Some of the city’s leading political figures were on hand Thursday to celebrate the grand opening of a cooperative grocery store devoted to foods that are healthy, locally produced and sustainable.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, along with City Council members Mary Pat Clarke, D-District 14, and Carl Stokes, D-District 12, were present for the ribbon-cutting at the Baltimore Food Co-op at 28th and Sisson streets, right at the border between the Remington and Hampden neighborhoods.
“This is a big step forward for improving food access in the city,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Too many people live in food deserts,” and the new store is a step to correcting that problem, she said.
Co-op President Rachel Johnson said the attention from elected leaders is welcome, and is a sign of the growing realization of the importance of food issues to the general public.
She specifically cited Clarke, who in addition to appearing at the ceremony, is also a founding member of the co-op. Clarke joined with about 600 other Baltimore residents, she said, as charter members that provided financing and other support for the start-up.
The co-op managers plan a heavy emphasis on organic foods, she said, with equal importance given to locally produced farm products.
Agreements are in place with a number of local producers who will retail their products at the site, Johnson said. Among them are Atwater’s bakery, Trickling Springs Creamery and Baugher’s farm produce.
Furthermore, the store will also sell national brand organic products and organic convenience foods that are not widely available at conventional grocery outlets, Johnson said.
Co-op board member John Segal said the store has been conceived as a “hybrid” that will combine the features of a traditional grocery store with the emphasis on healthy products seen in specialty natural foods outlets, along with the freshness and local connection of a farmer’s market.
“It’s sort of a one-stop shopping alternative to people who otherwise might be doing their shopping at a number of different places—Giant, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and the local farmer’s market,” Segal said.
“One of the most important differences, of course, is the cooperative nature” of the enterprise, he said. “It’s not for profit, and as a member you have a vote in how the co-op is managed."
But the store is a regular retail outlet, he emphasized, that welcomes non-members to shop there. It differs from many food co-ops, Segal said, in that it is open to the public full time, and is run by a professional staff.
Manager of the store is Cheryl Wade, who is already known to some shoppers as the manager of the old Mill Valley Market, which operated on the same site for a number of years.
As the store develops, Segal said, there will be a wider range of products that will give it more of the look of a conventional grocery store. For example, in the future the co-op plans to stock cleaning and paper products that meet the organization's standards for healthfulness and sustainability.
Membership in the co-op, which begins with a $100 initiation fee, entitles members to a special discount on all purchases, and other benefits, such as “members-only” specials, he said.
Baltimore Food Co-Op is located at 2800 Sisson St. and is open six days a week (every day except Monday) between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.