The people's grocery store
By Richard Gaw
Of the several dozen community members who packed the Kennett Square Food Co-op's member-owner campaign at the Kennett Brewing Company on April 17, there was an excellent chance that every one of them thought the same thing: If there was ever a town that would embrace the concept of a food cooperative, it is this one.
And, while the sale of the first bunch of produce is still a ways off, the Kennett Square Food Co-op well on it's way from being a reality and no longer just a concept. As of the April 17 event, the membership level has climbed to nearly 60, with a goal to reach 100 memberships by June 1.
As part of its membership drive, the Kennett Food Co-Op offers its members two options: a $300 membership contribution for the first year, or a monthly installment plan of $25.
“While the board members and I continue to strategically put together our ideas, what has continued to inspire us is that nearly every community member we've spoken to has told us the same thing – that Kennett Square is the perfect place for a food co-op,” said Kennett Food Co-op founder and president Britton Mendenhall. “The number of times people told me 'I can't believe something of this kind hasn't opened yet,' well, I can't count that high.”
From the moment the idea was bandied about the community, community interest in a food co-op was nearly through the proverbial roof. At its first organizational meeting, held on an evening of threatening weather, over 60 residents attended.
Unlike the successful Friday Farmers Market that is held at the Genesis Walkway and showcases the freshly grown produce of local farmers, as well as goods made by bakers and artisans, the Kennett Food Co-op will serve as a seven-days-a-week, community-owned grocery store, located within walking distance of most homes in Kennett Square Borough. The Co-op board is currently working with partners like the Food Co-op Initiative and the Pennsylvania-Area Cooperative Alliance, as well as with several Kennett Square-based organizations.
Starting a retail business of this kind requires several steps before welcoming the first visitors, and Mendenhall and the Kennett Square Food Co-op board members are currently still wrapping up the preparation and planning stage of the co-op's business model. It's the first of four stages – to be done in alignment with a goal to increase the number of memberships – that will take the formation of the food co-op through an “Emergence and Growth” process, a “Store Pre-Construction” phase; and a final stage, “Construction and Preparation for Opening,” that will see the construction or renovation of the store, the hiring and training of staff, the installation of equipment, the ordering of stock and inventory, and the store's opening – which by then will have a projected membership of 800.
While Mendenhall remained mum as to what that opening date may be, she said that the mission will honor its course of planned direction.
“Right now, it's all about gauging community investment, but after we reach that 100-membership level, and subsequently raise enough capital to pay for a market study, we'll then hire consultants to do a formal market study to determine the best location for a site,” said Mendenhall, who first conceived the idea more than a year ago during a lunch with a friend, who had worked at the Weaver's Way Co-op in Philadelphia.
While the Kennett Food Co-op's business model navigates through the corners and bends of formation, a few of its board members already anticipate it becoming a holistic meeting place, in a town that's becoming known for its meeting places.
“I have a heart for this town, and from that, I also know that Kennett Square has a heart for service and connecting,” said Meggie Shaeffer, who had previously worked at the Garage Community & Youth Center and Talula's Table. “The value of local food, supporting local produces and making healthy living accessible is already integrated in the community, but having a business here that incorporates all of those initiatives, and one that is outreach focused, is something that the community will embrace and use as a tool to further connect to each other.”
“While we've already had two public meetings and a film screening, this is the first big 'Come Join Us' event,” Diane Bove said of the membership campaign gathering. “What first drew me to this town was that it had a sense of self and a sense of community. The timing of the start of this food co-op also comes in perfect alignment with so many independently-owned businesses which are already here, with a tremendous focus on 'Local' and 'Place.'”
To become a member/owner of the Kennett Food Co-op, to attend a meeting or become a volunteer, visit www.kennettsquarefood.coop.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]
The Kennett Square Food Co-op's Values
1. Provide accessible, affordable, local, natural foods to the entire Kennett Square community and surrounding areas.
2. Use sustainable practices and encourage the promotion of greener lifestyles.
3. Serve as an educational hub and resource center to assist the community in living healthier lifestyles.
4. Improve the food system by recovering produce and repurposing food that would have gone to waste.
5. Provide affordable and/or subsidized grocery options to lower-income individuals and families in our community.
6. Serve as a communal space for all members of the area to come together and strengthen the community.