There was a time not that long ago when food co-op startup groups could be counted on one hand. They were truly anomalies. There was a huge gap in food co-op development between 1988 when Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, N.C., opened and 2003 when Eastside Food Co-op in Minneapolis launched. Food co-op leaders realized the imperative to create systems and organizations to support the growth of new food co-ops.

Then Just Food in Northfield, Minn., opened in 2004, after only two years of organizing, and the Third Wave of food co-op development was well underway. In the intervening decade, the Food Co-op Initiative was founded, members of CDS CC created the 4 Cornerstones in 3 Stages development model, and the NCGADevelopment Co-op formed. A flood of information has been shared and countless support programs started. Since then, over 65 new food co-ops are serving their communities, and over a hundred communities nationwide are organizing to open more of them.

As Amy Fields at Eastside Food Co-op noted, however, it’s not just the fact that there are new food co-ops in our sector to celebrate. It is the renewed commitment to cooperative development and collaboration that has and will create more opportunity for communities and co-ops. We still have a long, long way to go before the support systems and resources can keep up with the demand for new food co-ops, but Leslie Watson said it best when she said “Co-op experience really helps beget more co-ops.” So be it.

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