New Orleans Food Co-op: New Orleans, La.
Year incorporated:2005 as nonprofit, 2009 as for-profit
Year opening: 2011
Number of members: 663
Member equity: $100 or $25 limited-income share
Start-up project budget: $1.6 million
Member loans: Launching campaign now
Other funding: $1 million from federal government for Hurricane Katrina recovery
Retail square feet: 4,000
Opening: February 2011
Years before Hurricane Katrina hit, the New Orleans Food Co-op start-up group began organizing. Of course, a lot has changed since the group’s beginning—Katrina wreaked havoc on nearly everyone’s plans—and a lot of businesses and organizations were suddenly faced with a crisis. The New Orleans Food Co-op effort certainly experienced a setback as other things took priority in people’s lives, but a number of people involved kept the faith and continued to keep the idea alive.
Now the New Orleans Food Co-op is on a roll and is planning on opening its store—guess when—right before Mardi Gras next year. It’s important to the co-op group to be open for the city-wide celebration focused on good times and community.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina lent greater urgency to the idea of building a neighborhood grocery through cooperation. Now their plans include being the anchor tenant in a center focused on green retail, restaurants, alternative healing and the arts, at the intersection of the Marigny, St. Roch and Bywater neighborhoods in the city. It was an area flooded by the hurricane, and what current board chairman Mac Lemann described as a “food desert” where there are only convenience stores with inflated prices and poor quality food for groceries.
“Folks want to have more control over their food sources,” Lemann said about the impetus for the co-op. “We want to see healthy, fairly-priced groceries that celebrate the culture of New Orleans and its diverse community,” he added. In addition to groceries and fresh foods, the co-op’s deli will be a big part of offering healthy prepared foods (with a seating area) to a community in desperate need of options.
They’ve been working closely with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network and a local farmers’ market to build their connections to local producers and spread the word about the food co-op’s plans. They have been gaining a lot of momentum in the last year, and now typically sign up 10 new members a week. The co-op is also currently launching a member loan campaign to help fund the start-up.
In addition to their outreach, the co-op’s board has been working with Food Co-op 500 as well as CDS Consulting Co-op, to focus on better organizing the start-up project, developing board policies, and hiring a general manager. “These CDS connections help us by getting us connected to the other co-ops. Sometimes it’s hard for us to understand what we even need. This will help us get on track for success,” Lemann said.
A number of existing co-ops have also been very helpful, Lemann said. For two years running the River Valley Market has held a Mardi Gras-themed fundraiser for the New Orleans co-op.
Lemann noted that the co-op’s founding group has been enormously committed. “Everyone’s got day jobs,” he said, in addition to their work launching a new co-op. “What’s kept everyone going is that we are all excited for the day when we can actually walk into a grocery store where so many people played a role to build something for ourselves. It’s what we want, to invest our time and money to create something that works for the community.”