From WILL - The Public Square -

Meagan Luhrs on the Expansion of the Common Ground Food Co-Op

My name is Meagan Luhrs, and I'm the Outreach Coordinator for the Common Ground Food Co-op.

Where does our food come from? Good question. Many of us have become aware of concepts such as food miles (the distance food travels to become dinner) and are concerned by recent product recalls and ongoing sustainability issues, so knowing more about food and its sources is becoming a priority. We're reading labels. We're frequenting our farmers markets. We're finding ways to grow some of our own food. And we're joining food cooperatives.

Food cooperatives, like other cooperatives, operate on seven principles: voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, members' economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community.

A food cooperative differs from a traditional grocery store in many ways, but one of the most important is that a co-op is member-owned - every member-owner holds equity in the store and has a say in its operations. This isn't a new idea - food co-ops go back to 1844, when 28 people in Rochdale, England formed the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. The co-op retail experience is different, too - because educating, training, and informing the membership is so important, member-owners often find themselves receiving information they would not have in a traditional grocery store. Co-ops work to enable consumers to make conscious choices.

Champaign-Urbana has had its own food co-op since 1974. Created by the Illinois Disciples Foundation, the original intent of the co-op was to provide food to low-income residents living in the community immediately surrounding the co-op's location. All work was handled entirely by volunteers. As time went on, the co-op increased its emphasis on natural foods, due to heightened awareness of the need for food raised without unhealthy chemicals and a changing membership. A physical store was established on the first floor of the IDF building in 1984, with regular hours and inventory, and it has remained there ever since.

Until now. In Summer 2008, Common Ground Food Co-op will move from the basement of the IDF and head to a larger space in the eastern portion of Urbana's Lincoln Square Mall. With this relocation comes an expansion, and with the expansion come some changes: while the co-op will continue to support as many local and organic produce and other food suppliers as possible and will continue to focus on educating its member-owners about the food they're purchasing, the scope within the community will become much broader. How? Common Ground has always had open membership, but this will be the first time the co-op will be open for shopping to non-members and member-owners alike - after all, everyone eats. However, community ownership will always be the linchpin holding Common Ground together - the Board of Directors is democratically elected by member-owners, and the Board sets the policies and direction for the co-op's present and future. Member-owners are crucial.

Common Ground Food Co-op is currently located at 610 E. Springfield Avenue in Champaign, in the basement of the Illinois Disciples Foundation building. For more information about the co-op, its relocation/expansion, and becoming a member owner, please call 217-352-3347 or visit the website at www.commonground.coop . That's 217- 352-3347 or visit the website at www.commonground.coop.

It's a really great way to get to know your food.