Re: Co-ops vs. corporate (letter, March 28 issue of The Gazette)
Lindsay Howes questions the emergence of community-owned food co-operatives in our communities and uses the example of Nelson’s Kootenay Co-op.
She makes some assumptions that should be addressed.
She questions; “Is Grand Forks willing to take a step back from progress of the modern world and get rid of all the big grocery stores?”
I don’t see the emergence of food co-ops equaling the end of chain grocers.
Instead, co-ops offer a proven alternative. I also believe that the “progress” Howes refers to within the food system is actually being driven by innovative grocery stores like food co-ops.
Walk into any major grocery store, and you’ll find the organic sections growing in size.
Chains like Safeway and Save-On are also making considerable efforts now to actively market their products as local.
Food co-ops have been practicing this philosophy for decades.
A co-op owned by its shoppers also commits to a level of accountability and responsibility that chain grocers will never match.
Food co-ops are acting in the best interest of the communities in which they operate and not in the best interest of shareholders or distant head offices.
While chain grocers do a great job of extracting wealth out of a community, food co-ops instead re-circulate and create wealth in communities by supporting local food producers.
Howes assumes that co-ops are synonymous with “local” (“Are people willing to go without foods like oranges from California or bananas from Ecuador?”). Not true. Co-ops are ultimately driven by their member-owners (shoppers).
If oranges and bananas are desired, then you’ll find them on the shelves of a co-op. The Kootenay Co-op does indeed carry imported produce and other foods and strives to carry local whenever possible.
It seems to me like the most important direction for any community in our region is to devote significantly more attention to harnessing our food expenditures and recognizing their underutilized potential for stimulating local economies, jobs, culture and community.
Food co-ops can play a foundational role in this shift.
Jon Steinman, Deconstructing Dinner host, Nelson