Grand Rapids Food Co-Op Finds Possible Home

By Kayla Sosa | Photography by Two Eagles Marcus

After seeing that there wasn’t a fully stocked grocery store near her house in Heritage Hill, Grand Rapids resident Linda Jones wanted to do something about it. She saw that the community would need to come together to change that by starting a food co-op.

“Our original reason for starting was because all the major grocery stores are on the edge of town, there’s really not much right in the middle,” Jones said.

Jones, along with other community members, established the Grand Rapids Food Co-Op or cooperative. A food co-op is grocery store owned by members. Each household buys one share, and in turn, gets one vote. 

“It’ll be receptive to what the community wants in the store, and we want to support the local farmers, the local food web,” Jones said. “Producers who are making local food items, we have a place for them to sell. And we want it to be full-service grocery store so that it has everything you need.”

That means more than just produce, but health and beauty, cleaning and paper products as well. 

Each share is $250, and each household who buys a share gets to vote to create a board, which makes most decisions regarding the store. If there’s a major decision to be made, Jones said all the owners will come together to vote. 

“Each household always just has one vote,” Jones explained. “It’s equal representation, it doesn’t depend on how much money you have or how much power you have. Everyone shares the decision making.”

Households will have the option to invest more into the co-op, or loan more money to the business and earn interest back later.

“It’s democratic capitalism, is what I call it,” Jones said. “Rather than whoever has the most money, has the most power.”

The store is set to be at the corner of Wealthy Street and Division Avenue, and is part of the Inner City Christian Federation Tapestry Square Project, sitting on the path of the Silver Line bus route and right by the US-131 ramp.

Jones said the store itself will be about 10,000 square feet and will also include a deli, a hot bar, a salad bar, grab and go items and, maybe, a cafe. In this part of town, central downtown Grand Rapids, there isn’t easy access to a local, healthy grocery store, especially not within walking distance. Additionally, the area is home to an economically diverse population including many low-income residents; the co-op is meant to serve everyone.

“For us, it’s important that as many people in the community can be involved, so that  the store meets their needs,” Jones expressed. “It’s sort of  a social-justice-meets-food-justice-meets-empowerment project.”

Jones said the grocery store will not only provide healthy food options, but offer educational resources on healthy eating. Owners with an EBT card will receive an additional discount, as a part of the Food For All Program, up to 15 to 20 percent, on anything but alcohol.

The store will open up a handful of jobs with opportunity for advancement. 

As Grand Rapids grows and develops, there are many conversations about gentrification; when development happens in an area to make it better, but in turn pushes out an existing community. This can be seen in various forms across the city, but Jones thinks the co-op might be an answer to that problem.

“You want a community to be thriving, but you don’t want people pushed out because it gets trendy,” Jones said. “It seems to me, if anything can answer the question, a co-op could, because it’s owned by that community… and it’s keeping the money right there in the community.”

The co-op plans to make significant strides in growing its ownership this year; currently, they are 176 owners strong, and hope to reach 1,000 in order to begin construction in 2020.

To join the co-op or learn more, visit grfoodcoop.com.

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