Walk the aisles of the New Orleans Food Cooperative’s gleaming new grocery store in the Faubourg Marigny, and it seems there’s something to catch the eye or spark a question on every shelf and in every bin, from rare heirloom produce varieties to specialty meats to vitamins and tinctures.
This Saturday, Nov. 12, in those same aisles you’ll also find free samples galore and farmers, vendors and other representatives ready to answer your questions and share their back stories.
The Food Co-Op’s 4,800-sq.-ft. grocery opened one month ago in the multi-use Healing Center complex and Saturday marks the store’s grand opening celebration. This day has been a long time coming from the Food Co-Op, which formed nine years ago with the goal of making healthy, sustainably-produced food more accessible in New Orleans, so for Saturday’s celebration the group is putting on a big community party with food, music, demos, samples and tables from local artists and community groups. The event goes from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and admission is free.
“There will be constant, non-stop samples, vendors presenting their wares, discussing their product or their farm,” says Elizabeth Underwood, outreach manager for the Food Co-Op. “It’s a great opportunity for people to build relationships with the source of their food and to know where they’re food is coming from and how it got here.”
The schedule for the day includes a number of ceremonies and dedication events before an impressive line-up of local performers begin taking the stage at Café Istanbul, a music venue in the Healing Center just across a corridor from the grocery store. Acts scheduled to perform include Opera Creolé, David & Roselyn, Helen Gillet, Thugsy DaClown, John Calhoun, Washboard Chaz, Lynn Drury, Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns, Africa Drum and Dance, Truth Universal, Sess 4-5, Katey Red and Lonely Knights.
The Food Co-Op’s store has an inventory aimed at fulfilling customers' everyday shopping needs for groceries and household goods. But the specific products and producers it selects for this inventory, and its overall business model, is informed by the Food Co-Op’s goals of providing access to healthy foods, supporting local producers and building a community network. Underwood says it’s the state’s first community-owned grocery store.
While anyone can shop at the store, the Food Co-Op is supported by what the group calls its “owner/members,” who each make a financial investment to join. Even before the store opened some 1,800 people had paid to become Co-Op owner/members. But in the last month alone since opening that number has grown to 2,100.
“Before, most of our owner/members joined online, but since opening 90 percent of the new ones have invested at the register,” Underwood says.
Owner/members are able to participate in elections for Co-Op leadership and join its overarching mission.
“We’re working to bridge the community gap and connect people through food,” she says. “New Orleans has never had an opportunity before to really learn about the power and politics of healthy food. But we do understand parties and music, so Saturday is a way to start connecting it all for our community.”
New Orleans Food Cooperative
2372 St. Claude Ave., 565-6632