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McHenry County food co-op in planning stages

Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

A group of community members are trying to create a food co-op, or community member-owned grocery store, in McHenry County to open in May 2015.

A food cooperative, or co-op, is member-owned and operated as a democracy – members have a say in how the store is run, what kind of food is stocked and what kind of programs are offered. The food is organic and sourced locally, and the money spent at a food co-op would stay in the community to boost the local economy.

In other food co-ops, such as Duck Soup Coop in DeKalb, members pay an initial fee and then pay annual membership fees. Those who work in the store might pay less in membership fees or get a storewide discount.

Along with membership fees, there still are a lot of uncertainties with the McHenry County project, steering committee member Scott Brix said.

“We don’t even know if it’s feasible to open it yet,” Brix said. “We think it is, but we want to do studies and market research first.”

A study for the food co-op will start at the beginning of next year. Interested potential members and their demographics will determine the storefront’s location, size and programs open to the community within the store.

The effort is volunteer-based, including a local accountant and lawyer working pro bono. However, steering committee member Doug Close said membership costs will be determined by the end of this year.

Unlike stores such as Whole Foods or employee-owned Woodman’s, the potential members of the co-op in the community – which could be employees, customers or both – will determine what will be offered, Brix said. That could include produce, other organic non-food products and educational events about leading a healthy lifestyle.

Close said the committee will follow the plan of Green Top Grocery, an up-and-coming food co-op in Bloomington, Ill. Green Top Grocery was awarded a grant – the Seed Funds Grant provided by the Food Co-op Initiative – that the McHenry County committee is applying for to get started.

The committee’s short-term goal is to have 100 interested potential co-op members. By the end of the year, Close hopes to have 500 to 700. Close also hopes to open more than one store.

Having multiple stores throughout the county will help “to reduce our carbon foodprint in our society,” Brix said. “You wouldn’t have to drive so far to get what you need if you want to eat healthy.”

Close said he wants to get people closer to where their food comes from with the county’s food co-op by involving local farmers and vendors.

“I just like to focus on projects that will increase resiliency and localization efforts,” Close said.

And by resilient, Brix said, the committee means having a sustainable food supply for the long-term health of society and with the state of the nation’s food supply.

“We’re just a bunch of like-minded citizens in the county that would like to have this happen,” Brix said. “And we’re trying to make it happen.”

Meeting information

• View the meeting schedule for the McHenry County food co-op project at bit.ly/13NThx6.

More information

• To learn more about food co-ops, go to bit.ly/13156d1 and bit.ly/1dAcPVQ.

• Sign up for newsletters and other information about McHenry County’s food co-op at bit.ly/1ar0uHc.

• To follow Green Top Grocery’s progress, go to GreenTopGrocery.com.

• Learn more about the Seed Funds Grant at bit.ly/NJwgBB.

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