Community-owned co-op grocery stores key in revitalizing food deserts

Community-owned Grocery in Detroit

Detroit People’s Food Co-op, opening later this year in a food desert, is an example of a community-driven project.

Food insecurity and lack of area grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods hold much blame for hunger in America. Local and state governments, along with national leaders have prioritized the elimination of “food deserts,” with large retailers promising to open or expand stores in underserved areas.  Some got past the planning stage or closed shortly after opening. The article “Why community-owned grocery stores like co-ops are the best recipe for revitalizing food deserts” looks at 71 supermarkets that had plans to open in a food desert since 2000, and explores why some groceries succeeded while others failed.

The supermarkets driven by government or commercial interests had a mixed track record, but nonprofits and those driven by community involvement tended to succeed.

Author Catherine Brinkley, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Development at the University of California – Davis noted, “Importantly, 16 of the 18 community-driven cases were structured as cooperatives, which are rooted in their communities through customer ownership, democratic governance and shared social values.”

Policymakers and officials interested in improving wellness in food deserts should consider community ownership and involvement. If you are involved in efforts to bring a supermarket to an underserved community and want to consider cooperative business options, contact the OSU CFAES Center for Cooperatives by calling 740-289-2071 ext. 111.

Scaling-up to Sell to Schools

 

Farm fresh food benefits not only students but the farmers that grow it for students. Scaling-up to sell to schools presents challenges, but farmers have achieved success through cooperation, collaborative relationships with buyers and year-round purchasing programs.

Farmers benefit from Farm to School

Institutions are a dependable market that provides farmers with timely and reliable payments. Clarity of a cafeteria’s needs allows farmers to plan production and delivery in advance. Schools streamline procurement, delivery and invoicing processes so farmers can focus their energy on producing high-quality food to nourish students.

Selling to schools is good for the local economy. Schools purchased $790 million of local food in 2013-2014. 42,587 Schools across the United States participated in Farm to School activities according to the USDA Farm to School Census. ¹ Case studies of public schools in Minnesota and Georgia found $82 of every $100 spent stayed in the local economy. ²

Some schools incorporate agriculture and nutrition education into Farm to School programming. Farmers that are passionate about inspiring the next generation of healthy eaters may have an opportunity to partner with educators to teach youth about what it takes to get food from the farm to the cafeteria.

Challenges selling to schools

Schools purchase a large volume of product. Small operations often struggle to produce a volume sufficient for foodservice needs. Cooperative marketing is a solution. An agricultural cooperative can aggregate multiple farms products to achieve intuitional volumes. A co-op offers farmer-members other benefits such as group food safety certifications, shared distribution and reduced costs on supplies. The Preston Growers Cooperative formed in response to the West Virginia Farm to School initiative. Working together, farmers achieve institutional volumes, maintain quality and offer a wider selection of products to local schools.

Farmers receive lower prices from institutional sales than other direct marketing channels. School buyers have tight budget constraints when making food purchasing decisions. The average school lunch cost $2.90 to prepare, only $1.07 of the total cost is allocated to food. The remaining $1.83 goes to labor, preparation and indirect costs. ³ Marketing Michigan Products: A Step-by-Step Guide from Michigan Farm to School is a free online resource that helps farmers prepare bid documents, price their products and negotiate contract agreements.

The school cafeteria is vacant during much of peak fruit and vegetable season. Minimal processing, such as freezing fresh food for future use, can be a solution. Cafeteria staff may process the food in the school cafeteria or coordinate with a food hub or co-packer to process the food in an approved facility. The Ohio Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program provides a consistent market for farmers by purchasing food when school is not in session. Meals are served to youth enrolled in summer education programs at local YMCAs, libraries and other partner organizations.

Success

Farmers that have successfully sold to schools suggest developing working relationships with school dieticians, buyers and food service staff. Farmers should clarify vendor requirements, volume, packaging, delivery, insurance, payment terms and necessary food safety certifications prior to making the first delivery. Regular communication throughout the school year is vital to success.

For more information on Farm to School in Ohio visit http://farmtoschool.osu.edu/.

To learn about the Ohio State University Dining Service’s goal to purchase 40% local and sustainable Food by 2025 visit https://dining.osu.edu/sustainability/local-and-sustainable-food/.

References

  1. “Farm to School Census.” 2015. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Nutrition Service.
  2. Christensen, L., Jablonski, B., Stephens, L. & Joshi, A. “Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools.” Sept 2017. National Farm to School Network. Retrieved April 27, 2018 from http://www.farmtoschool.org/Resources/EconomicImpactReport.pdf.
  3. “School Lunch and Breakfast Cost Study-II.” 2006. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Nutrition Service.

*Originally published in Farm and Dairy newspaper 5/4/2018

Casa Nueva: A New Flavor of Foodservice

Low salaries, high turnover and lack of employee engagement are prevalent in food service. Eight food entrepreneurs had a solution; they would create a restaurant that empowered employees through ownership. In 1985 they opened Casa Nueva, the first worker-owned cooperative restaurant in Ohio, in the heart of downtown Athens.

In 1987 Casa Nueva worked with the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) to develop and market a product line of salsas and other value-added goods. The restaurant added a cantina in 1993, and a second kitchen in 2003.

Worker ownership in practice

Casa Nueva carries out daily operations with the help of worker-owners and non-owners (associates). 1/3 of staff are worker-owners, 2/3 are associates. Associates have an opportunity to apply for ownership after working 1000 hours in the restaurant, serving on special committees and earning positive performance evaluations. The co-op board of directors vote to approve or disapprove the associate’s application for ownership. All new owners contribute equity. The cost is offset by a raise that goes into effect when an associate becomes a member of the cooperative. Other benefits of membership include: voting rights, paid time-off, insurance and scheduling preference.

For over 30 years Casa has provided worker-owners with meaningful work, sustainable jobs and opportunities for advancement. Fresh ingredients, Mexican-inspired flavors, culture, music and art delight locals and students of Ohio University, the city’s main economic driver.

Founder Leslie Schaller shares Casa Nueva’s Story