The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Help Bring A Food Co-Op To The Northwest Side

By Anthony Todd in Food on Feb 26, 2013 8:00PM


Chicago doesn't have a great track record with food co-ops. Co-ops are wonderful things — they support local producers, encourage community involvement and, when run correctly, bring down your grocery costs when you help out.

For the sake of comparison, Minneapolis/St. Paul, America's 12th largest metro area, has twelve food co-ops. Iowa City, Iowa, population 60,000, has two locations of a wonderful co-op grocery. Chicago has only one, Dill Pickle, and it's ridiculous that we don't have more. That's why we literally jumped for joy when we found out that Gregory Berlowitz, a former environmental lawyer and organizer, is putting together a plan to bring a co-op to the Northwest side.

"A food co-op is what I want in Chicago," explained Berlowitz. "I shop all the time. I go to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I shop three times a week, and all I want is a food co-op. I want to go to one place, know where the food comes from, be a part of the community that food co-ops create." Berlowitz got the co-op bug while working in Minneapolis for a summer, and at the same time, he got interested in food policy. He read Eric Schlosser and Marion Nestle. The dream stewed for a long time while he thought about the best way he could contribute.

"When I started thinking about food policy, I looked around at the many organizations in Chicago," said Berlowitz. "They're great, they raise money, they support farmers, but we still have more farmers than markets in Illinois. There are a lot of organic farmers who have the potential to grow more but no where to sell it." He wants to give them a place where they can sell small batches of produce that a big store can't take. "Whole Foods isn't going to buy their 20 pounds of kale, but a co-op can do that!"

It's not some crazy pipe dream, either. "Putting together everything I know about law, advocacy, politics — we can do this," exclaimed Berlowitz. "There are formulas for how to do this. We're not starting up a new idea. All the food co-ops are supportive of others and there are all of these people willing to help."

The big question: where to put this new co-op? After extensive research, including work with demographics, maps and market data, Berlowitz thinks that the area between Foster, Irving Park, Western and Ashland is the sweet spot. They are still in the early planning stages, but that's the first place to start looking.

An important part of a co-op is community. Co-ops are democratically run, and members volunteer and serve on the board. That's why the first step is to gauge interest and get people involved. To do that. Berlowitz will be hosting two meetings in the next few weeks. The first will be on February 27 at Chase Park and the second is on March 7 at the Sulzer Library. "At those meetings, I'm hoping people come away with an idea of what a co-op is, what the vision for this co-op is, how they themselves can fit into the co-op," said Berlowitz. If you want to be involved, or if you just want to check things out, RSVP for the meetings (Chase here, Sulzer here) and check out their website for more information.