A Neighborhood Campaign for Healthy, Quality Food
by Brian Baughan
Shortly after becoming a homeowner in Fishtown/Kensington, I realized there wasn’t a grocery store in my neighborhood that offered healthy, quality food—at least not of the local, fresh, and organic variety. It did not take long for me to get connected with neighbors who had already organized around the same concern. We all wanted to do something about it.
One of the first steps had been to consult with Weaver’s Way Co-op in Mount Airy for their advice. The veterans there were eager to share tips about business planning, outreach, governance, and other facets of starting a co-op. (Although sharing trade secrets to potential competitors is not typical in convention retail, in the co-op world it happens all the time.) Several members of the founding group had belonged to food cooperatives elsewhere, or were at least familiar with the co-op model, in which a large group of members collectively own a store with a team of volunteers and staff coordinating to operate and maintain the enterprise. The founders had also known the reputation co-op groceries had for providing locally grown whole foods, and in 2008, they took a close look at whether a co-op could set up shop in Kensington.
Shortly thereafter, Kensington Community Food Co-op was born and began its campaign to open a neighborhood grocery store. We continue that work today. Last year, as someone sold on the project and stirred by its gaining momentum, I decided to join the Board of Directors.
In a sense, our current campaign is not much different from the work of a typical business start-up does before the building construction and later, the grand opening. Our “due diligence” has included commissioning feasibility studies, collecting community surveys, and doing initial forecasting.
But since food cooperatives are democratic community organizations, we have also engaged and organized within the community, appointed a Board of Directors, drafted Articles of Incorporation, and developed a vision for how to serve a part of Philly that lacks access to affordable and healthy produce.
Then, there is the pivotal work of recruiting members—the individuals and households who have paid a one-time investment determined by them and to whom our Board and future general manager are accountable. The strength of KCFC, like any co-op, lies in the members, in their volunteer contributions, the different forms of expertise they offer, and their loyalty as customers when the store opens.
We have just hit the 200-member mark and will continue to actively recruit new members. Their investments represent an essential part of KCFC’s equity and a collective show of confidence that ultimately will lead us to opening and operating our store.
How can our collective efforts benefit Kensington? A cooperative grocery store would be a sign of our community’s self-reliance and proof that neighborhood development is possible without big-government assistance or mega-chain investments. It would mean we can help drive the local economy and connect liked-minded businesses (we already have a Shop Local through which members get discounts for patronizing local businesses). Just as important, it would mean we can enjoy the simple pleasures that go with buying and eating fresh food at a neighborhood store.
Brian Baughan is a Kensington Community Food Co-op member and is on of its Board of Directors. Since doing a brief stint as a Weaver’s Way Co-op member, he has committed to supporting and building local, independent business.
The mission of the Kensington Community Food Co-op is to open a member-owned cooperative grocery store in the Kensington area that will provide healthy, quality food, products and services to its members and the community. Visit KCFC online at kcfoodcoop.com.
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