Why a Food Co-op is Better than an Chain Store
by Meredith MacVittie
At the end of 2014 it was announced that Bottom Dollar Food was selling all of their local stores to Aldi, another discount grocer. This meant that the Bottom Dollar Food store in Ambler, which had only been open for about a year, would close, and Aldi would evaluate if it wanted to put its own store in its place. In March 2015 Aldi announced that, unfortunately, Ambler would not be a community where it would be opening a location.
But was that announcement really that unfortunate?
In reality, this decision presents an opportunity for Ambler Borough and the surrounding communities to take control of the grocery store business in this area.
Sure, Ambler has a large variety of places to shop for food nearby. Giant, Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Wegmans are all within a 5 to 10 minute drive (which actually makes it highly likely that none would expand into the Borough). Virtually all Ambler residents already drive to those places for their grocery shopping. But the key word here is “drive.” In a dense, walkable community like Ambler, who wants to drive a few miles just to pick up milk? Of course, any grocery store in Ambler would need to have parking, but what about those who can no longer drive or choose to live in Ambler because they don’t own a car and can walk to transit and other amenities? Now that it's summer, it is especially nice to stretch your legs, take a stroll down Butler Avenue, and wave to your neighbors while on a mission for ice cream or a cold beer. Shouldn’t a grocery store provide the opportunity to interact with the community as well?
Of course, any grocery store in Ambler Borough would have the benefit of convenience. What makes a food co-op a better choice?
In our quest for grant monies to open the Ambler Food Co-op the Board of Directors asked for letters of support from State, County and Borough agencies as well as a few local businesses. One letter really touched our hearts and we thought we should share it on our website:
My name is Benjamin Bergman and my company, Greener Pastures, manager of the Ambler Farmers’ Market. This weekly market is now in its third year of operation and we couldn’t be happier with the positive response from the local Ambler community to the influx of local, sustainable agriculture that the farmers’ market brings. As the Director of a company whose main focus is to
bring local food to deserving communities, I have identified Ambler as a perfect area for my stable of producers to increase their output and the potential Ambler Co-op as the ideal outlet for this increased agricultural bounty!
As an organizer of farmers’ markets, I have the ear of many Pennsylvania producers. When presented with the idea of an Ambler Co-op and the idea of increased production, their response was what I expected - whether it be produce farmer or cheese monger or pastured meat raiser, all were excited about the opportunity to bring more of their goods to a brick and mortar establishment in Ambler. When considering the Co-op’s first year projected sales of locally sourced ingredients, there could be as much as $250,000 dollars available for my stable of producers and a few of them were very specific about what that potential market could do for their respective firms.
Donna Rineer of Claybrick Farms (Pequa, PA), a weekly contributor to the market, is adamant in her desire to increase the capacity of her farm but currently doesn’t have the outlets for increased production. She relayed to me: “We would love to supply meats to them [the Ambler Co-op]. We can easily raise way more meats than we currently do. We currently raise just enough for the farmers’ markets that we sell in. A consistent weekly order would help us feel secure enough to stock more feeder calves on the grass!”
Judy Wicks is an impressive force in the Philadelphia community: she is the founder of the Sustainable Business Network and the non-profit organization Fair Food, the former owner of the White Dog Café, and the author of the memoir Good Morning, Beautiful Business. She spoke with Ambler Food Co-op members and the general public about the positive impact local businesses have on communities at the second event in the Food for Thought Education Series, sponsored by Ambler Food Co-op this past Wednesday, May 6.
During her presentation Ms. Wicks told stories of her life and businesses that consistently came down to her guiding principles, which include fostering community involvement, encouraging sustainable business, and supporting the local food supply. For her, money is simply a tool of business, not necessarily the goal: businesses are about relationships with the people you buy from, the people you sell too, and even nature.
We are sponsors of two events:
Act II Playhouse, "Unnecessary Farce"
Showings through March 26, 2015, Act II Playhouse, Ambler
March 12 is Co-op Night! $2 of every ticket sold goes to the Ambler Food Co-op!
