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5 Ways to Go Green with the Nashville Food Co-op

April is Earth Month, a time to focus on going green and making more sustainable choices that are better for us and the planet.  With the effects of global warming becoming clearer each day, it’s important for each of us to implement ecofriendly habits. Even small changes can make a big impact over time.

Supporting food cooperatives is a great place to start, and our mission at the Nashville Food Co-op is to one day provide local, seasonal, and consciously sourced food and products to the community. Food co-ops have a much smaller environmental impact than traditional grocery stores. From partnering with local farmers and producing less carbon emissions to better recycling practices and food waste initiatives, food co-ops have always kept a focus on sustainability.

See also: Why Nashville Needs a Food Co-op

Photo Credit: https://cooperativesforabetterworld.coop/why-shop-at-a-food-co-op/

We’re still in the early stages of growing the membership needed to open Nashville’s first food co-op, but there are still plenty of ways to go green in the meantime:

1. Decrease Food Waste

Nearly 40% of all food grown in the United States is thrown away, and most of that occurs on the consumer end, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.  That means regular households are throwing away more food than growers, grocery stores, and even restaurants. When you break down the numbers, that’s about a pound of food per person thrown away each day. Yikes!

Without proper planning, food waste can easily happen at home.  Use these tips to reduce the amount of food you toss:

  • Be realistic with meal planning.
  • Only buy enough food for what you’ll have time to prepare throughout the week.
  • Shop your fridge and pantry first and build a weekly menu around what’s already on hand.
  • Learn how to properly store food to extend its shelf life.
  • Find creative ways to transform leftovers and unused ingredients into other meals.

2. Compost

On a grocery store level, only 36% of conventional stores have a composting program in place, while 74% of food co-operatives regularly compost their food waste.  Composting keeps food scraps out of landfills, where it would otherwise rot and release methane gas. You’d be surprised at what items can be composted other than food — soiled napkins, pet hair, and dryer lint to name a few.

Don’t have room or the means to build your own compost station at home? Check out Compost Nashville for pick-up service.  We’re thrilled with recent efforts to make Nashville a greener city, and can’t wait to do our part when we finally open.

3. Eat More Plant-based Foods

Fruits and vegetables need fewer natural resources to grow, and they also emit less greenhouse gas emissions compared to animals and animal products.

Most Americans aren’t eating enough produce, so there’s never been a better time to add more plant-forward meals into the weekly rotation.

There’s no need to go completely vegan or vegetarian if you love meat. According to the Environmental Working Group, when a family of four eats plant-based meals for just one day a week, it’s equivalent to removing a car off the road for five weeks.

4. Shop the Bulk Aisle

Most food co-ops have an extensive bulk section. Shoppers can buy cooking oils, coffee, tea, beer, beans, grains, nuts, rice, spices, dried fruits…and the list just keeps going.  Buying only the amount needed from the bulk section not only reduces food waste, but it reduces packaging waste as well.

Nearly half of all plastic manufactured is used for food packaging — grocery sacks, bottles, jars, and wraps.  Bringing your own reusable bag or container and shopping the bulk aisles can significantly decrease your plastic waste.  Bonus points if you avoid fruit and veggies wrapped in plastic. Oh, and you’ll also be eating healthier in no time!

5. Choose Local

We’re looking forward to partnering with local farmers when it comes to stocking our shelves.  This means more opportunities for growers to make an income AND seasonal, local and fresh produce for the community year-round. It also means reduced carbon emissions from otherwise long transports.

Food co-ops are committed to supporting the local economy, and becoming a member of the Nashville Food Co-op is a way to invest in YOUR community that will give back for generations to come.

Catch us at the Earth Day Festival on April 20 and at our upcoming information session on April 28 (location TBD). Follow us on Facebook for more updates!

Opening a Food Co-op

Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was the Sistine Chapel ceiling painted overnight. The process of opening a food co-op takes time.  Sometimes a lot more time than you may think. Trust us. We’re just as eager to get the ball rolling here in Nashville as you are!

Today we’re diving deeper into the growth process of a food co-op and shedding light on all the steps we’re taking to get Nashville’s first food co-op off the ground.

According to the Food Co-op Initiative, the average time it takes to open a food co-op is  4 – 7 years.  Some co-ops take only 2 years to open, while others may need upwards of 10 years to grow the membership and assets needed to start building.

The Process

Unlike a traditional business with investors, co-ops are owned by the community. Individuals purchase a share and become member-owners, and are able to vote on how the store operates.

The path from just a birthed idea to actually opening a food co-op follows a detailed and strategic plan consisting of five major parts.

Stage 1: Start

A core group of people first need to come together with a co-op vision and mission. One of our original founders hails from Vermont, where there are over 100 different types of co-ops across the state.  Why not Nashville?

So in 2015, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a Market Study, and the Nashville community raised over $15,000 in 30 days. After receiving positive results from this study, we developed our leadership board and claimed our mission.

  • Define our mission.
  • Begin recruiting members.
  • Begin generating funds.

We’re currently working on growing our membership so that we can raise the capital needed to fund our business needs.  This is where you come in! Become a Member-Owner of the Nashville Food Co-op and help us reach our goal of 1,200 members. That number will officially allow us to open!

Stage 2: Organize

In the second stage we will make a business plan with a budget, plan for a loan to open the store, and continue to grow our membership.

  • Develop a business plan and set-up a loan committee to fund the construction of a store.
  • Set-up a finance committee to create a budget.
  • Reach out to the community and create marketing for the co-op.

Stage 3: Plan

The third stage is when our vision will really come to life — site selection, store design, and connecting with local farmers. We. Can’t. Wait.

  • Conduct a final market analysis to decide where to construct a store and what to stock for our customers.
  • Choose a site and begin designing a store.
  • Reach out to farmers and other suppliers to stock the co-op.
  • Finalize the business plan and the loan to open the store.

