The Renaissance Community Cooperative announced this week that it will hold its grand opening ceremonies November 4-5 on Phillips Avenue in Northeast Greensboro. The 10,530 square foot community-owned retail grocery will serve as an anchor to the revitalized Renaissance Shops. The public is invited to celebrate the opening of the RCC, which will bring healthy, affordable sources of food to the neighborhood.
The focus will rightly be on the store, the smiles, the hugs & handshakes — the celebration of the achievement and the beginning of a new day in the Gate City. But this achievement is the culmination of years of hard work, community organizing, and the belief by the neighborhood that they could combine their talents, skills and native resources to solve an ongoing community problem.
The seed problem – lack of access to affordable sources of healthy food — had been present in the community since Winn-Dixie pulled out of the neighborhood in 1997. The food chain left not because the location wasn’t profitable – but it was not profitable enough. Over time these same types of decisions have been replicated by grocers across the nation, leading to a clustering of supermarkets in some areas, and a complete lack of access in others.
When these decisions are made, neighborhoods like Northeast Greensboro are left in a food desert, challenging many who lack transportation or time to reach a grocery store.
That lack of time and transportation also translates for some into poor food selections from local convenience or dollar stores — and over time this of course leads to decreasing community health, and increasing incidence of diseases such as diabetes.
While the failure of the for-profit piece of the free market can lead to a host of human problems such as these, it also creates an opportunity for alternative models — like cooperatives — to fill the void. But filling that void of course takes hard work, a lot of trust and a belief in what is possible.
Enter the Citizens for Economic & Environmental Justice (CEEJ), a grassroots organization that initially mobilized to fight the re-opening of a landfill in Northeast Greensboro. “We were successful in that fight,” recalls Goldie Wells, “and then we started thinking about East Greensboro … how we need some economic development, and especially we needed a grocery store.”
The CEEJ served as a catalyst for rallying the neighborhood around the idea of a community-owned grocery store. One that would invest in the community, serve as a springboard for economic development and of course solve the key health and food access problems.
The CEEJ worked with other grassroots partners, including the Fund for Democratic Communities. Videos were produced, community meetings were held, doors were knocked on. Bridges of trust were built. Money was raised to capitalize the dream. And as their movement gained steam, they found support and engagement from the broader Greensboro/Guilford County community.
So with the finishing touches on the co-op being made and the preparations for the community celebration being planned, it’s important to pause and reflect on this remarkable community-led initiative, years in the making. “It is important for people to take ownership of their own environment,” Wells says. “We know that you can only be responsible for yourself.”
Wells speaks to the true power of the cooperative model, which empowers people to work collectively to take ownership of their lives when the free market fails them. The RCC will hopefully be a catalyst for more economic opportunity for East Greensboro, and serve as an inspiration for communities elsewhere struggling to solve problems like healthy food access.