Weekly Update, 8/10-8/16


Here's a quick update on what our Chicago Market teams have been doing this past week:

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Visit Chicago's Urban Farms!

Active Chicago Market volunteer Maia Welbel researches urban agriculture. Here’s her great little guide to some of Chicago’s farms that are open to visitors. Check one out – or post on our Owners Facebook page if you’re interested in pulling others together for a group visit!


Upon its founding, the City of Chicago adopted the official motto, Urbs in Horto — Latin for "City in a Garden." This phrase has been upheld in the recent and exciting growth of the urban agriculture movement in Chicago. The city has established itself as a leader in using urban farming and gardening as a mechanism for social activism, sustainable development, improved food access, and economic advancement.

Strolling through one of Chicago’s neighborhoods, chances are you will come across a community garden or a bountiful patch in someone’s yard.

But if you want to learn more about how some organizations are making a difference by growing fresh, healthy food in our garden city, these urban farmers would love to show you around! Click on the name of the farm to get to their website for more information.


Growing Power

Growing Power runs urban farms in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison. Their mission is to transform neighborhoods through community food systems. They offer on-site workshops and demonstrations focused on growing methods, and run educational outreach programs for adults and children, as well as producing and distributing healthy, affordable food.

Tours offered at Iron Street Urban Farm Tuesdays at 1:00pm, Thursdays at 1:00pm, and Saturdays at 10:00am and 1:00pm. Fee of $10 per person.


The Talking Farm

The Talking Farm is committed to sustainable food production, education, and green urban development. They collaborate with local businesses, civic organizations, and educational institutions. Produce grown on the two-acre Howard Street Farm is distributed to local restaurants, food pantries, farmers markets, schools and individuals. They also run educational gardens at schools throughout Chicago.

The farm offers workdays each month when visitors can work for a few hours while learning about horticulture and the organization. Workdays are open to the public and require no prior registration, but visitors must sign a waiver.


Growing Home

Growing Home operates two farms in Englewood and they are the only USDA-certified organic high-production urban farms in Chicago. They provide farm-based training for people with employment barriers, promote healthy community development in underserved neighborhoods, and help people build sustainable life-long careers. 

Tours must be requested two weeks in advance and are not offered on weekends. Fee of $10 per person for groups of five or more visitors.


The Plant

Plant Chicago is a shared production space located in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, which aims to develop circular economies of food production, energy conservation, and material reuse. Their mission is to empower people and businesses to operate more sustainably and self-sufficiently through community-driven programming. The space houses various tenants, who produce small batch coffee, gourmet mushrooms, kombucha, fresh produce and other items, all of which are sold on-site at their farmers market.

Public tours are every Saturday at 2:00pm, and on market days at 11:30am. These include viewings of tech demonstration projects including the algae bioreactor and aquaponics farm. Fee is $7 for students and seniors, and $10 for adults. Private group tours can also be arranged. Contact tours@plantchicago.org.


Windy City Harvest

Windy City Harvest is the Chicago Botanic Garden’s urban agriculture education initiative. The program offers training and educational opportunities to teens and adults, with an emphasis on empowering those with barriers to employment. They manage farms throughout the Chicago area; training and production headquarters are at the Arturo Velasquez Institute, a satellite campus of Daley College.

Tours are offered on Fridays at 11:00am and 12:15pm at the headquarters location where visitors can tour the greenhouse, hoop house, aquaponics system and growing beds. Register here in advance. Fee of $7 for students and $10 for adults. Group tours can also be arranged at six different farm locations; email lerickson@chicagobotanic.org.


Metropolitan Farms

Metropolitan Farms is a commercial scale, closed loop aquaponic farming operation in West Humboldt Park. The farm grows herbs, lettuce and fish year-round.

Public tours and events are regularly scheduled. Pre-purchasing tickets is recommended; fee of $15 per person.


City Farm

City Farm is part of The Resource Center, a nonprofit environmental education organization focused on finding uses for overlooked resources. City Farm transforms vacant lots in Chicago into gardens, utilizing intensive recycling and reuse methods to minimize and reverse resource waste. By integrating education, energizing local economies, and beautifying neighborhoods, City Farm works to improve quality of life in Chicago one chemical-free plot at a time.

