There is an ongoing drumbeat of issues loosely related to food. Terms such as food desert, food insecurity and food activism are frequently heard. Cooperation, a term not heard as often, may be the solution.
There is a new type of food store and part eatery on Cranston Street in Providence that was founded on cooperation. It is part of its name – Urban Greens Co-op Market. Open since late June, it is a unique kind of food retailer. Urban Greens is owned by the people who shop there. More than 1,400 member-owners make up a board of directors who share in the profits and have a say in the store’s operation.
This concept is hardly new. It goes back to Colonial times. Consumer co-ops were begun to bring equitable prices to rural areas, as well as to provide an alternative to company stores in cities. Echoes of that era are heard today in the aisles of Urban Greens.
Jesse Cardarelli, a manager-owner, is a longtime grocer, having spent nearly 30 years at Eastside Marketplace during its fondly remembered local ownership days.
“We are in a unique position, right between the neighborhood market and Whole Foods,” he said, while arranging fresh produce for his customers who were flocking in on opening day. He and board chairman Philip Trevett talked about the philosophy of Urban Greens.
“We are the only food co-op in Providence and Rhode Island and we promote local foods,” said Trevett, who has worked tirelessly over the last six years to find enough “owners” to build the store near Classical High School, on land on which a commercial laundry building stood for decades. “We carry the basics – baby food, staple goods – and our prices have little or no markup.”
He continued, “We have a supermarket appearance as opposed to a bodega. We have a salad bar and a hot bar for grab-and-go meals. … We will have meeting space and nutrition classes given by the [Rhode Island Community] Food Bank, [which] has already committed to teaching here.”
Urban Greens is about the same size as a conventional supermarket and is identical except for the lack of a butcher counter and deli, both of which, it is hoped, will be added soon. The store is brightly lit with professionally printed shelf tags and signage. Cardarelli credited Associated Grocers, a regional broadline food distributor, with assistance in the retail store’s appearance. He pointed out that Urban Greens is serviced by many of the same wholesalers who stock the shelves of the state’s conventional markets, such as Chex Finer Foods, United Natural Foods and Tourtellot & Co., a distribution hub for Four Town Farm and Confreda Greenhouses & Farms. Local purveyors such as Backyard Food Co. have stepped up as well.
When asked, Cardarelli acknowledged that his tenure at Eastside and relationships he built within the industry opened doors to some suppliers to support the fledgling operation with short-term credit.
While shopping for Northwest cherries, a customer from the neighborhood looked Cardarelli over and said, “Where do I know you from?” When Cardarelli told her he had been with the market on the East Side, she exclaimed, “Oh, I shopped there for years!” It was instructive to note the distance that shopper had had to travel to shop for groceries, which was and continues to be a roadblock to true sustained urban growth – the lack of neighborhood grocery stores in Providence.
Fortunately, there are people who work in the city and the state who want to feed the community. If there are people whose innate good nature overrides differences, real or perceived, there is hope we can get along, at least at mealtime.
Bruce Newbury’s “Dining Out” radio talk show is heard Saturdays at 11 a.m. on 1540 AM WADK, on radio throughout New England, through various mobile applications and his podcast. Email Bruce at [email protected]
- GMS leaders reaffirm commitment to enhancing economic cooperation
- SCE&G, Santee Cooper abandon nuclear power project
- NC elections board member who launched the 9th District probe won’t serve again
- NC elections board member who sparked the 9th District probe won’t serve again
- OFAC, BIS Double Up Flow Serve: What the Flowserve Settlement Says About Corporate Compliance Programs
- Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Provides Guidance on Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule
- Food company chairman gets 2 years in prison in fraud case
- Energy & Environmental Law Update - August 11, 2014
- Energy and Environmental Law Update - February 18, 2014
- Energy & Environmental Law Update - Week of November 25, 2013