Grasping the importance of a new community grocery store
(Published in The Atlantic Co-operator, March/April 2013, Vol. 79, No. 2)
After winning start-up funding in a national competition, a Halifax co-operative is now working to open a community grocery store in the city’s north end.
The Community Carrot Co-operative in Halifax was awarded $115,000 from the Aviva Community Fund in January. Norman Greenberg, chair of the co-operative’s board, said he first recognized the need for a grocery store in the community’s north end while working there as a psychologist with the Capital District Health Authority.
“The notion of the grocery store started almost four and a half years ago,” he said. “It was obvious to me that the whole community was in need of better food and that food was having an effect on everybody’s life.”
There hasn’t been a grocery store in the neighbourhood for close to 30 years, Greenberg said. A round trip to the nearest grocery store can cost $20 in cab fare, which takes away from money for food.
Halifax’s north end has a 54 per cent unemployment rate and an annual income just under half the Halifax average, according to the group’s Aviva application. Of the 1,900 families living in the neighbourhood, the group says 250 currently use the local food bank weekly.
“The demographic in the area is changing,” Greenberg said. “There’s much more of a working and middle class neighbourhood now with many different kinds of people moving in. For the people that have limited resources, and for whom this store was envisioned to help, I’m hoping that there’s going to be an educational process where people have a better understanding that food is really important.”
The social mission of the co-operative is to educate people about how food should be used. Because the goal from the start has been helping people, Greenberg said organizing as a co-operative was a natural choice.
“It seemed simple to me that it would be a better place, more people would go there, if they felt some ownership in the store,” he said. “I’ve been to co-op conferences and many community economic development events, and I’m familiar with with the co-op model, so it just seemed apparent to me as a way to try to make this thing successful.”
Greenberg met with friends from the North End Health Care Centre and got advice from Co-op Atlantic on how best to form the co-operative.
“As Co-op Atlantic said, it’s not going to happen unless the community drive is in it and the wonderful thing is that the community seems to be driving it,” he said.
As interest grew, a steering committee of about 15 people was formed, with another 15 to 20 volunteers helping along the way. When the group was ready to begin fundraising, they formed the Maritime Harvest Market Co-operative in the spring of last year and began submitting grant proposals and funding applications.
“We heard about the Aviva fund,” Greenberg said, and they entered the competition with a proposal of $115,000 in start-up fudning.
Aviva Insurance founded the Aviva Community Fund in 2009. Each year, it awards $1 million to fund ideas from community-based groups across Canada. At least one grand prize winner is chosen in each of three categories of small, medium, and large proposals.
This year’s competition attracted ideas from over 1,500 groups. Through three rounds of public online voting, 98 ideas make it to the semi-finals where another round of voting reduces the total to 30 finalists. A panel of judges then decides which of the remaining idea will receive funding, based on impact, likelihood of success, longevity and sustainability, originality and submission quality.
“In the second round of voting, we went from 58th place to 15th place,” Greenberg said. “So we went into the third round with a lot of drumroll and we were in the top spot throughout most of the third round.”
On January 29, the judges chose the Community Carrot Co-operative as a grand prize winner. Greenberg says the group is now working hard to turn its ideas into a reality.
“The priority now is to find a space for it,” he said.
The co-operative is also making arrangements with suppliers and intends to work wit
h local suppliers first.
“We have lots of decisions to make about what kind of product to supply, but the notion will be to supply Nova Scotia products as much as possible,” Greenberg said.
Now that more people know about the plan to build a community grocery store in the no
rth end, the group is hoping more people will get involved.
“This has been an effort of large groups of people in the community that have come to the table,” Greenberg said. “We need a lot of help to do this. We need more people to come to help us figure this out, and we welcome all of that.”