Video: Chicago co-ops gain momentum as sustainability, locavore movements grow

By Grace Austin

Today’s food co-ops in Chicago are not your hippie commune cooperatives of the 1960s and 1970s. They are for-profit businesses that are focused on local, healthy and sustainable produce and goods. But they are keeping the democratic nature of a traditional co-op as well as the emphasis on community engagement and philanthropy work.

Within the past few years, there has been a resurgence of co-ops across the country. Currently, there are about 150 that belong to the National Co+op Grocers association and about 130 are in the start-up phase.

In Northern Illinois, there are co-ops opening in Elgin, Rockford, McHenry, and Batavia.

The popularity of co-ops is a reaction to a number of things, including the the loss of local grocers, climate change and unethical practices in the food industry, says Roux Nolan, president of the board of directors of the Rogers Park Food Co-op.

And they’re making money, according to Sugar Beet Food Co-op in Oak Park and Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Logan Square.

But they also require capital and a certain number of shareholders to buy into the cooperative, which can take years. Securing a space is another aspect of building a food co-op that can be prohibitive, especially in the city of Chicago, where the process is slow and costly.

Photo at top: Many co-ops use the same vendors that are found at farmer’s markets, such as the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. (Grace Austin\MEDILL)