CEDAR FALLS — The Cedar Falls Food Co-op is in its third and final stage of development after four years in the official planning process.
The organization is looking at potential locations near downtown Cedar Falls with approximately 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. The store is estimated to open by fall of 2019 or spring of 2020.
The community-owned co-op is one of more than 100 start-up food co-ops in the United States. According to the press release, “on average, food co-ops in the U.S. buy from 106 local producers like beekeepers, coffee makers, farmers, brewers, bakers, ranchers, and more.” When it opens, it will serve as a one-stop shop for all healthy, organic, sustainable and local food needs.
“I’m excited to go from start-up mode to actually operational mode,” said Tom Wickersham, president of the co-op. “It will be really exciting to have a store that we can all benefit from.”
The idea to open a food co-op came about after the closing of Root’s Market in 2012, an independently owned organic and health food grocery store that was located on South Main Street.
“We have a system where communities are kind of relying on the whims of either corporations that don’t live in the communities, or the stamina of independent business owners,” Wickersham said. “This is a solution that says, ‘what if we all work together and pool our money together and open up a store that we want, that we will continue to have a say and a stake in, and is not going to just up and leave because some corporate board decides that they want to go.’”
They held an event and discussed the idea of opening a co-op, and significant interest from the public “got the ball rolling,” according to Wickersham.
“Our real emphasis is going to be keeping those dollars invested locally,” Wickersham explained. “The other side of that equation is the elimination of a lot of the bad food, food that is highly processed and (has) lots of sugars, things like that. It will make the shopping experience easy for the shopper.”
The addition of a food co-op to the community would enrich “our economic health, our soil, water and air quality health, because there is less food miles with each thing that is on the shelf, (and) our physical health with the stuff that are putting in our bodies,” Wickersham said. “There is a much better solution out there and it has been tested and tried and true for years.”
Co-op shoppers will be able to know where their food is coming from, with up-front information about food sourcing available to them.
“My husband and I became Cedar Falls Food Co-op members because we like to support local farmers, businesses and responsibly sourced goods,” said Margaret Haywood of Cedar Falls. “The co-op is community-focused, and sustainability is part of its mission.”
Members of the community and surrounding communities have the opportunity to buy shares of the co-op by becoming members for a one-time payment of $200. Membership comes with numerous benefits, within and outside of the co-op.
Once the co-op opens, members will receive price breaks and discounts within the co-op, as well as be able to vote on who is serving on the board and influence the future of the business. In addition to tin-store discounts, more than 70 local businesses, such as restaurants, coffee shops and chiropractic services, are offering discounts for co-op members. Some of these include Cup of Joe coffee shop in Cedar Falls, SingleSpeed Brewing Co. and Hansen’s Dairy.
“The business partner program is one of many ways that the community has demonstrated its interest in and support for the Cedar Falls Food Co-op,” Wickersham said.
Wickersham believes one of the co-op’s main objectives is to bring the community together through food.
“It’s by the community, for the community. The community is rallying around to say we want to take control of our own future and invest in businesses that are invested in our own community.”
There are already monthly potlucks, ice cream socials and other social events being hosted for members.
“People are really making new connections and building alliances and meeting new people and learning things already before we have a store. It’s pretty exciting,” Wickersham said.
“I joined the Cedar Falls Food Co-op in 2015 and have loved meeting new friends with similar goals of building healthy lifestyles and healthier community overall,” said Amy Garretson, formerly of Waterloo. “I am excited for downtown Cedar Falls residents to have a neighborhood option for groceries and the Cedar Valley as a whole to have a store that truly comes from a grass root effort.”
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