The Grocery Story: Our Food and Co-ops in the age of Big Grocery Retail

The Grocery Story: Our Food and Co-ops in the age of Big Grocery Retail

grocery storyI walked in the C. Burr Artz Library expecting a large crowd gathered in the community room. There were a couple of tables set up, chairs lined in their rows, and an elderly crowd making
chit chat as we were waiting for Jon Steinham to begin his discussion on his new book: AGrocery Story. Once we all gathered at our seats, the lights dimmed and Steinham took his
place behind the podium.

The talk began with Steinham thanking his sponsors and the various co-ops he visited along his trip from Canada to most of the East Coast. Before starting his book tour through North America, Steinham worked in radio and television as a journalist and was a former elected director of Kootenay Co-Op from 2006 to 2016.

Jon Steinman

The important question that comes into play is, how and where do we get our food? It’s not something we really think about in our day-to-day lives, but Steinham took this question into a much deeper thought. Today, we have left our food in the hands of corporate giants such as Wal-mart, that shape price perception on food prices, our environment, health, and local economy.

Why have we left this enormous responsibility to the private sector? With only a handful of corporations running the grocery store market, collusion and fixed pricing can occur along with monopolies leaving local grocery stores little room to fend for themselves. This issue was first seen in the early 1900s, but there were efforts to combat this with legislation and people actively shopping at independent retailers. Once we hit the 1980s during the Reagan Administration, one can see the drastic and rapid increase of corporate grocery stores due to lax regulations in trade.

This is where the co-op comes into play! While looking into alternative grocery stores, Steinham not only discussed co-ops, he brought up stores such as MOMs and Whole Foods. Unfortunately, natural grocery stores are not free from the hands of corporate money; Amazon recently purchased Whole Foods.

As organic and local food started becoming more popular among our growing and environmentally aware population, you can now walk into any store and see aisles of these foods. “Local” was no longer local as they were once advertised. Grocery stores could label something as local, but actually produced 200 or more miles away. The value and meaning of local and organic was slowly diminishing.

Co-ops generally adhere to an upstanding value of good, healthy, and local food/ wellness products. When Jon Steinham was working at Kootenay, the board of directors coinedthe term, “TRUE local” foods meaning that those were produced 0-150 miles away. Not only do co-ops support local farmers, they stimulate the local economy. With the head office located in your town/city, big decisions are made by people who live in the community, not by a headquarters located out of state. This cotnributes to economic development when co-ops use local legal services, construction companies, etc. to keep business running. In my opinion, co-ops follow the public sector model in a way. Not only are they run by community members (and not by a major corporation), they act as community centers for wellness classes and workshops.

Also a fun fact, co-ops are three times more likely to give back to the community by donations and investing in the economy, Steinman said.. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Vanessa at the Common Market, which sponsored Steinman’s talk.

When I attended college at the University of Maryland, I lived in a co-op called CHUM (Co-Op Housing of the University of Maryland) so I am very familiar with how co-ops generally run.

I love the idea of grocery store co-ops, but the issue that still boggles my mind is: How can we
make this food affordable for EVERYONE to purchase? A member of the audience asked Steinham this question and he admitted that it is a tough issue to address. You are paying a higher price to support your local farmer and have that food readily organic, but that doesn’t appeal to every person. There are some co-ops that offer discounts if you are at the lower end of the income scale, but aside from that, prices are going to be a little higher. I hope that one day we can address this issue as it would be amazing if one day everyone could buy from a co-op and stop supporting these corporate giants.

Author: Vanessa Moreno, urban planning and sustainability enthusiast while always trying tofind the best place to support my local grocery store. This is her first blog post!

Farm to Table? Not So Easy! Help To Work for More Local Food in Schools and Hungry Bellies

I’ll bet you may not have known:

*That more of our farm production in Frederick County goes to commodity crops than produce and local restaurants and consumers?

*That 90% of the food consumed in our county comes from outside Frederick County?

*That Frederick County Public Schools nutritionists must plan menus weeks in advance due to complicated federal nutritional guidelines, making it really hard to react to local crop and growing conditions for local produce?

*That kids just won’t eat sweet potatoes if they aren’t used to getting them at home? (which most don’t these days!)

These are just some of the challenges Frederick County’s first Food  Council is tackling.

The group has  been meeting since spring, and is looking at:

*How to get more produce from “local” sources (which may need to be redefined more broadly than just Frederick County due to the low quantity of fruits and vegetables  grown here now);

*How to connect need for food (outside of local food banks, which have been the source until now) with food that is being thrown away

*How to connect local farmers and large buyers to make it economically attractive for Frederick County’s farmers to grow fruits and vegetables

The first big project of the Food Policy Council, under the banner of Community F.A.R.E. (Food Access Resources & Education), a local non-profit dedicated to promote local food to ensure biodiversity, farmland preservation and a connection to local food sources for local consumers.

