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East of the River Residents Organize to Create Grocery Co-Op

by Nena Perry-Brown

A group of DC residents is taking matters into its own hands to bring more grocery options east of the Anacostia River. 

While the announcement that Good Food Markets is opening a location on South Capitol Street offered some relief to neighborhoods east of the Anacostia, fresh food options in Wards 7 and 8 remain relatively scarce compared to elsewhere in the city, with three full-service grocery stores for roughly 150,000 people. 

The Community Grocery Cooperative (CGC) has renewed a push to establish a co-op grocery store in Ward 7 or 8. While the store is likely years from becoming a reality, the idea is to establish a place which could either inspire or fund similar co-ops elsewhere in the city or region. The effort coincides with others to give communities east of the River more control over the future of their wards, including the crowdfunding efforts for Benning Market and the Douglass Community Land Trust.

The initial goal is to amass 300 members, at which point the group will be able to elect members to various boards and committees (eg. directors, steering, advisory, etc.) and conduct a feasibility study. The study will facilitate the planning phase of the project, after which the group will be able to move toward implementing a co-op with a physical location. The individuals steering the efforts have been in contact with the national Food Cooperative Initiative organization, as well as with other co-ops in the area to get advice on strategy. Ideally, by the time the store opens, there will be tens of thousands of members.

The majority of funding will originate with the co-ops members, who can join and get a lifetime membership with a one-time fee of $100. Although membership is not restricted to residents of Wards 7 and 8, the idea is that the voices of those residents should take priority throughout the process. At the end of each year the co-op is operating, members can vote on what to do with the year's profit (eg. split evenly among the members, reinvest in a community program or another co-op, etc.). 

The average co-op takes 5-6 years to open, although some who attended a meeting on Saturday noted the sense of urgency needed to take advantage of burgeoning tools like Opportunity Zones, which have already been integral to some real estate deals since the law's inception, despite sparse final regulations.

In the meantime, CGC is focusing on spreading awareness and expanding their membership base. 

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/east-of-the-river-residents-organize-to-create-grocery-co-op/15290

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