For the People, By the People: Building A Community Grocery Cooperative

Residents Plan Co-op to Address Problem of Food Access

‘A passion for a community economy’: Board members of the Community Grocery Cooperative (CGC). L-R: Ginia Avery, Damian Bascom and Clarice Manning. Photo: Courtesy CGC

Tired of waiting for action from District Government, a small group of Anacostia residents has decided to take food access east of the river into their own hands. In March 2016, the Community Grocery Cooperative (CGC) was incorporated by board members Ginia Avery, Clarice Manning and Damian Bascom. Its mission is to provide better access to food and knowledge about health and nutrition as well as a timely process to get these needs addressed.

While other wards have ready access to a variety of full-service commercial grocers, wards 7 and 8 have seen a decrease from seven stores in 2010 to three today.

“I have to cross water for just about anything I do. That’s ridiculous,” said Anacostia resident Adriana at a CGC planning meeting in July.

The founders of the CGC hope that the cooperative approach to grocery store access will provide more and quicker improvement to the lives of Ward 7 and 8 residents while reaping the benefits of community involvement in its operations.

Avery says a cooperative is “an autonomous association of people, and these people voluntarily get together to meet their economic, social or cultural needs. And through this cooperative effort, their aspirations are realized in a democratically controlled business.”

CGC will be a grocery store built and run by the community for the community. Bascom says that ownership is key. Unlike big box stores, where decisions are made in other states for stores operating in the District,CGC will be owned and run by community members who have purchased shares in the cooperative, many of whom will also be employees. Regular meetings will be held at which decisions will be made democratically by CGC members.

The goal for the CGC’s initial location includes a 3,200 square foot grocery store in addition to a café and kitchen education space. The grocery store would carry fresh produce locally raised in the Chesapeake region and products made by local vendors. The cooperative said they envision the space as being not just a commercial destination, but a community hub that facilitates dialogue and knowledge-sharing on food, health and nutrition, and other issues relevant to the community.

The Board has had conversations with Michael’s Development Company about putting a fresh food market in the South Capitol Street Apartments, currently under construction in Bellevue at 4001 South Capitol Street SW. So far the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 8D, who has a community development agreement with Michaels, have been supportive of this concept, Bascom said.

Whether it is located at the South Capitol Street location or not, the CGC store itself will probably require another two years work, a common timeline for co-ops, said Bascom. That time is necessary to secure financing and membership, establish the producer network in the Chesapeake, purchase equipment and hire and train staff.

The CGC is taking shape, but Board members caution that they are still in the planning phase. And they need as many people to help work on this as possible to make it a reality.

Committees have been formed to help direct the Board and membership on organization, steering, outreach and education, and procurement. An Advisory Committee composed of people with experience in cooperative development and retail grocery has also been established.

Community members are encouraged to join the committees. Volunteers are needed to help with the process of building the cooperative and recruiting members. The board is especially interested in people with experience with cooperatives or retail grocery as well as people with experience in grant-writing, business plan design, secretarial work and clerical work. Donations are welcome. CGC needs a printer, for instance.

“The more people we get working together, the easier this will be,” said Manning.

“We need collective input from everybody and we need collective experience to bring this forward,” Bascom added.

“It will be a place that people will come and feel empowered.”

Representatives from CGC will be at the Good Hope Family Community Day Saturday August 19, 2017 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Old Market House Square Park, on 14th Street between U and V Streets SE.

Email the Community Grocery Cooperative at communitygrocerycooop@gmail.comor find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/communitygrocerycoopdc, or visit them Saturday August 19th at Good Hope Family Community Day


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