The groups first project is a Farm to School grant from the US Department of Agriculture. It pairs Community FARE and the Frederick County Public Schools to bring local fresh food to five Title I elementary schools in Frederick—Lincoln, Waverley, Monocacy, Hillcrest and North Frederick.  It will focus on connecting farmers as potential suppliers; aligning nutritious habits in already existing curriculum; and encouraging school gardens. “Kids don’t understand where our food is coming from; when they grow it, they will eat it,” said Alysia Feurer, the grant manager..

Community FARE is looking for parents and local citizens to serve on an advisory group for the grant. If you are interested, contact Alysia here.

There are other focus groups of the Food Council that have met a few times to discuss various polkcy issues, and are looking for more members and leaders: Agricultural EconomicsLocal Food Access and Food Education.


For more info click here.



The Elusive and Intriguing Paw-Paw

I’m willing to bet not many of you have tried a show-stopping fruit that grows practically right under your nose here in Maryland—if only you know the inside scoop on where and when to find it.
The Paw Paw tree produces luscious, mango-like fruit every fall, and Michael Judd has the inside scoop—he has been on a mission to make sure people become re-acquainted with the Paw Paw.
 The tree —known as the Indian banana, and regionally as the Paw Paw Tunnel in Cumberland, it grows in the mid-Atlantic and rust belt, as far north as Michigan, as far west as eastern Kansas and south to Alabama and northeastern Texas. It is found wild locally especially near river and stream near the Monocacy and Potomac Rivers—
the C & O Canal is a good place to find it.
It’s an amazing and unknown fruit, for a couple of reasons, Michael says. “We culturally have stopped going into the woods,” he says. A century ago, it was a household name and was an important part of local fall diets. But as commercial food production and industrial groceries prevailed, it lost its popularity due to its short fruiting time—depending on the cultivar, September ‘til November, and its short shelf life (once ripe, it must be eaten within a few days).

Many folks have been hearing about the Paw Paw due to a Kickstarter campaign planned to allow Michael to self-publish his book, For the Love of Paw Paws: A Mini Manual for Growing and Caring for Paw Paws-From Seed to Table. He has been working on it for months at writer’s retreats and in his spare time. “I’m self publishing because it gives me the freedom to put in the things I think are important,” he said, and it also builds community around the project; certain levels of support can gain you a food and garden tour, private tasting, or a copy of the book.
Stay tuned for more info on the book, which he hopes could be published by next year, as well as the September 22, 2018 Paw Paw Festival (the third one at the Judd homestead, where visitors hear about pawpaws, permaculture, edible landscaping and even get to tour the family’’s straw bale home). Get your tickets HERE.
Michael is also an ardent permaculturist who designs landscapes, gardens and edible forests for clients. A few other events he has coming up:
  • Fruit Tree Grafting and Care Workshop – Almost all the fruits and nuts we eat these days come from grafted trees. Join us in learning the magic of grafting and basic fruit tree care. During the workshop you will create your own grafted apple tree through hands-on grafting and take your new union home. Also we will cover re-grafting older trees, and grafting tricks that allow grafting ornamental and wild trees to bear tasty fruits. We shall also inadvertently talk about fruit trees in the food forest model. Pruning and general tree health care covered. Sunday March 25th 1-3 pm.
  • Wild About Mushrooms Workshop – Grow your own mushrooms! It is easier to grow mushrooms at home than you think. You can grow delicious and nutritious culinary and medicinal mushrooms in your own garden or home (in apartments, on rooftops and patios, too!) In the workshop we will cover how to inoculate stumps, logs, wood chips, and burlap sacks while improving your garden ecology. In this interactive class you will learn the types of outdoor mushrooms that we can easily grow in our area, the conditions required and the tools you will need. The class will also cover the basics of mushroom science, how fungi functions in nature and how to work with fungi to help restore our local ecologies. The best part is the hands on experience of inoculating a mushroom log that you get to take home! An added bonus this year will be seeing the Judd’s circular straw bale home. Frederick, MD. April 8th 1-3:30pm.
  • Building a Herb Spiral – What do you get when you cross conversations of permaculture, herbs, and hands-on building? An herb spiral: the ultimate raised bed for herbs. Herb spirals are not only beautiful, but practical in design. By using the spiral shape in the garden, you can save time when planting, watering and collecting your favorite herbs. The spiral structure also promotes efficient use of space by staging different microclimates for various herbs to co-exist in. We will be building an herb spiral during the workshop! Sunday May 6th 1-3:30 pm.
** Note all workshops are signed up via the Common Market by calling (301) 663-3416 or registering online via their site