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 in November, 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.
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.
With the strength of our community supporting us, we re-grouped and were able to secure a location in the New Orleans Healing Center, a building dedicated to physical and emotional well-being. With a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication, we finally opened our doors to the public in October of 2011.
Today, we’ve grown from that first meeting of 22 people to vital membership of over 3,800 people. We generate over 2.5 million dollars a year in sales, a lot of those sales dollars go directly to local vendors and farmers. We employ nearly 20 people from the local community and look forward to creating more jobs as we grow. We are proud of our grassroots beginnings and look forward to many years of serving our membership and the people of New Orleans.