First Person: Building a food co-op — and positive change — in Chicago

by Grant Kessler, FamilyFarmed.org

Grant Kessler is a food photographer and local food marketing consultant in Chicago who serves as marketing director for FamilyFarmed.org’s annual Good Food Festival and Conference. He also is a member of the team that is developing Chicago Market, a food co-op rooted in the principles of the Good Food movement. Here he explains why he got involved, and why he thinks you should be too.

The Good Food movement has made major progress in expanding the availability of healthy, sustainably produced food, much of it grown locally. Yet there is so much more that can be done to shift our food system toward healthy and sustainable foods and growing methods.

It is easy to complain about the state of things. That used to be my default stance. I griped and pointed fingers.

But a year ago, I grabbed an opportunity that lets me build rather than complain. It lets me be part of change in the right direction. It lets me add one modest piece to our Chicago foodshed.

That is Chicago Market, a new food co-op for our city that is currently under development. And those of us involved in the project believe it won’t be just any Good Food retailer, but rather the kind of store you dream of.

Grant Kessler

Grant Kessler is on the steering committee for the Chicago Market food co-op project.

For now, this is the goal of an extremely dedicated group of steering committee leaders and other volunteers with whom I am incredibly proud to work. Chicago Market just launched its first public fundraising campaign in mid-June, seeking at least 1,000 people to buy ownership shares within 100 days. It will take some time to select a site and build it out on Chicago’s North Side to make the vision a reality.

But it is a powerful vision that many of you share. The early adopters of the Chicago Market project want better access to local foods for everyone. They want sourcing transparency and education. They want to build a bigger, reliable chain of supply and distribution of local and sustainably produced food.

They also want to see their food budgets go more toward local economic development. They want to shop at locally owned companies so their food dollars stay in the community. They want store employees, farmers and artisanal food producers to all be paid fairly for their work. They want the health of our nation’s soils to be part of measuring success — that’s right, a grocery store that thinks soil health matters.

Most importantly, these amazingly crazy people I work beside want more than a store. They want to form community around food. They believe Chicago wants and will support a new, vibrant, community-focused local food hub, a place to gather, to learn, eat, and shop together. They want a store that reflects our values.

Powerful community members are speaking up, including Terra Brockman — founder of The Land Connection, an educational non-profit based in Champaign, Ill., that is dedicated to preserving farmland, training new farmers and connecting consumers with local producers. She is author of the highly regarded book The Seasons on Henry’s Farm: A Year of Food and Life on a Sustainable Farm. 

Terra also is an owner and supporter of Chicago Market, and she says, “To make good food fair and affordable, we need to change the entire food system, and the Chicago Market is an important part of that change.”

Chicago Market has another fan in Tim Burton, owner of Burton’s Maplewood Farm, an artisan maple syrup producer in Medora, Ind. 

“I can’t agree more with what they had to say today about the impact a co-op store has on a community and the family farm. The Chicago Market will have a direct effect on our family’s maple syrup farm here in Southern Indiana,” Burton said, responding to an appearance on Mike Nowak’s radio show by Chicago Market founder Greg Berlowitz and Ina Pinkney, a beloved, recently retired Chicago restaurateur who has an ownership share in the Market.

Does a new food co-op appeal to you? Click here and create your own profile where you can answer the question: Why do you support Chicago Market?

Curious how I answered the question? You can read my profile statement here.

Own it with me!

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