There are hundreds of incredible food co-ops throughout the US that are working hard to build inclusive communities through access to sustainably-raised and local food. We in the Pioneer Valley are very fortunate to live near and shop at some of the best, including River Valley Co-op, Franklin Community Co-op,  Leverett Village Co-op, Brattleboro Food Co-op and more.

In honor of National Co-op Month and or 31 in 31 campaign, we want to highlight another noteworthy Co-op outside of our region that is leading the way in creating an altogether different co-operative food economy in eastern NC. Weaver Street Market is the largest food co-operative in the southeast and is a fellow multi-stakeholder business owned by both consumers AND workers. The following piece was shared by one of their dedicated worker-owners and board members on his views of the cooperative impact WSM has generated in the greater Raleigh and Chapel Hill areas. Read on to learn more about a co-op that is a true community hub supporting equitable food access and fostering inclusive social enterprises.

Greetings from Weaver Street Market! 

We are a food co-operative in North Carolina — the largest in the southeast — with four stores, a food production facility and over three hundred worker-owners and heading toward 30,000 consumer-owners. 

We work hard to sell healthy, great-tasting and affordable food, and we promote local producers and co-op to co-op trade. Our bread, for example, is made with organic, locally-grown, locally- milled grains — much of it sprouted grain — and we sell it for a lower price than the bread from the nearest chain-store competitor. We compete

We are living-wage certified in Orange County, and our workers receive health benefits, including vision and dental coverage, an assistance program for legal and medical issues, a wellness program with individual health coaches and a 401k retirement plan option. 

All our owners may join with either of two regional credit unions, because we believe that access to the financial market is a basic right. 

Weaver Street Market helps local farmers to upscale their production. We give out loans to local producers, and we partner with others, including a start-up which aims to place healthy microwavable meals in corner stores and food marts. We were the first store to carry Seal the Seasons, another local company which freezes NC fruits and vegetables, increasing the production of farmers and making fresh local food available all year — and which donates 20% of its profits to fight food insecurity. 

We have partnered with Freshspire, a woman- and minority-owned tech company with a mission to eliminate food waste through an online ordering platform which connects farmers with co-ops, restaurants and distributors. We sponsor the oldest and largest annual farm tour in the nation. We donate one hundred percent of the revenue from our Wine Shows to community groups, including Transplanting Traditions, a farm which gives refugees access to land, healthy food and entrepreneurial opportunities. 

We offer free membership and full rights of participation to low-income residents. We have developed a rounding up program at the register which thus far has generated over $1,000,000, all of which goes to the purchase of food for schools and local groups dedicated to food security, especially to combating childhood hunger. Weaver Street absorbs all the infrastructure costs of ordering, shipping and delivery. We expect soon to raise $500,000 per year. 

We even strive to function as a distributor, importing items directly from co-ops internationally. That La Riojana wine on the shelves of Brattleboro, Franklin Community and River Valley food co-ops — Weaver Street Market helped to get it there. (La Riojana is Argentina’s largest farmer-owned wine co-operative which has, among its many successes, built for its members a school and a health-care clinic, including a women’s health and maternity ward). 

We keep money in the local community — there is no capital flight — and we anchor our downtowns and restore the vitality of downtown businesses. We are an announced stop on the free bus line. 

Weaver Street Market is committed to worker well-being, to the development of a cogent response to global warming — we were the first grocery store in North Carolina to eliminate single-use paper and plastic bags — and to getting healthy and delicious food to the food insecure. But we are more than this, more than a grocery store, more than a nexus for the social and economic health of our community. 

We are a place for the community to gather.  A place where all are welcome. As folks down here say, all y’all means everybody. 

Weaver Street Market is where everybody meets. On any given weekend at our Carrboro store, you’ll see 100 – 200 people hanging out on our patio, in the shade of our live oaks, laughing and chatting — kids playing, people dancing. Here is part of a recent review from a student at the UNC-Chapel Hill university: “Besides the food, the energy at Weaver Street is incredible. They have live music on Thursday nights during the summer [and Sunday brunch concerts too]. When it’s nice outside it feels like everyone in Carrboro is at Weaver, and I always run into people I know. When I’m depressed and don’t want to leave my house I walk over to Weaver and just sit outside and take in the sunshine and it always cheers me up. There are always dogs and children there having fun and playing and people having picnics on the mulch and it’s such a fun space to be in. In my opinion it’s unlike anything else in the area. If I ever have kids, I want them to be the kids who play at Weaver Street.” 

Now all y’all up there have a chance to create a vibrant, happy and inclusive gathering place, and a grocery store which will deliver healthy, good-tasting food. We send you our best wishes, and a reminder that together, your vision can be a reality.