Bumper Crop of Startup Co-ops

Author:  Jake Schlachter  Since last year’s listing, another 19 new co-ops have opened! Nineteen startups is a bumper crop, the largest one-year total so far in this third...


Since last year’s listing, another 19 new co-ops have opened! Nineteen startups is a bumper crop, the largest one-year total so far in this third wave of food co-op organizing. It represents new success—in the spread of the food co-op meme, in the methods of instruction, and in the sources of support for new startups. If your co-op has worked with a recent start-up, thank you for the investment you’ve made in helping a new community prosper and in growing this cooperative movement.

But is nineteen really the crest of this wave? At Food Co-op Initiative’s (FCI) board retreat in May, Director Marilyn Scholl asked, “What if we’re only seeing the first ripple—of the tsunami—of new food co-ops?” Will we be ready to support them?

FCI is a not-for-profit whose mission is to build and maintain the support system for new food co-op organizers. Someone from FCI is often the first friendly voice on the other end of the phone, welcoming a newcomer to this national community of food co-ops—or second, behind the nearby co-op that’s inspiring the new effort.

Will FCI be ready to support a tsunami of new food co-ops? Its online startup toolkits and how-to videos can be downloaded by a thousand startups as easily as one. But advice isn’t always heard until the authors have established trust and credibility, which depend upon the relationships that are built with new groups. How can these all-important relationships be scaled up?

It’s going to take a village. One such example is the Neighboring Food Co-op Alliance (NFCA) in New England. NFCA is a partnership between mature food co-ops and startups (which comprise one-third of its 28 members). Through NFCA, startups have the opportunity to cultivate relationships with nearby mature co-ops. At the recent groundbreaking in New Hampshire for Monadnock Food Co-op (Class of 2013), I noticed I was standing with five general managers of nearby co-ops—all of whom had been named as critical influences and sources of support by Monadnock’s lead organizer, Bonnie -Hudspeth. She has since joined the NFCA staff, building critical early relationships with startups all over New England.

NFCA is part of a trend by food co-ops to organize themselves regionally for fellowship and support, particularly in support of new startups. In the last couple years, it has been joined in the Mid-Atlantic by MAFCA, which has hosted a conference, regional meetings, and training workshops. 

Then there’s Bloomingfoods—a regional support system unto itself. George Huntington and the board have inserted support for startups into the DNA of the organization and its Ends policies. Bloomingfoods has hosted an annual training conference three years running, and Brad Alstrom makes Bloomingfoods the first food co-op to hire its own co-op developer.

The Twin Cities have long had a vibrant food co-op association, and the Pacific Northwest has the density of food co-ops to start one. 

There’s a good chance that a regional food co-op alliance is near your co-op (or could be). Is your co-op involved? What kind of organizational structures will need to be in place to provide coaching and fellowship and to build those critical relationships with a -tsunami of new food co-ops?


NEW co-ops from 2011 and 2012

Green Market Co-op—Glascow, Ky. (March 2011, not listed last year)

Local Beet Co-op—Chester, Conn. (April 2011, not listed last year)

Blue Hills Market—Bruce, Wis. (June 2011)

Citizens Co-op—Gainesville, Fla. (July 2011)

Stone Valley Market—Poultney, Vt. (July 2011)

Minnesota Street Market—St. Cloud, Minn. (July 2011)

Baltimore Food Co-op—Baltimore, Md. (July/August 2011)

Medford Food Co-op—Medford, Ore. (August 2011)

Tacoma Food Co-op—Tacoma, Wash. (August 2011)

Tallgrass Grocery—West Des Moines, Iowa (September 2011)

RiverLoop Public Market Co-op—Waterloo, Iowa (September 2011)

Placerville Natural Foods Co-op—Placerville, Calif. (October 2011)

New Orleans Food Co-op—New Orleans, La. (October 2011)

MOON Co-op—Oxford, Ohio (November 2011)

Elm City Market—New Haven, Conn. (November 2011)

Greene Hill Food Co-op—Brooklyn, N.Y. (December 2011)

Fertile Underground Natural Cooperative—Providence, R.I. (2011)

Vancouver Food Co-op—Vancouver, Wash. (2011)

Riverbend Market Cooperative—Red Wing, Minn. (March 2012)

Clayton Food Co-op—Clayton, N.Y. (May 2012)


This article was featured in Cooperative Grocer, Issue 161 August 2012. Click here to subscribe.

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