then who is taking the waste and neglect into consideration? Who is taking into consideration the fact that the ones with money create the market to their advantage? Who is seeing the larger picture? We are seeing the limits of capitalism very clearly now. Capitalism's fatal flaw is the fact that it doesn't have a value system, it is amoral. It purports to regulate human greed by relying on a free market to keep it in check. Seeing the degradation of our environment, the quarter of our people who live in poverty, the widening wealth gap, and the push for deregulation of the very businesses that got us into trouble the last time, where is this "free" market? Under capitalism a "free" market is an unachievable ideal! What capitalism does instead is normalize greed, not regulate it.
Fortunately there is an alternative to capitalism that has been practiced by businesses for over one hundred and fifty years, and practiced informally for millennia before that. These businesses function not as capitalist enterprises but as cooperatives. Here's the definition: A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. (International Cooperative Alliance, emphasis mine.)
Cooperatives nourish a free market and they have ownership. The difference is that they also have a value system and include and empower rather than exclude and amass. Cooperatives are owned by the people who use their services and are therefore controlled by a community, not a single individual. Their goal is to meet needs, keep the wealth in the community and offer meaningful work at good pay. Cooperatives bring people together, capitalism tears them apart. Capitalism pits one against the other while cooperatives nourish our better natures and allow communities to build businesses that support deep values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. Capitalism does not build true character, it simply teaches that those that have will get. Cooperatives educate their members in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. All these values arise out of the fact that the business is built cooperatively by those benefiting from the business. Shared ownership can only work when the owners all understand the work of cooperation.
What if we started to view America as a cooperative enterprise? What if we thought of our taxes as going toward our common good the same way our shares in our co-ops go for our common good? What if we accepted that good government and wise regulation is a requirement to protect our country from harm, be it from external threats or internal greed the same way our co-ops develop structures and processes to create the most good? What if we accepted that a free market is only possible when everyone has an equitable way to participate in that market? What if we considered a way to include all voices in our decision making the way our coops do rather than the current winner-take-all and losers just get over it attitude? What if we trusted each other to have everyone's best interest at heart? How could that even be possible?
I believe it could be possible if cooperatives were the dominant business model. Working together to build a business that meets a community's needs trains the people involved in the very work that it takes to become a community. This is hands-on, project-based learning at its very best. Crafting a profitable business together is probably the hardest work there is and the most exciting because it is building up something precious, needed and real that is shared with others. In a capitalist business enterprise, the work is shared but the profits are controlled by the owner. What is the difference between that and the old feudal system? In a cooperative the work is shared and so are the profits.
I believe the time has come for cooperatives to get the attention they deserve. Business schools should start teaching this model of business on an equal footing with capitalism. Laws should reflect the value of cooperatives in our society and support their healthy development. They should become the norm and in that normalization, they will heal our democracy in the most profound way. Through the building of cooperative enterprises, we will learn how to be a community again, we will learn the work it takes and the rewards it offers. Deep values will be nourished and the human tendency toward greed will be replaced by the human tendency toward generosity. Cooperatives include and empower, just the things we need today.