I’d like to take a couple of minutes to tell anyone reading why I decided to get involved with the co-op, and what it means to me.
First, my keenest interest, personally and professionally, is food. I’m a regional planner, and I tend to think about the effect that food has on our environment, infrastructure, economy and communities. For the past nine years or so, I’ve been involved in one food-related project or another. Most recently I co-chaired the Mayor’s Food Policy Task Force, but this love started when I did my first work-share with a local CSA, and from one project to another, I’ve been very invested in seeing our region’s local food system grow stronger.
And how much stronger it has become!! We now have far greater opportunity to purchase wonderfully fresh, locally-grown food from a wide variety of sources, and the venues continue to grow. But I believe that our community food system still has a lot of room to expand, and that this co-op will fill an extremely important role. In conversations centered around food over the years, I’d often hear the question “why don’t we have a co-op?”, met with eager eyes and exclamations of interest, but as far as I know, it hasn’t gotten further than that until now.
Another idea that has repeated itself over and over is that of a community-run, food-based meeting center. The Food Policy Task Force recommended a space where everyone would be welcome to come learn about food, nutrition, cooking and the like, and where the community could use their buying power to make great food more accessible. The Richmond Food Co-op fills a lot of this need. It will be a place for people to come together to take part in the process, to really have a say in what is available, and to use our own time, resources and labor to make it come about. The opportunity for the physical building to be a place where all people are welcome to shop, but also a community meeting place with the potential for classes, and even less formal information sharing is an important step for our community food system.
From a physical, planning perspective, the co-op, located as planned in Scott’s Addition, will bring life to a currently burgeoning yet still underserved neighborhood. It will increase foot traffic as more and more customers and members come to shop, and open one of the region’s oldest neighborhoods to people who were previously unaware of its existence and its charm. The second most important aspect of the co-op’s physical, grocery store-like space is the consistency for both customers and vendors. For consumers who struggle to make the step from conventional grocery stores to more strategic food sources, always knowing where the store is and that it will be open and have a wide variety of products (toothpaste and toilet paper in addition to local produce, meat and eggs) will make a significant difference. And for small new vendors, the flexibility and the consistency of the co-op may be the leg up they need to succeed.
In short, I’m excited about the co-op because it moves the dial in significant ways toward Richmond’s future full, robust, thriving, inclusive and equitable community food system. I hope you’ll consider joining me in supporting this worthy endeavor, and becoming a member of the Richmond Food Co-op.