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Makin' groceries on St. Claude Ave. at the New Orleans Food Co-op

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(InthekNOwla) -- NEW ORLEANS | Lord knows if we see one more Dollar store, hip hop clothing store, or Chinese restaurant open up, we’re gonna scream…AHHHHHHHHHHH…sorry, just saw a new Dollar General on Broad and Bienville. We’re so damn tired of seeing these kinds of businesses pop up. And they’re not just opening up anywhere, oh no. Anywhere there is poverty, you’ll find all three of the aforementioned businesses.

But guess what New Orleans? There’s some light in this darkness of shrimp fried rice, white T-shirts, and products that cost far more than a dollar. Yes, there’s a great new grocery store set to open, the New Orleans Food Cooperative (NOFC) inside the New Orleans Healing Center on St. Claude Ave. (which many of us will remember as the location of Universal Furniture).

When you first pull up to the New Orleans Healing Center, it’s quite surprising…a huge building with vibrant orange and purple colors on the outside. See, this part of city isn’t necessarily known for its vibrancy, but with the building of the Healing Center, it’s sure to come alive again. The businesses that belong (and will belong) to the New Orleans Healing Center all ascribe to a credo in which they believe that the “first responsibility is to our local and global community which includes the people and biosphere of New Orleans and the world at large, offering a holistic, safe, clean, sustainable center that provides services, products, and programs promoting physical, nutritional, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, economic, environmental, cultural, and civic well-being.” In essence, the Healing Center offers healing in every way possible from physical health to emotional and spiritual health and provides an oasis for the community.

And like we said before, a wonderful community-owned grocery store will be one of the businesses inside the Healing Center, something that is of great need in this neighborhood.

Lori Burge, General Manager of the New Orleans Food Cooperative, explained to us how NOFC started. She said, “The New Orleans Food Cooperative started with people talking about how we really didn’t have access to a grocery store. After Katrina happened, it became even more apparent how much a grocery store was needed and building one became a priority. From a food access perspective to supporting the local economy, it was evident that this had to be done. It’s been in the works for 11 years and it’s great to be at the point of so close to being open.”

Another great thing about the NOFC is that it is consumer owned, meaning that each member who joins the Co-op is also an owner of the Co-op. Lori explained, “We are entirely owned by anybody who wants to support the Co-op as a community owned business and consumer owned cooperative. That means that anybody who wants to be a part of the Co-op can become an owner and most of those folks are going to be actual consumers that come into the store to shop. Each member has one share and one vote, unlike a publicly traded company where the people with more money can own more shares and therefore have more power. Here at the Food Co-op, it doesn’t matter. If you invest at the limited income level of $25, or the $100 standard investment level, or you go above and beyond that and invest a larger sum, you don’t get more of a voice. Each member has one share and one vote. That’s what makes us different from other businesses out there is that we’re a democratic business that’s community owned. We’re not even locally owned; we’re owned by the people who shop here. That means that we have a lot more commitment to meet our community’s needs no matter what happens.”

The New Orleans Food Cooperative is already in the throes of building a successful grocery store with construction, membership drives, and product selections to name a few. As far as the actual feel and look of the Co-op, Lori said, “We will be a full-service retail and grocery store open 7 days a week. We’ll have everything, including produce, meat, packaged groceries and everything in between. Our product selection guidelines will be prioritizing locally produced products and including products that don’t have preservatives, artificial colors, and other artificial things that come in our food these days. We’ll be offering healthier options to promote health and wellness within the community as well as offering a wide range of organic products.”

“Supporting local famers and food producers is also a huge priority for us especially because we have the opportunity to create a place for people to start selling their products. We’re mission driven, so from that perspective, we want to have that guy down the street come in with his bread and test it out. We want to help people develop their product, give them feed back about it, and a place to test it, whereas larger grocery chains won’t give you the same opportunities.”

Currently, the Co-op has about 1400 members and hopes to be open in the next few months. However, the Co-op can always use new members. “People should and can invest in the Co-op and ultimately that will help us to get opened faster,” explained Lori. “More members helps us have a better financial foundation and will allow us to offer better prices on our groceries. We do have to eventually make a profit so that we can re-invest into the Co-op and improve our services and facility to make sure that we stay relevant for the community. Twenty years from now, the needs of the community might be different than what they are now and that equity helps us to be able to evolve and stay on our mission.”

As Lori said, the investment of the community is extremely important. The more people invested in the Co-op, the quicker things can get up and running. In addition, the Co-op offers many volunteer opportunities periodically. “If people are committed to this and want to see this open, we urge them to support”, Lori said. “It’s really up to us. Nobody’s gonna do this for us and if we want to have fresh food, we have to work for it. We know not everybody is in a position where they can volunteer and we totally respect and honor that. But for those who do have time and can come out and do some tabling for a few hours at a fun event in the community and just meet people, it would be much appreciated and it makes a huge difference. Those personal connections are what we’re about and it gives people an opportunity to connect with our progress and ask questions.”

So, is the New Orleans Food Cooperative going to be expanding to other neighborhoods in the future? According to Lori, it’s definitely possible, although they’re completely committed to getting this one off the ground and running. She said, “We have a mission statement that we call our Ends and it goes, ‘What is the difference that we want to create in the world for existing, for being here, for being a community owned business?’ I think that we’re at the point where we’re developing the interpretation of that. So what does it mean to be a center of community activity? What does it mean to increase access to healthy and affordable food? As we become established and we define what that means, we will know the long-term direction of where we want to go. So for now, we’re starting here.”

InthekNOwla has already put our application for membership in the mail, and you definitely should too! Support a great business where YOU and your peers are the owners. NOFC, we can’t wait to start making some groceries!

For more information about The New Orleans Food Cooperative, please visit their website and Facebook page. To invest in NOFC, please click HERE!

UPDATE: The New Orleans Food Cooperative will open on Monday, October 10! Come support this awesome grocery store!

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Last modified on Monday, 10 October 2011
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