Tours are offered Wednesday and Saturday through Monday. Contact cityfarm@resourcecenterchicago.org to schedule. Fee of $5 per person.

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Learning From Each Other: Co-op Conferences


One of the seven international values that Chicago Market subscribes to is known as Principle 6 or “P6”: Co-operation Among Co-operatives. P6 holds that co-ops are strongest and most effective when they work together, through local, regional, national and international structures. Grant Kessler, Chicago Market Owner #3 and our Board President, attended two gatherings of regional food co-ops recently, and had a chance to share and bring back valuable learnings for our team. Here’s his report.

Starting a food co-op is hard work…for lots of reasons, but among them is knowledge and resources. If, say, you were a large grocery store chain and you wanted to plunk a new store down somewhere, you’d have the capital, the previous knowledge, and the employees at hand to easily pull it off.

In place of most of those things, startup co-ops have values-driven volunteers and Owners. Super cool, but there is a lot of knowledge and resources lacking in that model. Enter the helpful folks in the co-op world like CDS Consulting and Food Co-op Initiative (FCI). 

Cooperative Board Leadership 101

CDS Consulting is a cooperative of consultants who “specialize in co-op governance, leadership development, expansions, retail improvement, marketing, member services and human resources.” In addition to their direct consulting services, they periodically offer one-day workshops in board leadership development, and Karen Jacobs and I recently attended one they held in Chicago called CBL101 (Cooperative Board Leadership 101).

What did I learn? For starters, I learned that an effective Board needs to devote time to building skills and wisdom. Karen and I took extensive notes and shared with the team, and we have each committed to giving a short presentation about one topic we covered, at a future Board meeting.

Presenters Ben Sandel and Todd Wallace gave us a fascinating overview of co-op social and economic history beginning with the Rochdale co-op in 1840’s England. Check out this video for a fun little history of the “Rochdale Pioneers.” And did you know that in the 1930’s the Consumer Cooperative Trading Company in Gary, Indiana ran several African-American owned businesses, including a filling station, a credit union and an ice cream and candy store that taught children about small business and economics?  



We covered roles and responsibilities of Board members, including the fiduciary role Board members hold – we are responsible for protecting the best interests of co-op Owners as a group. There was a terrific presentation about “policy governance,” which is a model that sets up how the Board can interact effectively with a General Manager. Chicago Market’s Board has agreed to adopt this model but have not begun the work yet of writing the policies that we’ll need, so this education and discussion with fellow co-ops was very valuable.

The last topic of the day was finances – teaching those “non-accountant type” Board members in the room how to look at financial statements and understand the basics. We even graphed sample balance sheets out with LEGO blocks – sounds silly but hey, some of us are visual learners!


Our favorite quote of the day came from Ally Young of The Dill Pickle co-op, when we were talking about how to talk about the benefits of co-ops for our communities: “I like to talk about co-ops being a part of a regenerative rather than an extractive economy.”

Illinois Startup Day

A week later I was in Champaign-Urbana for FCI’s 4th Annual Illinois Startup Day. FCI is also a co-op that provides information, training, technical assistance and seed capital to startups. Jacqueline Hannah, a long-time friend of Chicago Market and former GM at Common Ground Co-op in Urbana now works with FCI and she programmed a terrific day of teaching, expert outside speakers, and workshops in which folks from other Illinois startups shared recent successes and what they’ve learned.

We began with the topic of co-op Owner growth. Presenters talked about strategies they’ve used to communicate with and recruit new Owners, ranging from Facebook campaigns and ad promotions to in-person events like film screenings, tabling, and even throwing a yearly “birthday party” on the day the co-op was founded. What did I learn that YOU can do right now? Help us improve the reach of our Facebook posts – click the “like” button, click the “share” button, follow and retweet us on Twitter – more “likes” means these feeds will show our posts to more people. You’re on the team – help your co-op make it happen!

Jacqueline then talked about Policy Governance and a couple other co-op Board leaders talk about how they’ve implemented it. Kathy Nash of Prairie Food Co-op in Lombard made it clear that parts of policy can and should be in place way before a General Manager is hired – I’ve taken this to heart and we’ll work on that with Chicago Market’s Board soon.

