A change is coming to Gainesville, and the movement is starting with a grocery store.
The Citizens Co-op, a community-owned market, aims to open in the first week of May, three years into the project. Unlike traditional grocery stores, the co-op will be owned by the consumers who, after becoming members, have the power to vote for the board of directors.
Founded by Elizabeth Nesbit and Gretchen McIntyre, the co-op was created to act as a network for local farmers and to establish a closer relationship between producers, workers and consumers. Members, producers and staff can join committees or the board of directors to have a say in the co-op’s operations.
One goal of the co-op is “to provide a transparent food chain for the consumer so they can really understand where their food is coming from,” Nesbit said.
The store will provide its members with local, organic and natural food, as well as products that haven’t been tested on animals. Goods purchased in the store will support the local economy and the local farmers who are part of the co-op. Members are also eligible for discounts at co-ops across the country.
The co-op project is also behind planting fruit trees in available green spaces around town, most recently at the Porters Community Garden on a corner lot in southeast Gainesville. Members can get involved in the community by participating in local projects through the co-op.
By raising money through investors, member fees, shopping cards and local fundraising events, the co-op has already covered most of their start-up costs.
They received the final push they needed on April 23 when they met their goal of raising $15,000 through Kickstarter.com, an all-or-nothing, deadline-based fundraising site. The money will go toward stocking the inventory, paying employees and purchasing equipment.
Samantha Campostrini, a member of the co-op who moved to Gainesville last year, is excited about the opening of the store.
“I’m looking for good food and community engagement,” she said.
Campostrini works for Florida Organic Growers, an education and certification program where she first learned about the co-op.
“Everyone else is [just trying] to make money,” she said. “They completely forget about what’s important. [The co-op] is a group of people who dedicate their lives to improve things for everybody else. You have to support them.”
She is particularly interested in the transparent food chain the co-op plans to offer.
“I know everybody. This gives me a lot of trust,” Campostrini said. “You can count on the members of the co-op because they have the right mindset.”
Though the co-op was expected to open on April 15, they are two weeks behind due to renovations. They recently hired five staff members and a produce manager, but they’re still looking for a grocery manager.
“We’re getting ready to make our first purchases,” Nesbit said.
Nesbit and Gretchen McIntyre share a seat on the board of directors, and they work with the in-store managers who are hired by the board to oversee operations.
The newly elected board exists to protect the long-term vision of the co-op and to develop policies, Nesbit said. Under the Board are committees, which handle day-to-day tasks. These are made up of general members, some of the staff and any board members who want to have extra responsibilities. Currently, the co-op consists of over 700 members.
The nominating committee chooses potential candidates for the board, which members of the co-op would then vote for. Yearly elections are coming up in June, with the voting taking place online.
“People can use money to control how their living environments are structured,” Nesbit said. “And food is an easy way to start because everyone needs it.”
The co-op will will be located at 435 S. Main St. For more information, check out their website.