A food co-op returns to Boston
IT’S BEEN A long and winding 11-year road for the Dorchester Food Co-op, which will be opening its doors to the public this month. It marks the return of community and work-owned food co-ops to Boston, five years after the last local grocery co-op shuttered.
Co-op markets differ from other markets primarily in their ownership model. Members of the community can pay a one-time fee – $100 in the case of the new Dorchester market – to become a partial owner and thereby have a say in what foods are offered, operating processes, and policies for the organization. The Dorchester Food Co-op, nestled in the heart of Boston’s largest and most diverse neighborhood, aims to be more than a grocery store.
“We’re hoping to impact the fabric of our community by offering these fresh products, and also giving folks support behind it, showing them how to use these ingredients,” John Santos, the general manager of the Dorchester Food Co-op, said on The Codcast. Access to fresh food is tied to better life outcomes, Santos said, and being culturally responsive with ingredients can encourage closer connections within families and communities.
“There’s other benefits when you’re offering fresh produce, and fresh meat, and things like that,” Santos said. “You are inspiring people to cook, not just buy food that is processed and pre-done. And when you’re in your kitchen, you might not be there alone. You might be there with other family members. So now we’re having an impact on the dynamic of the family, and we know that violence in the community is a byproduct of stress. And if we can reduce the stress at the family level, then it’s not a far reach to think we are having an impact on the community at large.”
“In the co-op world, the ethnic component is incredibly difficult to deal with,” he said. “It has typically been a market servicing predominantly the white educated customer base that has discretionary income and is able to find their way to the co-op and buy in their Birkenstocks.”
The store aims to serve people from French Creole, Haitian Creole, Cape Verdean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Somali backgrounds. Santos said his prior work at Tropical Foods in Roxbury meant encountering different types of produce like plantains, yams, and yucca, which might not be stocked in other grocery stores but are staples of many ethnic diets and likely to be on the co-op’s shelves.
Santos said, in his experience, co-ops are less likely to run into supply chain problems because of their decentralized purchasing platform, which draws from an array of small suppliers.
It is expensive to stock a variety of different items, especially fresh food items, Santos said, because they eat into the already razor-thin profit margin of grocery stores. Cost savings might show up in items sold in bulk, ranging from rice to fill-your-own tub cleaning or bath products. Santos emphasized that, contrary to what people might believe, the co-op model does not make all items cheaper, especially when it comes to meat and dairy.
“Our driving factor for having meat in our store is that these animals have been treated humanely,” he said. “People are paid fairly. The farmers we deal with are making enough money, so that they’ll be able to sell to us next year too.”
But the enterprise is a community-based effort at its heart. The ownership model means that profits are shared, but profit is a long way off, Santos said.
For co-op owners, “you want to participate because this is a door into having an impact in the community,” he said. “It’s a door that’s open for you. It costs a hundred dollars. And if you don’t have that one hundred, we will subsidize whatever amount we have to. We just want you to participate. We want to hear your voice.”
In-depth on equity theft: After a unanimous US Supreme Court ruled that local governments cannot engage in “home equity theft,” Massachusetts has a lot of work to do – first, changing state law to ban the practice, and second, compensating property owners who have had their property improperly taken in the past. It could add up to millions of dollars.
– Home equity theft is when a property is sold to cover unpaid taxes, and the city or town pockets all of the sales price rather than just the amount it is owed. The US Supreme Court ruled the practice violates the Constitution. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more.”
– Massachusetts is one state that appears to be operating at odds with the court’s decision, but Beacon Hill so far has not moved quickly to address the problem and some cities and towns are urging state officials to stand pat and not change the law.
– Cities and towns including Boston, Springfield, and Worcester could be on the hook for millions of dollars they have taken improperly, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation. Local county governments in Michigan recently settled with homeowners there, offering them a total of $2 billion, or 80 percent of the money that was pocketed by local officials improperly over a seven-year period. Read more.
O’Brien suspended: Treasurer Deborah Goldberg suspends Shannon O’Brien, the chair of the Cannabis Control Commission, but offers no explanation why. Read more.
EJ provisions in doubt? Benjamin Goldberger, a lawyer with Anderson & Kreiger, says environmental justice provisions in the state’s climate law could be ruled illegal under reasoning used by the US Supreme Court in its decision barring race-based college admissions. Read more.
Don’t do away with competition: Travis Kavulla of NRG Energy says it makes no sense to do away with retail electricity competition, as Attorney General Andrea Campbell and her predecessor, Maura Healy, have called for. Read more.
Pass the Cherish Act: Phil Johnston, who credits his UMass Amherst education for his career success, makes the case for the Cherish Act to enable more students to attend school and gain the same education he did. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Gov. Maura Healey is banning state agencies from purchasing single-use plastic bottles. (Boston Globe)
A new anti-Trump super PAC dubbed PrimaryPivot is trying to convince Democrats and independent voters to vote in the Republican presidential primary, including by changing their registration status in those states where it’s required, and cast ballots for a candidate other the former GOP president to try to block him from the party’s nomination. (Boston Globe)
General election season is in full swing in Springfield, where Mayor Domenic Sarno topped the preliminary field with almost half of the votes cast. Sarno will face 10-year City Councilor Justin Hurst in November. (MassLive)
The massive Dorchester Bay City development, set to transform 36 acres of Boston’s coastline, got the go ahead from the city’s development agency. (Dorchester Reporter)
Logan International Airport is providing temporary shelter to more and more immigrants – 1,600 since July 11. (WBUR)
After a closed door meeting, Sandwich Middle High School Principal James Mulcahy was granted a leave of absence for personal reasons. (The Enterprise)
Language in the new state law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses is being cited by state officials as the reason why they are no longer complying with public records requests for driving records. The Boston Herald was turned down when it asked recently for the driving records of the entire Boston City Council and Mayor Michelle Wu. (Boston Herald)
A faulty standpipe that hampered firefighters’ efforts during a fire this summer at Charles/MGH station was not a one-off, with 1 in 5 standpipes at MBTA stations failing pressures since 2019. (Boston Globe)
New Hampshire energy officials slam the budget proposal of the regional grid operator ISO New England, focusing on initiatives related to clean energy and environmental justice. According to ISO New England, the average electricity customer in New England paid $1.12 per month to support the grid operator’s services in 2022. (New Hampshire Bulletin)
Police are investigating after Worcester District 5 Councilor Etel Haxhiaj reported someone vandalized political signs on her lawn and threw a baseball at her home. (Worcester Telegram)MEDIA
An editorial in the Marblehead Current applauds Press Forward, the new $500 million funding effort for local news, but worries that such initiatives will lead local supporters to believe the problem is taken care of with no need for them to donate. The Current calls it “the funding equivalent of the ‘bystander effect’ in Marblehead, fostering the assumption that the Current will be fine, its needs attended to by someone else, someone from ‘away.’ That would be a most unfortunate miscalculation.”