Another big topic was Owner communication – how does an effective Board communicate with Owners? Are we sharing enough? Are we presenting things in ways that are useful to Owners? Do Owners know they should share their thoughts with us, too? Chicago Market’s Weekly Updates are a step in that direction, but we have new ideas too, thanks to my day in Urbana. Got something to tell us? Come to a Board meeting. Send info@chicagomarket.coop an email. We love to hear from you!

I’ll close with two things. By participating in these workshops we learned that in addition to professional help that CDS and FCI offer, there is incredibly rich information available from our friends in other co-ops. And we can be a resource to others. Co-ops ARE community and the cooperative principles rock!

And this: co-ops are powerful. Take a look at these quick facts Jacqueline shared. In the last 10 years:

    122 new food co-ops have opened nationwide

    93 are still open (76% success rate)

    $1.33 Billion in revenues

    922 full-time equivalent employees

    80,000 member/owners

    127 startups right now

You are part of this incredible movement; you are among these other Owners around the country who want a values-driven grocery store; you are making it happen.

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Announcing Chicago Market's Architecture Partners, Part I: It's a Wrap!

Chicago Market is thrilled to announce that we are welcoming two amazing architectural partners to our team!

Transforming a building into the “co-op of our dreams” will require deep architectural expertise, and our Site Selection & Architecture team established a concrete set of criteria by which to evaluate potential partners. As a result, we have selected two architectural firms to work collaboratively in helping us to evaluate sites, design and build out our store.

Chicago Market Owner # 148 and writer Annette Mambuca sat down with the principals of one of these new partners, Wrap Architecture. Cheryl Noel, AIA, LEED A.P. and Ravi Ricker, AIA, LEED Associate joined her for a discussion of co-op ownership, sustainability, community-building, responsible food production, the architectural process… and what it means to be equipment nerds. 


Chicago Market:  First off, let’s establish for Chicago Market readers that you are indeed Owners.

Cheryl:  We absolutely are! Responsible food production is something we feel strongly about. My sister has been an organic farmer for a long time, so we understand what goes into it from that perspective. And we especially love the co-op’s mission – particularly about giving Owners the opportunity to be involved in decision-making. We became Owners as soon as we heard about it through mutual friends of Dan Miller, who is on the Board.

Chicago Market:  Your website says your firm “strives to cultivate space that embraces, encourages and empowers the people who occupy it.” Is that where the name “Wrap Architecture” came from… this desire to enfold the residents and users of the buildings you design?

Wrap_Kessler_1718.jpgRavi: In a word, Yes. Cheryl and I both started our professional careers in community development and affordable housing, working closely to improve the quality of people’s lives through structures.

An interesting fact most people don’t know is that architects aren’t even involved in much of the built environment, they design less than 2% of the houses built. We think it’s a privilege to give people who normally wouldn’t have access to an architect – like public housing residents – the opportunity to have a well-designed structure that is responsive to human needs. That’s one of our founding principles.

Chicago Market:  That’s a perfect segue to talk about what’s in store for Chicago Market. How might the co-op “embrace, encourage and empower” its Owners and other shoppers?

Cheryl:  It’s definitely not going to be just another grocery store! From the beginning, we’ve been excited about the co-op’s vision for the site to be a gathering space that’s responsive to shoppers’ multiple needs. For local quality foods, of course, but also for human contact, for meaning, for sustainability and for community.

So our approach will be “What is unique about Chicago Market, and how can we hold that vision and guide the Board and Owners through the decisions that will get us there?”



Chicago Market:   That’s a huge question. What’s the starting point?

Cheryl:  We like to get involved in projects early, which is why it’s great we were chosen just as the Board is deciding on the actual site. We believe we can add value to that critical decision, and we look forward to making a contribution.

Ravi:  With regard to Chicago Market’s Site Selection & Architecture team, Cheryl and I have both been very impressed with how savvy it has been, and how holistically they’ve approached the site-selection process. We've been in situations where clients make site decisions that were untenable, largely because they didn’t consider zoning laws, permits, existing use or parking. Fortunately, this team has been on top of all those contingencies.

Chicago Market:  As we understand it, you’ll be working collaboratively with a second firm; one aspect of the site you won’t be doing is the store layout. Why is that?

Wrap_Kessler_1692.jpgCheryl:  Working with consultants and experts who specialize in one area or another is common in architecture. In fact, Wrap has a team of consultants we regularly call on. 

