Sustaining community with local foods, decisions
by Dawn Nelson
Since 1971, the local natural foods cooperative grocery so many affectionately now call the People’s Food Co-op has been a cornerstone of community. The cooperative saw its humble beginnings first on Packard Street, a grassroots collective with decisions made by consensus. Since then, a transformative journey has led to the current Kerrytown location at the corner of 4th of Catherine in downtown Ann Arbor.
The Co-op community is proud of its roots and resilient strength in fostering and sustaining community relationships. These stories are well-documented in A History of Ann Arbor’s People’s Food Co-op, 1971-2016, a book you can find in the Co-op the next time you stop in. A recent evening at the Co-op’s Café Verde were two founding members of the original Packard Street cooperative, Peter Stark and Peter Madcat Ruth, performing a bluesy set for the Thursday café music series that inspired some impromptu drum and dance, celebrating 45 years of Co-op community.
In the early 80s, the collective process began to take form as a board of directors, elected by Co-op membership. This grassroots democracy is a hallmark of cooperatives. Leadership comes directly from the membership, who are co-owners of the cooperative, emphasizing the value of community self-determination. Some essentials of living – access to food, nutrition, participating in local economy and governance – are fundamental services provided by our local food cooperative. These principles in action are based on seven International Cooperative Principles, upholding autonomy, independence, and democracy as key values that draw many into cooperative community.
Electing the Cooperative Board of Directors
The People’s Food Co-op is currently holding an election for the Board of Directors. Challenges facing the Co-op include keeping a competitive edge in the local natural foods market as a unique full grocery downtown, and increasing awareness of what the Co-op offers to the Ann Arbor community. Four candidates hosted an evening café coffee hour, offering their visions for sustaining strong leadership. Incumbent Bruce Curtis brings a wealth of knowledge from early Co-op involvement as Board Director and Treasurer. Gaia Kile, also serving as Board Director for many years, offers longevity in perspective and meticulous understanding of cooperative principles and putting principles into action. Long-time Co-op member Jeremy Lapham worked in the Co-op for several years, bringing operational strategy – including how to implement grocery delivery service by bicycle. Steve Rich, also a long-time Co-op member, feels strongly about strengthening the resiliency of the Co-op for the intergenerational long haul. Each of the candidates have gifts to share and are equally dedicated to improving the cooperative for the benefit of community. You can find more about the candidates in the Co-op newsletter, the Connection.
Co-op members can vote online in the current election until 10 p.m. on April 19. All are welcome to attend the upcoming meeting for the People’s Food Co-op, taking place at Kerrytown Concert House from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 20. The annual meeting, open to the public, is a great opportunity to engage and learn more about the food cooperative.
(With thanks to the People’s Food Co-op Education and Outreach Coordinator, David Hall, for sharing his insights on the food cooperative and cooperative principles)
Dawn Nelson lives in Ann Arbor with her two children, increasingly embracing the joy and art of the photographic essay. She writes about sustainability, community, culture, and ecology. She holds a M.S. in natural resources and environment and a B.A. in sociology from the University of Michigan. You can find her on Twitter @anadawn