As communities relocalize, developing resources that don’t require long distance transportation and provide local jobs, the need arises for more local outlets for healthy food, especially for food grown in the region. Farmers markets have become the most recent interface between growers and consumers, but growers need to spend most of their time growing while consumers need to be able to shop when it’s convenient to them, not just when the farmers can come into town.
During my early adulthood community co-ops grew like mushrooms across the U.S., with amateur grocers making use of widely available cheap real estate to market foods you just couldn’t find in your local supermarket. Macrobiotics, health foods and even organic vegetables were available in the late Sixties and through the Seventies. Vegetarianism spread for a while and droves of people replace chocolate with carob. (I’m still trying to figure out why that happened.) You didn’t have to be a member of a co-op to shop there, but members did get deals and special privileges. Membership fees helped establish and sustain the co-ops, and members could vote on issues relevant to the co-op’s operations and decisions.
After the Seventies, food co-ops faded from existence. To some extent, they’ve been replaced by larger health food stores, and certainly by Whole Foods. But Whole Foods doesn’t locate its stores in all the neighborhoods that lack outlets for good food. And besides, many people look for higher standards than those followed by Whole Foods.
An article from the Gotham Gazette’s Community Development section describes the resurgence of food coops in Brooklyn and the South Bronx.
Now, in case you haven’t noticed, food co-ops are coming back in some communities. The article emphasizes the need in many poor neighborhoods for outlets for healthy foods to support families whose local food supplies are top heavy with junk. In such communities we find a high incidence of diabetes, obesity and other diet-related afflictions. Reason enough to start co-ops today, but let’s also think about the value of community-run food markets as part of the relocalization adjustment to climate change.