Cedar Falls Food Co-op Receiving Attention

Co-opting the Future

Residents have been clamoring for a grocery store in or near downtown Cedar Falls since Deel’s closed 15 years ago.

A group of dedicated volunteers is hoping the Cedar Falls Food Co-op will fill that void in the not-too-distant future.

“The end result will be a full-service, community-owned grocery store that focuses on local and organic goods,” said Melanie Drake, outreach coordinator for the co-op. “We’re looking at a 10,000- to 14,000-square-foot store with competitive prices. It will be a one-stop shop model.”

Interest in the co-op, which people can buy into, has been growing since an informational meeting was held in September 2012, right around the time Roots Market closed its doors.

“We had more than 75 people at that meeting,” Drake said. “There was definite interest.”

Since then, the group established a steering committee, which would become the official co-op board in October 2014, and started recruiting member-owners. They are currently more than half way to their goal of 1,000.

Member-owners buy in for a one-time investment of $200, which can be paid in full or in installments. That investment gives the member-owner a voice in how the co-op is run and later, once the store is open, they will get a percentage of the profits back as a dividend. Member-owners also can take advantage of discounts from the co-op’s more than 40 business partners, which are listed on the group’s website, cedarfallsfood.coop.

“But anyone can shop there,” Drake said. “You will not have to be a member.”

Drake said the co-op will be much more than a grocery store.

“It will be a place to gather,” she said. “Ideally, we will have community space to host classes on co-op principles, health and wellness, yoga classes, cooking classes. We would even like to have local musicians come in.”

Once the 1,000 membership mark is within reach, a capital campaign will begin.

“That will allow us to go to lending agencies, apply for grants, seek member loans,” Drake said.

While a site has not been finalized, the group is doing a lot of research, including a market study conducted last year that concludes the Cedar Falls Food Co-op would be viable and the downtown area would be the best location.

“We are hoping by 2018 we will have a store,” Drake said.

Drake said the average time from incorporation to opening a store is up to six years. “We are now into our fourth year.”

Adding new members is a priority for Sarah Foster, a volunteer on the group’s membership committee. Foster has been a member-owner since 2015.

“When I’m visiting other communities, I love shopping at their co-ops,” she said. “So I thought it is time to put our money where our mouth is. I feel like I’m investing in our community.”

With being halfway to its membership goal, Foster’s committee is encouraging current members to reach out to friends, neighbors and co-workers.

“If everyone gets one person to join, we will meet our goal,” she said. Members also are holding house parties to educate friends about the co-op, and business partners are hosting events.

“We’ve seen potlucks, book clubs,” Foster said. “We are seeing great results.

“I think the beautiful thing about it is it will be a community hub and we will be putting more revenue back into the community, keeping that revenue and that income source in the area.”

“This will be a new version of a co-op,” she said. “This is not my parents’ co-op.”

HOLLY HUDSON [email protected] 

Mar 27, 2017 

Photo: Cadets from the Cedar Falls Food Co-op at Up & Coming Food Co-op Conference in Milwaukee WI, March 10-11, 2017.

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