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Food co-op could come to McHenry County

When biotech veteran Scott Brix attended a food science convention in Chicago several weeks ago, he received a stark reminder of why he’s volunteering with a group of people committed to bringing a food cooperative to the area.

“Walking through the floor of this huge convention, which is all about commercial food, was like the antithesis of everything we’re trying to do,” Brix said. “Toxins, Twinkies, preservatives, aspartame from China in bulk.”

Brix is on the steering committee of the McHenry County Food Cooperative, an initiative now in the early stages of planning and development that has attracted about 120 registrants, all of whom have indicated their interest in supporting a co-op located somewhere in McHenry County. 

Food cooperatives are owned by members whose votes determine everything from what kinds of foods are sold to what types of classes and programs are offered, and many put an emphasis on locally grown and organic products. Members typically pay initiation fees and annual fees and then receive lower prices on the store’s offerings.

Where the co-op will have its storefronts, how many locations it will offer and how volunteering, employment and pricing models will work are yet to be determined, but Brix said his group is collecting data to assess needs. If a study set for next year determines a co-op is feasible, memberships will be sold.

“The members will ultimately decide what’s on the shelves,” Brix said. “It’s probably going to be healthy, organic — not all of this artificial everything.”

In addition to a focus on healthy eating, a commitment to locally grown produce likely will shape much of the co-op’s direction, said Scott Brix’s wife, Kim Brix, who also serves on the steering committee.

“Every store seems to have its organic or healthy ‘section,’” Kim Brix said. “A lot of stores in McHenry County are trying to do organic, but there’s a question about whether it’s really locally grown.”

For Huntley’s Doug Close, the environmental impact of shipping produce and other foods across the country — or the world — is a major reason he has decided to volunteer on the committee.

“It’s ridiculous most of our food comes from thousands of miles away,” Close said. “I want to promote localization efforts. I think our global system has become too complex, and anything we can do localize our food and our economy is a good thing.”

Close said the co-op would provide an opportunity to support local farmers.

“There’s a lot of younger folks that are taking a shot at farming, and we want to give them a place to sell their products,” Close said.

Woodstock resident Keith Johnson, who sits on the steering committee and also manages the Woodstock Farmers Market, agreed.

“I’m very much for local food production and consumption. This would be complementary to our market,” Johnson said. “What we’re really doing is supplying a place for our farmers to sell their products. ... My feeling is any time you can make a connection between a local producer and a local consumer, you’re doing a good thing.”

Volunteers hope to attract about 100 potential members over the next few months, with at least 500 lined up by the end of the year. The demographic information provided by potential members will likely inform where the co-op’s store or stores will be located. Committee members already have begun working with a lawyer and an accountant, both of whom are working pro bono.

For now, the group is busy applying for grants, including the Food Co-Op Initiative’s Seed Funds Grant, and is working with other co-ops in the region, something Close said was appropriate given the ethos of the movement.

“We keep meeting new people, and we’re creating this network,” Close said. “That’s what a co-op can do, is help bring that network together. They have all these great ideas. It’s just coming together.”

To register with the McHenry County Food Cooperative and to provide demographic information, visit www.mchenrycountycoop.com.