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Grocery co-ops could be a life-changer for St. Pete residents

Jaymi Butler



Grocery co-op
More than 134,000 Pinellas County residents are food insecure, according to data from Feeding Tampa Bay.

The creation of a grocery co-op has long been a topic of conversation among city leadership, and they’re taking steps to keep the process moving forward. 

At a city council meeting Thursday, Erica Hardison, a founding member of the startup One Community Grocery Co-op, made a presentation about why food co-ops are so important and shared her vision for her co-op, which would be located in South St. Pete.

“Food is a major part of health,” said Hardison, who also serves on the city’s newly formed Food Policy Council. “When we talk about identifying health problems and we see people who have no access to healthy food, we should begin there.”

Erica Hardison

Erica Hardison

More than 134,000 Pinellas County residents are food insecure, according to data from Feeding Tampa Bay. Food deserts, which are marked by low income and a lack of access to healthy and affordable food, exacerbate issues related to food insecurity. There are several food deserts across the county, including a new one in north St. Pete.

“Food insecurity is a huge problem and it’s not just in South St. Pete anymore,” Hardison said. “This is an opportunity for the city to help all our citizens before it spreads even further.”

The One Community Grocery Co-op began forming in 2017 and operates on a membership model. People who join become, in essence, owners of the co-op and can vote on the general direction of the store, and also share in profits that aren’t being reinvested once it becomes financially stable. The co-op is still seeking members and aims to reach 300 in order to move forward toward opening its doors. 

Hardison envisions the co-op existing alongside other social services such as health centers and business development offices. The co-op would also offer health education classes, and employees would enjoy benefits such as health insurance. The possibilities, she said, are limitless.

“What we’re asking is to invest in the community and food security that will bring about economic change and health change,” Hardison told council members. “We want to help build a vibrant city that is healthy, strong and ready to move forward.”

Council chair Ed Montanari said the city will begin exploring the process of how it can provide financial support. There was also discussion about the St. Pete Greenhouse getting involved to provide classes and consulting related to building a co-op. 

Council member Gina Driscoll said she’s advocated for funding for grocery co-ops for the past three budget cycles and doesn’t plan to stop until it happens.

“I’m going to keep trying, but I hope this conversation today will move us closer to justifying having a specific allocation toget grocery co-ops rolling a little faster,” she said. “It’s very clear we need to have more resources to help make these things happen.”

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  1. Avatar

    Sylvia Rusche

    September 25, 2020at4:03 pm

    It’s grand undertaking whose time has come. I’m excited to be a part of it.

  2. Avatar

    Judith Turner

    October 3, 2020at10:27 pm

    A big shout out for Gina Driscoll for keeping the conversation going! 
    The article states. “There are several food deserts across the county, including a new one in north St. Pete.”
    The “New” food desert in North St Petersburg is not “New” we collaborate with USDA often. I reached out and verified, last month, with Alana Rhone, Agricultural Economist and she wrote, that while the webpage, that is used to identify this “New” food desert has been updated with minor changes, the mapping tool and data have not been updated since 2015. The food desert that is being touted as new has in fact been in existence since pre-2015. The food atlas will be updated for the first time in five years, later this year. 
    Alana Rhone
    Agricultural Economist
    Economic Research Service
    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    355 E Street, SW
    Washington, DC 20024-3221
    Phone: (202)694-5622

    I believe it is important to understand, these are not new problems but longstanding forgotten ones that are long overdue for a solution.
    The Food Coop Initiative (an organization that specializes in grocery co-op development) advises that, for successful development, new food co-ops incorporate as for-profit organizations. The One Community Grocery Co-op is incorporated as a “non-profit”.
    Non-profits by-law prohibit any ownership and sharing in profits with members,  mentioned in the article.  and while members may have the right to vote by law the board does not have to follow member votes in the way they would be required to do if registered as a for-profit with true shareholders.

    A vote of confidence and thanks to Council Member Ed Montanari for the discussion of involving St Pete Greenhouse in teaching classes and offering to consult on cooperatives. Pre -COVID we at Florida Cooperative Empowered Economic Development have offered free classes and referrals at the Green House on several topics on about cooperatives since 2017 and would welcome that support for the great work done at St Pete Greenhouse. 

    Overall we are glad to see the conversation of cooperatives as a solution continuing. 

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