Local Business

USDA grant moves group closer to opening McHenry County co-op grocery store

CRYSTAL LAKE – A local group is closer to opening a community-owned grocery store in McHenry County after getting a $20,350 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture's Local Food Promotion Program.

The Food Shed Co-op will use the money to pay for a market study, financial analysis and preliminary store design to help expedite its plan to open a store, said Doug Close, a member of the cooperative's steering committee.

The group, which was started in 2013 and incorporated as a cooperative under state law, wants to open a grocery store similar to Common Ground Food Co-operative in Urbana and Dill Pickle Food Co-op in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.

The professional market study and financial analysis will help the Food Shed Co-op decide where to put the store, how much it will cost and how many members, or stockholders, the group will need, Close said.

"We're following a strategy that has been very successful in other communities," said Close, who works in computer security and lives with his wife and three sons in Huntley.

The Food Shed Co-op hopes to have the study done by the end of the year, Close said.

The organization is run by volunteers. A food cooperative is owned by community members who have an equal vote on how the store is operated, Close said.

The goal of its ongoing ownership drive is to have 215 owner-members by Jan. 1, 2015, according to its website, www.foodshed.coop/. So far, the group has 86 members. Members must buy a minimum of two shares of stock. Each share costs $100. Stock ownership is limited to five shares. Owners typically receive dividends based on how much they shop at the cooperative grocery store.

The group aims to help the local economy, support local farmers and improve access to healthy food, among other goals, said Camden Harlan, a member of the Food Shed Co-op's steering committee.

Harlan, who lives with her husband and their four children in Wonder Lake, was motivated to join the group after discovering that she was going to seven different markets and stores to buy organic food for her family. Having a single store stocked with locally grown and produced foods would not only make her shopping easier, it would benefit the entire community, she said.

"This is something we need here," Harlan said.

By securing the grant, Harlan said she thinks the group will be able to attract more members as people who were on the fence about buying in see the progress the group has made.

"Getting the grant is huge for us," she said. "It's very exciting."

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