Kennett Community Grocer concept takes healthy steps forward
By Richard Gaw
For the past several years, food shoppers in the Kennett Square community who seek a nutritious and homegrown alternative to the megastore grocery experience have flocked to the weekly KSQ Farmers Market, located in the Genesis Walkway.
There, they can sort through a bountiful supply of grass-fed beef, microgreens and pasture-raised dairy – all produced on farms located less than an hour away from the borough. It’s a trip back in time, where conversations between growers and buyers are engaging and educational, collegial and essential.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Britton Elwood had lunch with an employee of Weaver’s Way food co-op in Philadelphia. Over a bowl of rice and vegetables, she shared her idea to create a seven-day-a-week natural foods grocery store, where shoppers would be able to purchase healthier food options for their families and themselves.
Elwood’s lunch date suggested that she explore the idea of creating a food co-op – a concept that would enable shoppers to take partial ownership in the business. Within months, the idea that began over lunch became the first seed on the ground that formed into the Kennett Food Co-Op.
Now, after two years of planning and the engagement in the community, the company – now known as Kennett Community Grocer – is about halfway to becoming a centrally-located reality. In 2017, they held their first community meeting; in Dec. 2018, they began a membership-ownership drive that has now reached 115; elected a seven-member board of directors; conducted preliminary feasibility studies; and re-branded their name and mission so as not to confuse its mission with that of the Kennett Food Cupboard, which is associated with Kennett Area Community Service.
It is part of a four-step process that will enable Kennett Community Grocer to set its sights on obtaining a minimum of 400 member-owners over the next few years. In addition, the next steps will include a site search; obtaining the necessary funding to begin construction and additional funding; announcing the selected site; initiating and completing construction or renovation of an existing location; hiring and training staff and installing equipment; and ordering stock and inventory.
“We felt like we needed to invest those first few years in showing the community that we were an entity they could have trust in – that this vision is happening,” Elwood said. “It’s hard to invest in a vision but we wanted to make sure that our brand said ‘Yes. This will become a store one day.’”
Although the business refers to “Kennett” in its name, it also has the word “Community” in it, as well, which co-founder Maureen O'Shea and Elwood said serves as an official welcome to residents throughout the entire county and beyond. No matter where they will eventually arrive from, the needs of the customers-to-be, Elwood said, are helping to drive the narrative of how the store will serve them.
“They are telling us that they want a better connection to the local and abundant agriculture here, so we’re about tapping into that resource,” she said. “We want to connect the community to the local circle that will provide them with access to local food. This will also serve as an outlet for these farmers to connect with the people.”
When the key first turns on the Kennett Community Grocer, Elwood and O’Shea said it will become more than simply a location to buy locally-sourced food. The store will also simplify the often dizzying language of the natural food movement for its customers.
“A big part of this idea is about education,” O’Shea said. “We’re here to help the public break down those buzz words, because it is confusing. They’re asking, ‘Should I buy organic from the west coast or local here? Is it okay if it’s conventionally grown if it is local?’ Helping give the consumers that information to make appropriate decisions for their families will be a big part of Kennett Community Grocer.”
“When you go into the co-op, you will meet the farmer who grows your food,” Elwood said. “You will know that ‘local’ means ‘local,’ and that we will source and use practices that are sustainable and good for the environment.
“We will also be able to support the whole community, and provide equitable access to local foods.”
In early March, many of the Kennett Community Grocer board members attended the Up and Coming Food Coop Conference in Wisconsin, to learn more about starting a food-co-op in the Kennett Square area. Attending the conference confirmed that they are swept up in a surging wave that is backed by numbers: As of May 2018, Food Co-op Initiative has seen 154 new retail food co-ops open in the U.S.. The Initiative's data reported that Food co-ops have created over 1,600 jobs during that time; added $180 million in annual sales to the cooperative business economy; recruited more than 160,000 member/owners; and supported local economies and local food producers.
For Elwood, O'Shea and the Kennett Community Grocer board and its volunteers, the heavy lifting of getting the concept from idea to reality is still ahead of them, with one key goal ahead of everything else: Acquire 1,000 members/owners by the time the store can be built.
Although the recruitment goal seems daunting at times, “We are on the cusp of a national movement for families to reclaim their food system,” Elwood said. “It is great to advocate and talk to politicians, but its starts at home, and what you do for your neighbors and your community. That is the embodiment of Kennett Community Grocer.”
Kennett Community Grocer is beginning an initiative to recruit more volunteers to help the co-op with community building. To learn more about volunteering and becoming a member-owner, visit www.kennettsquarefood.coop.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.