In the late Summer of 2002 a few people began meeting to talk about opening a co-op grocery store in New Orleans. A handful of us met regularly in cafes to share ideas, and also to discuss research we were doing about how to start a co-op. We found a lot of useful information on the internet and from other co-ops around the country. We quickly decided to hold a general meeting and advertise this by posting flyers all over New Orleans.
The first meeting was held at 748 Camp St. on Monday, November 11, 2002. There were 22 people present at that meeting. All the people at the meeting shared the common goal of opening a cooperative grocery store in New Orleans. There were many reasons the people in attendance wanted a food co-op. These reasons included affordable groceries, support of local and regional producers, supporting our local economy, access to organic and healthy foods, and opening a grocery that was environmentally responsible. It was also very important to these people that this store was cooperatively owned, and that ownership was open to everyone.
These goals and ideas that were brought to this first public meeting were developed into a mission statement that has changed very little in the last 9 years. Providing healthy, affordable groceries and supporting local and regional producers have always been at the heart of our mission. As important as these goals are, it is the sense of COMMUNITY we wanted to foster that most inspired those present at this meeting.
Many of us present at that first meeting continued to be very involved in the development of the New Orleans Food Co-op. In March of 2003 we voted to officially call our co-op the “New Orleans Food Co-op”. It was very important to us that “New Orleans” was in our name.
Throughout 2003 and 2004 we continued to organize the community of New Orleans around our mission to open a cooperative storefront. We held many fun events to both raised money and raise awareness. These events included music festivals, art auctions, garage sales, and fashion shows. We also hosted monthly potluck dinners in our living rooms and backyards.
In the Summer of 2003 we began a monthly order buying club and order bulk and packaged food from Ozark Cooperative Warehouse in Arkansas. Over the next 2 years this buying club grew and began to include many local products such as rice, sugar, locally roasted coffee, and produce from the Crescent City Farmers Market. We also partnered with Past Time Farms, a CSA on the North Shore, to provide members of our co-op shares in a local, organic farm.
In the Spring of 2005 we officially incorporated in the State of Louisiana and drafted our by-laws. We then officially began our first membership drive. A couple of months later we held our first meeting of the membership, with about 20 people present. At that meeting we elected our first board of directors.
That Summer we were approached with an opportunity to be the anchor tenant of a project at 527 Elysian Fields. With the help of business professionals and architects we developed a business plan and proposal to open a 2,300 sq. ft. grocery store at the Elysian Fields site. We had a lot of community support and felt we were poised for success.
At the end of the Summer of 2005 Hurricane Katrina changed everything. Many of our members relocated to other parts of the country. Our plan to open on Elysian Fields was no longer a possibility. Also, New Orleans became a food desert. Many grocery stores that were open before Katrina didn’t re-open. Access to healthy, affordable groceries became more important than ever.
In 2006 and 2007 we looked at other alternatives to opening a storefront. Opening a storefront continued to be our long-range mission, but many our members wanted to find a way to address some of the more immediate needs of New Orleans. Many New Orleans neighborhoods were left without a full-service grocery store. We continued to operate out monthly buying club, and we partnered with Market Umbrella and the Second Harvest Food Bank to open a mobile market.
Opened Store Doors on: October 10, 2011!