"We want to build something for the community. Food, close to home."
Food. Close to Home.
"Amazing community. We're on to something here."
John RichmondJohn Richmond
It all started with an idea. A dream. Of being able to co-operatively own and operate a grocery store where we could have local food, close to home.
How does anything like a food co-op get started?
With the idea and a group of people who are willing to dedicate themselves to seeing it happen. Back in 2006 Ayal Dinner was working at Alternative Grounds on Roncesvalles. Through his work there and his children he became friends with Graeme Hussey, the then-General Manager of Karma Co-op. They shared common concerns about food justice issues and both were frustrated with the current food system. Graeme was also friends with John Richmond who was actively involved with Karma and other local Co-ops. Graeme wanted to take what he had learned working in food retail and take on the local food system in a more direct way. One night in the early summer Ayal and Graeme were on his porch, looking towards the Sorauren Park at the hundreds of people gathered with their kids, either for soccer or just hanging out in the park. Now THIS would be a great place to have a community market! And that would be the launch pad for the West End Food Co-op.
And so, they took this idea and ran with it, applying to the Greenbelt Farmers’ Market Network for grant funding to start the market. Quickly they built support in the community, forming a steering committee, applying and receiving grants, hiring Sally Miller as a consultant through ONCo-op. All who gathered were linked with the acknowledgement that they were part of a bigger movement, something that would connect people, connect companies, educate people. The impact would be huge. They wanted to do something different and they knew they were on their way. The idea of a multi-stake holder Co-op followed the example of the Growing Food Circle Co-op in BC. They too had entertained the various possibilities of being a worker co-op, a buyer co-op, a producer co-op, and found the multi-stake holder model relied on a balance within these groups allowing and aligned with their desires for change in the food system. The original steering committee was comprised of (Ayal Dinner, Sally Miller, John Richmond, among others) and they met monthly in kitchens, living rooms and backyards, bonding over discussions that would form the original structure of the Co-op. What propels a group like this to spend countless hours meeting, discussing, fundraising? They all were tied in for their own reasons. Some felt a strong need for social justice and saw that they could make a great impact by making food more accessible. Some wanted to create a space for community involvement where the people buying food had some control over what they were eating. Some saw food accessibility as a key element to empower themselves and others. Some wanted to make a living by working for something you love, that you pour your heart into.
While the farmers’ market continued to grow, fundraising campaigns were initiated including the first Bond Campaign in 2009 that allowed members to buy bonds to support the development of the Co-op. A second series of bonds were sold in 2010, and a third in 2012. These along with grants allowed the Co-op to hire Lynn Bishop as a Project Coordinator and the West End Food Co-op Store opened it’s doors on October 6th, 2012.
And the rest, as they say, is history!