Stage 4: Pre-Construction

In the fourth stage, we will secure loan funds and hire a store manager.

  • Secure the loan funds to begin building the store.
  • Complete the store design and define the equipment the store will need.
  • Hire a general manager.

Stage 5: Open

The final stage is what we’ve all been working towards — we will advertise the store, hire staff, and open the Nashville Food Co-op!

  • Finalize the budget and marketing plan.
  • Hire and train the staff.
  • Open the store!

The work doesn’t end on opening day. We’ll need our member support to ensure the co-op sustains its first year and beyond.  With the outpouring of support for our initial Market Study, we’ve no doubt the Nashville Food Co-op will flourish.

Co-ops around the nation

We love hearing success stories from our co-op friends across the nation, and the River Valley Co-op in Northampton, MA shares a great example of the opening process.

Their food co-op took around 11 years to open. Community members met in 1997 to discuss the idea of a co-op, and they were open for business in 2008. After seeing so much success after opening, they’ve since been able to remodel with higher capacity shelving, new bulk bins, improved store layout, and energy efficient upgrades.

Help us reach the next phase

We need YOUR help to keep growing. Without more member-owners, the Nashville Food Co-op will remain simply an idea.  Your one-time investment of $250 will help secure the funds needed for all the business expenses ahead- legal fees, acquiring a space, and all the moving parts of a physical store.

When the Nashville Food Co-op opens, member-owners will receive exclusive discounts and other benefits. We’ve made it ultra-easy with our payment plan options now available.

Want to learn more about the Nashville Food Co-op and meet some of our owners? We’ll be at VegFest and the Nashville Earth Day Festival in April and we’d love to see you there!  Stop and say hi!

Why Does Nashville Need a Food Co-op?

With the abundance of Community Supported Agriculture, farmers’ markets, conventional grocers, and natural food stores in our growing city, why does Nashville need a food co-op?  First of all, what is a food co-op?

What is a Food Co-op?

A food co-op is a grocery store owned by its local community members. Here’s how it works. Members purchase a share which allows them to decide what foods and products stock the shelves, where those items are purchased, and what quality standards both products and vendors are required to meet.

Although it’s a community owned grocery store concept, ANYONE is invited to shop healthy, locally sourced goods year-round without purchasing a share. When the Nashville Food Co-op opens, we will continue to serve the entire community, however members will enjoy the discounts, dividends, and any other incentives that are democratically agreed upon.

Co-ops have been around for hundreds of years and are represented in all economic sectors. Co-ops exist in small scale organizations, as well as multi-million-dollar industries. Food, finance, healthcare, and fishery are just a few examples. Ocean Spray is a well-known brand that was formed around 1930 when cranberry growers from Wisconsin, Washington, and Oregon banded together as the Ocean Spray Cooperative.  The co-op now includes over 700 farmer families.

Food cooperatives provide far more advantages beyond sourcing local, fresh, and healthy foods. (Although that’s a perfectly good reason to shop co-ops!) Since co-ops aren’t governed by external investors, profits are returned to its members in the form of discounts, trainings, events, and increased employee wages. This democratic approach to business results in a sustainable economic system that benefits the co-op, its members, and the communities it serves.

5 Reasons Why Nashville Needs a Food Co-op

1. Greater Local Impact

Source: National Co+op Grocers

Food co-ops provide more opportunity and work for local farmers and their employees, as well as other local artisans and food purveyors.  By contrast, local food and products account for less than 2% of national grocery store sales.

In addition to supporting local agriculture and entrepreneurs, co-ops donate to charitable causes at a rate 44% higher on average than conventional retailers, per a National Co+op Grocers study.

The Nashville Food Co-op’s goals include offering educational programs on food systems, as well as classes that highlight local eating.

2. Higher Employee Wages

Co-ops take pride in investing in their employees, often offering wages and benefits well above other retail grocery chains. Fairly compensated and engaged employees aren’t just happier, but are committed to providing a better consumer experience.

We also care about our growers, from those planting and harvesting the fields, to workers cleaning and processing the food, to the drivers delivering it to the store.

3. Year-round Local Food

Only a few farmers’ markets remain open annually around Nashville, and often with very limited hours. A food co-op would provide Nashvillians more seasonal, locally sourced foods year-round at fair prices.

Most farmers can’t afford the costs of supplying major grocery chains, leaving only certain windows of time throughout the year to sell their products via farmers markets and farm stands.  A food co-op in Nashville would provide local growers and purveyors a sustainable source of income all year.

4. Less Environmental Impact

Shopping at co-ops and keeping food local is a vote for healthier farming techniques, better animal welfare, and less carbon emissions. Locally grown and sold food requires less energy for shipping and storage over its life-cycle.

It’s also a vote for better recycling and composting practices, reduced plastic waste, higher quality organic foods, and an overall healthier community — all areas the city of Nashville is focused on improving.

Co-ops offer far more bulk food and fair-trade options than other conventional grocers, and support worldwide environmental protection initiatives.

Thanks to the National Co+op Grocers organization, more than 1.4 million trees have been planted in Peru to offset greenhouse gas emissions and provide an incredible, sustainable economic opportunity.

5. Community Ownership

Lastly, becoming a Nashville Food Co-op member means you have a voice in ALL of the benefits mentioned above.  Members become part of a larger like-minded community that’s invested in supporting sustainable agriculture, fair treatment of employees, and giving back.

Members will not only enjoy future store discounts and profit dividends, but also community incentives with our partner organizations in the Nashville area.

What better way to support the local community than by becoming a Nashville Food Co-op member and moving us one step closer to opening our first food co-op?

Are you interested in joining the Nashville Food Co-op? Learn about our membership options!