"A healthy, fair and just food system is more than just food on a plate"

Seward Co-op is opening a second location in the former neighborhood of Bryant-Central Co-op. LaDonna Sanders-Redmond has been working on community outreach for the store and was recently elected to Seward’s board of directors.

Sanders-Redmond got involved in food justice organizing in Chicago, where, in response to her son’s multiple food allergies, she started building community-based alternatives to the unhealthy corporate food system. From that work, she learned that her assumptions about the food system had been illusions: “We … assume that our food system is healthy and fair and just and is operating to protect us, and what I began to find out was that that was less true than I could have possibly ever imagined.”

These days, as an outreach and education coordinator for Seward Co-op, Sanders-Redmond has been building community support and hearing neighborhood concerns about Seward’s new location. She sees neighbors working through their own assumptions about the food system, and believes co-ops can provide education around issues of food justice.

Seward’s new location happens to be very close to the former location of the Bryant-Central Co-op. Bryant-Central, with strong leadership from former Black Panther Moe Burton, was a target for the Co-op Organization during the Co-op Wars. The CO saw this grass-roots business serving the neighborhood’s Black community as a natural fit for the CO’s proletarian ideology. (When Bryant-Central resisted their advances, the CO fire-bombed Burton’s truck.)

Today, a fair amount of the conversation about Seward’s new location is influenced by the perception of the differences between the neighborhoods. Seward hosted a series of community meetings in preparation for the expansion, and Sanders-Redmond’s job has also included more one-on-one outreach to neighbors. Questions echoing the themes of the Co-op Wars (e.g., are the co-ops just for white, middle-class hippies?) certainly came up along the way. People worried that the new store would be too expensive because of carrying mainly organic food, and there was a certain amount of feeling that Seward was inserting itself into the neighborhood unilaterally. This last seems to have come from confusion about the certainty of the co-op’s plans in the early stages. But a small group of protesters has continued to oppose the project, launching personal attacks against Sanders-Redmond herself, who says they are led by someone who lost a contract with Seward because of performance issues.

Sanders-Redmond found that the most common concerns around the expansion centered around neighborhood livability issues like parking and lighting, and a desire to have the jobs created by the project be accessible to neighbors.

“Many of them were concerned about their property values going up or down. Many of them liked the idea of having the co-op close by. A couple people didn’t like the idea at all, and that’s fine too. Everybody isn’t going to like everything, but most people had a middle ground. They liked the idea of the co-op and they wanted to figure out, ‘Well, how can this work for our community?’”

Sanders-Redmond believes our food system can only change once people really understand it: “We’re going to have to call for greater transparency.” She says that “we need to support policy makers that really understand that a healthy, fair, and just food system is more than just food on the plate. It’s jobs, it’s environmental policy, it’s a sustainable approach to food and agriculture and land and labor. And the outcome is healthy communities.”

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