Kennett Community Grocer making steps and strides toward future opening11/17/2022 11:11AM ● By Richard Gaw
Courtesy art Launched in 2018, Kennett Community Grocer has launched several initiatives designed to eventually open a food co-op to serve the southern Chester County community.
By Richard L. Gaw
From the moment local resident Britton Mendenhall first conceived of a community-owned grocery store in the Kennett Square vicinity at her kitchen table in 2018, the evolution of the Kennett Community Grocer has been managed in the same way a farmer oversees the growth of his or her produce: one seed, one planting and one season at a time.
For Mendenhall and her colleagues who have continued to push the concept forward – at meetings and events, through social media and in membership campaigns – eventually opening the doors to a food co-op has been the equivalent of a soil tilling intended to provide accessible, local and natural foods to the community; encourage sustainability and healthy eating; and provide affordable options for lower-income families.
The organization’s annual meeting, held Nov. 3 at Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery, provided overwhelming evidence that the message has reached the community. The current list of members-owners in the concept stands at 275, and form just a small notch in a three-stage set of goals that will hopefully see the opening of the Kennett Community Grocer (KCG) by 2026.
The mechanics of starting a food co-op is a lot more complex than finding a venue, hanging a shingle and arranging produce, Edie Burkey, KCG president and executive committee chair told a gathering of nearly 50 member-owners.
“The average food co-op takes between seven and ten years from conception to the time the doors are first open, and we are in our fifth year and on that trajectory,” she said. “We’re there, we’re excited and there is enough of a core of you to say that this is a real thing that will support our local farmers.”
Now on the second rung of its strategic planning, the organization has to date created a board of directors, established communication and business advisory committees, developed by-laws, begun a member-owner recruitment campaign, conducted a market survey, produced monthly newsletters and hired an outside consulting firm.
By the end of 2023, Burkey said that the organization hopes to increase its membership to 500, identify a possible site and use the results of the market study to complete a business plan and create a pro forma in order to obtain lending.
Meanwhile, the agency is reaching out to many local farmers to gauge their interest in providing their products to the KCG store; and is also establishing partnerships with other area agencies, including the Kennett Library & Resource Center and the Chester County Hospital Wellness Program to form a free health initiative called “Live Better,” which was launched in September. In addition, it has introduced the KCG Co-op Box in collaboration with Flying Plow Farm, that makes locally-gown produce and seasonal vegetables available to customers for pick-up on a monthly basis.
Burkey said that she imagines the food co-op gaining a foothold in one of southern Chester County’s most walkable communities.
“I see this food cooperative in the Borough of Kennett Square, where people can walk to it,” she said. “I would love to see them first go to the Kennett Library and Resource Center and then go down to the store and buy food that they know is coming from our local farmers.
“About 1,200 people come into the borough to work, to shop or get something to eat on a daily basis. If half of those stopped at the food co-op and purchased something and joined with our member-owners who come regularly, that would be great.”
“I thought that this was exactly what this community needed,” said Mendenhall, who is now the KCG vice president. “I have a master’s degree in public health. I had been in the restaurant industry for years. I worked on a local farm, and thought, ‘How do I merge all of these ideas? How do we create a grocery store, feed people healthy food, encourage the local economy, and a food-co-op was just this bright and shining star.’
“The ball is rolling, and this is no longer a vision to me,” Mendenhall added. “We do not have a real store yet and I cannot tell where it’s going to be, but in my mind, I can see it.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].