Buy tickets today! The reviews have been top-notch.
What a great way to support your Co-op and Community Theater.
Pennypack Film Series & Expo
Ambler Theater, Every 2nd Tuesday of March, April and May
(March 10, April 14, May 12)
6:30 - Expo in theater lobby. We will have volunteers tabling - come by for information about our project!
7:30 - Film Showing followed by a Panel Discussion
For advance tickets and descriptions of the films, visit the Ambler Theater website.
See the Ambler Gazette's coverage and great photos of our event here.
The Artman Home at East Mount Pleasant Avenue and Bethlehem Pike was the scene of the third birthday celebration and chili cook-off for the Ambler Food Coop on Sunday, February 8.
The community room was almost completely filled with a diverse group of people with one thing in common: the desire to get a food co-op open in Ambler. Most agreed that this is more important now than ever, without a food market of any type in the borough. The audience learned how the Co-op, with its roots in the community, is a solution to the "come and go" history of grocery stores in Ambler, and that Co-ops have proven to be far better at boosting local economies, serving its community and, as one audience member said, "becoming a center of civic engagement."Read more
We are raising money in partnership with Equal Exchange, a fairly traded farmer cooperative, offering organic foods and hand-crafted gift items. 25% of your purchase goes to support Ambler Food Co-op, but you must use this link.Read more
Food for Change, a documentary about the history of co-ops and of their value to individuals and communities, was shown at the Ambler Theater on October 23. We had 80 people at the event. Volunteers served healthy foods to movie goers, and talked about the co-op. Lawn signs were given to members to help advertise the co-op around town.
For the discussion after the movie, we were joined by Bettina de Caumette, Outreach Director at Weavers Way Co-op as well as David Woo (pictured left), former Board President of Weavers Way. New members joined the co-op, we raised $2000, and had a great discussion after the film. Thank you to everyone who helped to make it a special night!
Did you know that there are about 100 co-ops in our region? And that a core principle of cooperatives is to help other cooperatives? Come see the work of cooperatives cooperating at the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance's first ever membership meeting and board elections!
Saturday, November 15th 2:00pm to 4:30pm
245 N. 15th St (Northeast corner of 15th & Vine)
New College Building
Geary Auditorium A
This is an historic moment for Philly's co-op movement. All co-op members, staff, and supporters are encourage to attend to help chart the course for Philadelphia’s future cooperative economy!
Light refreshments will be served.
You can RSVP Here.
You can read more about our Board candidates here.
A great night to learn about co-ops, meet co-op members, eat some treats, become a part of the movement!
With the support of Weavers Way and the Ambler Theater, we are able to give community members a chance to learn about cooperation -- locally and nationally. The theater will be the site of a special screening of the feature length documentary “Food for Change” which gives a historical look at food co-ops in American society, their pioneering quest for organic foods, and current efforts to create regional food systems.
After the film, leaders from Weavers Way and Ambler Food Co-op will offer a local perspective on the work of the two co-ops. Community members who wish to learn more about our efforts are encouraged to attend!
Weavers Way is generously sponsoring the event and will match donations we receive that evening up to $1000. We hope to see you there!
Guest Speaker Bonnie Acker, a long-time farm-to-school organizer, food co-op gardener, educator and artist in Burlington, Vermont, will offer ideas and inspiration on how our community can advance our local food system. Bonnie has been named a “community treasure” for her work with the Burlington School Food Project and for giving her community “a fuller spectrum of public art, gardens and harvests.”
• How can we improve our local food system in our communities and schools?
• What does a successful Farm-To-School program look like and what resources are needed?
• What role can Ambler Food Co-op play in these efforts?
Join Ambler Food Co-op, along with leaders from Pennypack Farm and Weavers Way, to learn, share ideas, and develop our own efforts around this dynamic initiative.
To RSVP, send us an email at email@example.com or call us at 215-326-9792. See you there!