In the case of the co-op, our plan would have been to hire a store designer to work with us. But Chicago Market’s Board has also vetted another firm with deep expertise in co-op architecture, store design, health regulation and governance in a very competitive co-op market. This firm is from out-of-state though, and the Board wanted a local architectural partner. When the team  raised the question of us working with another firm collaboratively, we were immediately open to it.

In fact, that gives us more time to devote to the Market’s vision of sustainable design. Ravi, do you want to speak to that?

Ravi:  Sure. Wrap’s vision of sustainability isn’t about what big piece of technology we can throw at a project so we can say it’s ultra-sustainable. Our approach is to think about every design component and figure out how we can it more efficient.

Here’s an example. We were the architects for Revolution Brewing’s industrial plant. For their production processes, they needed a large walk-in cooler, which was housed inside this giant heated building. So we researched and designed a system for pulling in cold outside air during the winter for the walk-in cooler, and we used the waste heat from the brewing process to heat the building.

We have a lot of experience in this arena – and we’re really comfortable diving into complex technology and equipment options. We actually consider ourselves equipment nerds – which can really pay off in terms of energy savings.

Chicago Market:  Any other nerd stories up your sleeve?

Cheryl:  Well… I was particularly proud of these super-low-flow urinals we unearthed! The typical low-flow toilet uses about one gallon of water to flush. Sounds pretty good when you compare it to what older toilets use. But the ones we found take only 1 pint! Like Ravi said, we’re equipment nerds….

Chicago Market:  What else made you want to pursue this project? Co-operative organizations – with Boards, Owners, community partners – can be much more unwieldy than clients with a single decision-maker.

Cheryl:  Our interest was driven by some of the same reasons that caused Chicago Market to be interested in us. Things like caring deeply about the work we’re doing together…believing we’re making a difference…being community-sensitive…collaborative…and energy-conscious. These are just some of the values Ravi and I share with Chicago Market.

Practically speaking, we’ve spent our entire careers working with nonprofits and other communities of people to get the buy-in necessary to make a project successful. In our experience, that’s how you get great design. The key will be figuring out the best ways to gather feedback from Owners and other stakeholders as we go through the design process.

Ravi:  At Wrap, we don’t have an aesthetic value we impose on our clients. By nature, we prefer collaboration, and we like to work with first-time business owners and entrepreneurs like Chicago Market. Ultimately, the goal is to create a dynamic community space that not only meets present needs, but also is designed to accommodate future plans. 

Cheryl:  Another piece that is appealing to us is that the Board sees their investment in developing Chicago Market, in part, as a model for other communities to replicate. Ravi and I are thrilled to be involved in this groundbreaking effort.

Watch for Part II of this article soon to meet our second new partner!

(And photo credits here with great thanks to Owner #3 Grant Kessler)


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Weekly Update, 8/2-8/9


Here's a quick update on what our Chicago Market teams have been doing this past week:

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Weekly Update, 7/27-8/2


Here's a quick update on what our Chicago Market teams have been doing this past week:


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Board Meeting Minutes for 7/27/16

Here are the public minutes for the 7/27/16 Chicago Market Board of Directors meeting:

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Weekly Update, 7/20-7/27


Here's a quick update on what our Chicago Market teams have been doing this past week:

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A Report on our Community Site Discussion - July 5

On Tuesday July 5, Chicago Market hosted a Coffee & Conversation session at Sulzer Library, to talk with Owners and supporters about our site selection criteria, process and progress toward the goal of opening our co-op store doors.

We announced the session via June newsletter and social media – out of 44 RSVPs about 25 folks were able to join several members of our Board of Directors and Site Selection team. We also invited two partners of our newly-hired architectural firm, Wrap Architecture (see upcoming July newsletter for this exciting announcement!) to observe and learn about our co-operative community by seeing us in action.

Here's a report for those who were unable to join us. It was a terrific chance to talk transparently about our team’s progress and what we’ve learned, but also a great opportunity for the Board and Site teams to hear directly from other Owners. We came away with shared community energy, some new volunteers, and some great input about how to continue to share information during this phase of our co-op’s development, when so much is happening and everyone’s engagement and patience are needed for us to co-operate our way to success!

-- Karen Jacobs, Chicago Market Owner #43, board member

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Weekly Update, 7/13-7/19


Here's a quick update on what our Chicago Market teams have been doing this past week:

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