When the Save-A-Lot on Apple Street closed, Northside residents got two days’ notice, and the neighborhood officially became a food desert. Immediately, the community formed a committee to address their troubling new status. The solution? The Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative (CUCI), a full-service worker- and community-owned grocery store.
We examine the personalities and ideas behind this unique program for our primer on the politics of food.
- What’s a food desert?
Currently, Northside has only one grocery in a three-mile radius, and it is very difficult to access via metro bus. This lack of access to fresh groceries is known as a food desert. The Northside committee looked at several solutions to help the many folks who relied on Sav-A-Lot for the bulk of their food purchases. Ideas included expanding transportation options to other grocery stores via senior rideshare programs, and approaching the nearest Kroger about instituting online ordering with the thought that someone with access to a car would pick up the orders and deliver them to the community center for local pick-up. In the midst of these brainstorms, Heather Sturgill, longtime Northside resident, had a really great idea.
- Enter Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative (CUCI)
Sturgill knew that Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative (CUCI) was busy starting worker-owned ventures and approached the organization about putting a grocery store in Northside within the first week after Sav-A-Lot closed. Conveniently, several other communities in Cincinnati had also approached CUCI requesting help getting a grocery store. After this contact, CUCI started attending Northside community meetings, and Sturgill started attending CUCI meetings aimed at starting a chain of worker and community-owned grocery stores in Cincinnati.
For their part, CUCI performed market analyses and feasibility studies in the identified Cincinnati neighborhoods, and each community was tasked with finding three potential grocery store locations. In Northside, the Sav-A-Lot was chosen because it is in relatively good shape, and for the entire life of the building, it had operated as a grocery so the space required minimal demolition and remodeling. Mary Jo Minerich, architect and Northside resident, has been working on building design and brainstorming around visibility issues because the Sav-A-Lot isn’t on a main street.
- Spanish Influence
According to Casey Whitten-Amadon, a lawyer with CUCI, this worker-owner model comes from Spain. The Mondragon worker-owned coops started with five people making sewing machine parts, and now there are more than 70,000 worker-owners in the network. “It’s the biggest network of worker cooperatives in the world,” says Whitten-Amadon. “Worker-owners can be cross-trained and move to other locations if needed, which means job security. That’s really inspiring.” Currently, Pittsburgh is developing a worker-owned laundry based on the same model.
- Community Benefits
The Apple Street Market will offer a variety of healthy and fresh products that are affordable for low-income individuals, including organic and prepared foods. It will also focus on workforce development and hiring local, and will be the first in a chain of worker and community-owned, neighborhood-sized grocery stores.
Not only will the Apple Street Market improve access to healthy food options, Sturgill points out another way the community will benefit: “The relationship of a neighborhood grocery and a neighborhood business district is like the relationship of an anchor store to a mall, with an added residential benefit of more people desiring to live nearby, so there are fewer vacancies.”
- How To Get Involved
1. Check out the Apple Street Market JAMboree, Saturday, November 8, 5-8 p.m. in the Apple Street parking for fire pits, roasting marshmallows, apple cider, jam sessions, and more.
2. Take the Apple Pie Challenge. Record yourself saying one of two phrases (1. Food Access Matters; 2. Neighborhood Groceries Are Important), and then get a pie in the face. Tag the Apple Street Market on Facebook and #pieface and @AppleStreetCoop on Twitter and Instagram to raise awareness.
3. Purchase a share and/or invite your friends to become community owners. Shares are $100 with no annual fee. They’re available to everyone, and are subsidized for applicants who qualify for SNAP or free and reduced lunch.
More about Apple Street Market: applestreetmarket.coop
More about Cincinnati Union Co-Op Initiative: cincinnatiunioncoop.org/