Local Purveyors on the Top of the List for The Sugar Beet Co-op Products

April 7, 2014 at 8:37 am

Editor’s Note: When you put Beet in your name, you get on our radar soon. We’ve been happily following the emergence and growth of Sugar Beet Co-op since they came on the Eat Local scene a few years ago. As you may know, the reality of their operation quickened recently, with the annoucement that they have a space and a lease. Their store should be around soon, and they plan on ensuring they’ll be carrying the good stuff.  More, the Sugar Beet is just one of several food co-ops launching (or launched!) in the Chicago area helping us eat better.  We’ve asked Judy Klem, who’s a friend of Beets, Sugar and Local, to provide a little update on things.

The Sugar Beet Co-op  is over two years into its planning—mere adolescence in the life of a community-owned food cooperative—but recently put its plans on the fast track with the signing of a lease for space in Oak Park. The space, located at 812 W Madison St, is the sole retail space on the ground level of a renovated, LEED-certified building that has 52 affordable housing units on the upper four floors. Also on fast track are the Co-op’s membership campaign and a capital campaign to fund the build-out of the store, with an anticipated opening in early 2015.

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With a projected opening less than 12 months away, the Co-op will soon undertake a search for a General Manager who will be tasked with staffing, sourcing products, and stocking the shelves when the store opens. The goal is to have a GM in place up to six months before opening. It’s likely that the GM will come from the broader cooperative movement and could be unfamiliar with the Midwest farmers and producers the Co-op hopes to support.
The Sugar Beet enlisted Robin Schirmer, an early Co-op supporter—and no stranger to The Local Beet—to use her knowledge of the local food scene in Chicago and the Midwest to compile a list of local farms, meat and dairy producers, artisan food crafters, and small-scale distributors to provide a jumpstart to our GM when s/he comes on board.

Robin’s entrée into the local foods arena began in 2007 with the coordination for three seasons of the Winter Farmers Markets that popped up from November through March on a one-time basis in area churches. (That function is now served by Faith In Place.) She more recently worked for five seasons with Tomato Mountain Farm, coordinating the farm’s Chicago area farmers market presence and its large, home-delivery CSA. She’s feeding her passion for local foods since leaving that position by volunteering in various capacities with the Sugar Beet Co-op and by working with 80+ CSA farmers that serve the Chicago area to help to form a CSA coalition. Stay tuned for more about that at a later date.

The Co-op’s Product Sourcing Guidelines indicate a preference for foods that are locally produced, organic and/or sustainably produced, GMO-free, as whole as possible, etc., but the guidelines—prepared by the initial organizers of the Co-op—are flexible and subject to the needs and desires of the membership.

For now, Robin is compiling a list of the many food items that can be purchased from local purveyors in a wide variety of categories from Alcoholic Beverages to Fruits to Refrigerated Grocery items—and everything in between. Not all of the sources she’s uncovered will be willing or able to sell to a retail establishment, but it’s hoped that relationships with key sources will make for a steady supply of goods when the store opens. And with the critical mass of new cooperative stores in formation* added to the Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Logan Square and the South Suburban Food Co-op in Park Forest, there may be opportunities for collaboration among cooperatives in coming years.

If you are a farmer, producer, or other food purveyor or distributor who sells to retail stores and you want to make sure you are listed on this ongoing sourcing list, please email Robin at robininwinter@aol.com, or use the comments below.
*Prairie Food Co-op, Lombard; Chicago Cooperative, North Side of Chicago; Rogers Park Co-op, North Side of Chicago; Shared Harvest, Elgin; and Green Tomato, Batavia.