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Common Ground Food Co-op fosters economic growth, food education in CU

Richard+Mann+shops+at+the+Common+Ground+Food+Co-op%2C+300+S.+Broadway+Ave.+%23166%2C+Urbana%2C+on+Friday.+Common+Ground+is+a+full-service+grocery+store+owned+and+operated+cooperatively+by+members+of+the+C-U+community.
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Common Ground Food Co-op fosters economic growth, food education in CU

Richard Mann shops at the Common Ground Food Co-op, 300 S. Broadway Ave. #166, Urbana, on Friday. Common Ground is a full-service grocery store owned and operated cooperatively by members of the C-U community.

Richard Mann shops at the Common Ground Food Co-op, 300 S. Broadway Ave. #166, Urbana, on Friday. Common Ground is a full-service grocery store owned and operated cooperatively by members of the C-U community.

Ben Tschetter

Richard Mann shops at the Common Ground Food Co-op, 300 S. Broadway Ave. #166, Urbana, on Friday. Common Ground is a full-service grocery store owned and operated cooperatively by members of the C-U community.

Ben Tschetter

Ben Tschetter

Richard Mann shops at the Common Ground Food Co-op, 300 S. Broadway Ave. #166, Urbana, on Friday. Common Ground is a full-service grocery store owned and operated cooperatively by members of the C-U community.

By Vishesh Anand, Staff Writer

In a time of increasing divisiveness and ignorance, a local food co-op works to inspire inclusivity and sustainability in the C-U community.

Common Ground Food Co-op is a full-service grocery store owned and operated cooperatively by members of the C–U community. The co-op has been the primary provider of ethically sourced and locally grown foods in the region for 43 years.

The business is fully owned by community members, which means anyone can buy a share for $60 and obtain voting rights, a chance to run for the democratically elected Board of Directors, along with various special ownership discounts. According to its 2017 Impacts Report, the co-op currently has over 10,500 owners.

Common Ground intends to provide an alternative to the current food system. This is why the co-op is increasing in popularity, said Sam Ihm, promotions coordinator for Common Ground. He said a cooperative model is also attractive to people today because it is responsive to the changing needs and wants of the community.

According to its website, Common Ground’s community mission rests on four tenets, or the “four ends.” The co-op intends to position itself in the center of the community, strengthen the cooperative movement, serve as an educational resource on food issues and ensure that the local food system is equitable, robust and environmentally sound.

Ihm said by shopping through Common Ground, buyers get the chance to have a positive impact on the local economy.

“You’re making the community stronger with every dollar you spend here. Our profits are reinvested in the community. Every dollar we can give back, we do,” said Ihm in an email.

According to Common Ground’s Impacts Report for 2017, its invested over $849,000 with 79 local vendors and conducted events with over 30 local producers last year.

Ihm is especially proud of Common Ground’s community impact programs, particularly Food For All and Round Up for Good.

The Round Up for Good program is Common Ground’s primary way of giving back to the community, said Ihm. Through the program, shoppers can “round up” to the next dollar (or more) and donate the change to the month’s beneficiary, which is nominated and then voted on by the owners. The last month is reserved for its food accessibility program, Food For All.

“Food For All is designed to help our customers eat healthy and save money,” said Ihm.

Common Ground also offers free monthly classes for budget-friendly cooking and have recipes available in-store that are $2 per serving or less and use organic ingredients. A portion of this program has also been adopted by 147 other food co-ops around the nation.

Ihm said the Round Up program has experienced substantial growth in the last two years. Since 2012, the co-op’s flagship program has raised over $191,000 for local groups in need.

In just the last year, the co-op has spearheaded 27 sustainability initiatives. Most notably, Common Ground has partnered with DIBBS, an organization that works to reduce food waste by diverting excess food away from landfills toward local shelters and food banks every week.

As a cooperatively-owned outlet, Common Ground’s goal is to ensure fairness on every level of operations by ensuring it is providing the highest quality food for the right price. Ihm said it also prides itself on paying its employees at least a “living wage,” unlike its big-box competitors, namely Schnucks and Meijer, who only offer minimum wage.

Since Common Ground also aspires to become an educational resource for the community, it holds a variety of classes year-round on food issues ranging from food preservation to cooking for special diets like paleo and everything in between.

“These classes are taught by the community for the community,” said Mia Hanneken, education coordinator for the co-op.

Hanneken and Common Ground have found that confidence in the kitchen can significantly influence what we cook and eat. During one of the co-op’s free classes about proper and effective knife skills, one participant told the instructor before leaving, “Now I don’t have to be afraid of vegetables anymore.”

There are also various classes targeted toward educating kids about food.

Hanneken, like many people, never received formal education about food in her childhood and learned her way around the kitchen in her mid-20s. According to Feeding America, elementary students receive less than five hours of food education a year.

“The priority for food education in American schools is dangerously low,” said Hanneken. “By providing consistent classes for kids at the co-op, we are giving them experience-based learning opportunities to understand the basics of cooking.”

For Hanneken, the educational programming conducted by the Common Ground serves as a means for members to share their knowledge and passion with the community. It’s a way for participants to learn practical, useful skills while creating a community network.

“I can always be happier shopping at the co-op, knowing that there are kids that are going to school with the money that’s raised from that produce I bought,” said Sarah Buckman, outreach coordinator for the co-op.

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