For years I’ve made regular stops at my neighborhood coop, the Eastside Food Co-op (EFC). It’s a bustling place, filled with parents toting kids in strollers, fresh produce, organic food staples, herbs and spices, and shelves filled with aids to health and beauty far beyond my ken. Usually I have a cup of free trade coffee, read the well-stocked bulletin board, and marvel at the world around me. In recent times, I’ve had several reasons to pay closer attention – mostly because I’m on a quest to learn more about my neighborhood. (Northeast icon Jeanette May recently advised me that the more I learn about Northeast the more I will love Northeast!)
My reading of the latest EFC newsletter clued me into the fact that my slow learning curve coincides with the 7th anniversary of the opening of the EFC, to be celebrated with a neighborhood party on Saturday, December 11. It’s time to explore the wonders of the EFC.
A visit to the EFC website gave me a great start. Local resident Ginny Sutton was an early supporter who worked tirelessly to create “the little co-op that could.” The appellation refers to the fact that the common acceptance of the fact that co-ops work in upscale neighborhoods, not in less affluent ethnic neighborhoods such as Central Avenue. Ginny wrote a fascinating article published in the March-April 2004 issue of Cooperative Grocer in which she describes in historic detail the politics of bringing together the 13 neighborhood associations in Northeast, the Neighborhood Revitalization and other political forces with the financial expertise and resources in Northeast. It’s a great read and a tribute to persistence and collaboration.
More recently, Leslie Watson, President of the EFC Board expands on that history, with insights including reflections on the exploits of the EFC Precision Shopping Cart Drill Team that marched in the 2004 Northeast Parade. She also provides expanded details about the governance structure, politics and updated history of the EFC. Watson reports that, as of September 2009, over 2800 member households owned the Eastside Food Co-op. Today, there are nearly 3500 members.
EFC is indeed a community hub. The food shelves are just the surface of a beehive of activities. Today EFC serves an ethnic community that includes a large Mexican population, Somalis, many Ecuadorians (the Ecuadorian consulate is in the neighborhood) as well as the rich heritage of Eastern European and other ethnic communities long identified with Northeast. EFC promotional materials are published in Hmong, Arabic, Somali and Spanish, grocery shelves feature ethnic foods and programs to address community priorities are omnipresent.
As the vital community served by EFC evolves, so have the programs and resources of EFC. The calendar of events overflows with ongoing and special events. For example, third Thursdays are Co-op Movie Nights – first-rate movies with popcorn and beverages. Or there’s the NE Network, second Thursdays, featuring free and open discussions of community issues (December 9 it’s “The Other Side of the Tracks: Future of Shoreham Yards). There are cooking classes, wellness programs, a yoga studio, arts and crafts exhibits and demonstrations, the well-known spring plant sale, seasonal programs and a new winter farmer’s market every second Saturday morning. Increasingly neighborhood organizations are meeting in the newly-opened granite studio. EFC has ongoing programs going with Edison High School (you’ll find Tommie paraphernalia on the EFC shelves), with community education, the public library and nonprofits that serve the community.
Best of all, EFC is on firm financial footing, looking to and planning for a bright future. Assistant Manager Kristina Gronquist observes that in these tough times, when for-profits are struggling and failing, EFC is a “smashing economic success” – no small feat for a member-owned organization that plans to start paying dividends to its members in the near future.
The EFC website offers an amazing pot pourri of events, services and ideas plus details about staff, facilities, membership and more. The EFC newsletter carries news about the neighborhood and the community as well as the Co-op. There’s a regular email newsletter with the latest from EFC.
Plan to join with the over 3000 member households who are members and owners of EFC in the celebratory events on December 11 – enjoy the music, raffles, door prizes, fabulous baked treats, the winter farmer’s market, even a book sale sponsored by the Friends of the Northeast Library which just happens to be going on at the same time at the Co-op.
Add ECF to the unique treasures of Northeast.