By Shannon Ratliff, SunCoast Market Co-op Vice President
In this age of big corporations making unfathomable profits, the power of local communities is easily overlooked. When stay at home orders, fear to enter public spaces, and empty shelves at grocery stores began, assistance rose up in local communities who adapted and responded quickly to the needs of the people. SunCoast Market Co-op was one of these, by partnering with Specialty Foods we provided contactless, drive-through grocery pick up within a matter of a few weeks. In food, health, education, and politics, we’ve seen how local action can make all the difference.
Power in Cooperatives
Cooperatives arise when a need is identified and people take action. SunCoast arose from a lack of grocery stores and the unwillingness of larger grocers to open in the area. With over 42 fast food, convenience, and liquor stores within two square miles, Imperial Beach was prime for a grassroots approach to community health. Suncoast Market Co-op is part of a resurgence in grocery cooperatives opening across the U.S., particularly in underserved communities like the South Bay of San Diego. It will become a full-service grocery store with a focus on local sourcing, healthy options, reducing packaging waste, equitable healthy food access, and a community hub for health education.
Grocery co-ops consist of owner-members who purchase shares and in turn have a voice through its democratic model. Since 2018, nearly 900 households and businesses have invested their hard earned dollars in the cooperative’s values of locally focused sources, environmental consciousness, and community health and well-being. When open, it will be the first to open in a primarily Hispanic community and become a role model for marginalized communities. Co-ops give a voice to people often overlooked in a capitalist society. This is the power of people in cooperatives.
Grocery cooperatives give voice to the shoppers in a way that isn’t seen in corporate stores. With SunCoast, owner voices prioritize sustainability, requesting less plastic, less waste, and careful selection of products. SunCoast will implement environmentally friendly practices that help community members reduce their carbon footprint; emphasizing sourcing from regional farmers using organic/regenerative practices; reduce packaging waste via bulk/bin shopping and refill stations; and shorten supply chains by sourcing more local products. This is the power of the people in cooperatives.
Focus on Community Health
Food access is a social determinant of health and South County residents suffer from higher rates of chronic diseases. SunCoast will improve equitable healthy food access, accept CalFresh benefits, offer discounts to low-income residents, provide education on healthy eating, and offer a “healthy staples” program (a selection of food staples sold at, or near, cost). And currently, our monthly farmer’s market is providing much needed food access to the community. This is the power of the people in cooperatives.
Regional Economic Growth
Co-ops bring economic advantages that prioritize the local economy. In addition to temporary construction jobs, we anticipate 30+ permanent jobs and to generate $6.5 million annually in the regional economy. Co-ops also source up to 35% of products regionally and can prioritize BIPOC vendors, supporting the growth of California small businesses and farms. By acting as an incubator program, co-ops foster growth of emerging businesses, including home based business. Co-ops share profits among the owners through in store discounts and rebates and reinvest in the community, giving 44% more in charitable donations than traditional stores. Co-ops build stable, sustainable communities and re-circulate profits within the region. This is the power of the people in cooperatives.
Connection and Synergy
As SunCoast spread the word about its initiatives, they’ve crossed paths with organizations with overlapping themes like Ocean Connectors. It is through the work of organizations like Ocean Connectors that communities are open to the possibility of engaging in the concept of the co-op. Like the SunMarket Co-op, Ocean Connectors focuses on the underserved South Bay area, and educates youth on environmental concepts, like sustainability, reducing waste, recycling and more. As Ocean Connectors works to connect youth to conservation and create future environmental stewards and empower youth and their families to embrace environmental health, SunMarket Co-op is the action point for the community. This is the start of where there is power of people for the environment and cooperatives.
Cooperatives are a model that prioritizes people. By nature, the model is inclusive and responsive and, at SunCoast, prioritizes the environment, health, and regional economic growth. If you believe in the power of the people, learn more and financially support the opening of SunCoast by visiting www.suncoastmarket.coop.