South Philadelphia: Co-op President Advances Local Food Access
Jessica Calter, a South Philadelphia resident, is inspired by her neighbors’ willingness to come together to solve problems in the neighborhood — including access to local, healthy foods.
Calter is the president of the South Philly Food Co-op, a cooperative that is currently working to open a grocery store at 2031 S. Juniper St.
How did you get involved with the South Philly Food Co-op?
The co-op had already been actively working and had incorporated as an organization and was aiming to get enough members to begin a real estate search. Cooperatives were something that was new and interesting to me personally and I decided to become a member-owner. It seemed like a really great way to get involved with my neighbors, so I decided to get more involved.
The co-op is currently more than 850 member-owners strong and we are, at this point, still an all-volunteer organization and so we are dependent on the passions and incredible skills of our member-owners. It’s a community-driven endeavor and I think that’s one of the things that’s incredibly impressive to me. [A lack of local food] was something that was identified as a need by the community and the community is solving this problem.
What is the need for the co-op in South Philly?
We are ultimately a grocery store. People have been looking for access to good food and we’ve done a few surveys of our member-owners to try and understand their preferences and overwhelmingly, what people are looking for is access to local foods. It’s very much about supporting a local economy. We see our role as influencing that food system and making sure that people can feel good about the choices of products that are on our shelves. People are really interested not only in this idea of local foods, but also how they can continue to support the local economy. The co-op allows people to literally own the business and keep profits, keeping the economic benefits of the grocery store within the community instead of that going to shareholders that live a million miles away.
What’s the mission of the co-op?
We really see that food is something that brings people together and it’s something that we all share, in that we all eat. It’s an element of commonality in a very diverse community, and so our goal is to continue to have food be that binder. The idea that food sustains us all can really bring us together.
How close are you to opening the grocery store?
We are at over 850 member-owners and we’re pushing hard to get ourselves to 1,000 member-owners to get to our opening. We are also in the process of fundraising, so we’re doing great in terms of our major pushes. We’re a little over 60 percent of the way to our overall goals. At our general membership meeting last year, we shared the design plans and we’re moving forward with early projects that we can do. We’re working to ensure that we have the funds to really get started in full with the construction process. If all goes according to plan and we can meet our fundraising goals, we have a fairly short construction period, we’re estimating. We’re aiming to start construction this year.
How would you like to see the South Philly community grow in the next few years?
South Philly is an amazing community with the most diverse groups of people. As part of the real estate search, we would go look at anything and we got to see some really amazing small communities within Philadelphia. You have this hyperlocal sense of community. It’s been really interesting to get to meet people from all these different areas and I think it’s great when there are things like the co-op that can reach across some of those block-by-block sense of community. I think we’ll continue to see more diversity, more development. I think more and more people are seeing how great an area South Philly is.
— Text and images by Erin Moran and Savannah Pukanecz.