Food Collective Prepares to Open Storefront on Bancroft

Photo: Berkeley Student Food Collective plans to open Berkeley's only cooperatively-run grocery store on Bancroft Way in October. Renovations on the site will begin next week.
Tim Maloney/Staff
Berkeley Student Food Collective plans to open Berkeley's only cooperatively-run grocery store on Bancroft Way in October. Renovations on the site will begin next week.

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The Berkeley Student Food Collective is making the move into its first storefront - located directly across from the UC Berkeley campus on Southside - where it plans to open a cooperatively-run grocery store in mid-October.

Aiming to bring "local, humane, ecologically sound and ethically produced" food to both students and city residents, the store will offer local produce, coffee, prepared deli foods and other grocery items to customers, according to Bree O'Keane, program director for the collective.

Last semester, the collective sold sandwiches made with ingredients purchased at local farmers' markets on Upper Sproul Plaza once a week.

Ruby Yoon, the collective's outreach and publicity coordinator and a campus sophomore, said work crews will begin renovating the space located at 2440 Bancroft Way Tuesday in preparation for the opening.

Food sold in the store will follow guidelines set by the Real Food Challenge, an organization whose objective is to make campus food more sustainable nationwide.

"We aim to give better, easier and cheaper access to more affordable, sustainable foods," O'Keane said.

Campus student survey results have reflected the need for a grocery store close to campus for years now, according to Dave Fogarty, the city's economic development project coordinator.

"I think the new Sam's Market has met some of that need, but there definitely needs to be a wholesome organic grocery store, like the co-op will provide," he said.

The collective formed shortly after students protested the possibility of a Panda Express franchise opening on campus in February 2009, according to O'Keane. After students kept the restaurant from opening, the collective decided it wanted to provide an alternative food option for students.

Since it was founded, the collective has raised about $120,000 in grants and donations - $91,000 of which came from the campus's Green Initiative Fund for sustainable student projects - to make its plan for a store a feasible reality, according to O'Keane.

"In an attempt to keep costs as low as possible, we will rely on volunteering from our members," she said.

An operations supervisor will oversee volunteers and hold the only paid position in the store. The collective will also have two temporary consultants to help with training and supervise opening operations.

"We're in a great place because Berkeley is known as a hub for food activism," O'Keane said.

While the new store will be the only cooperatively-run grocery store in the city, there has been a long tradition of food cooperatives in Berkeley, according to Michael Caplan, economic development manager for the city.

Until 1987, the city had three cooperatively-run grocery stores, according to Fogarty, who added that the stores closed after going bankrupt.

In addition to providing local sustainable food options, the collective educates students and community members about food sustainability.

"Education is a very integral part of our collective," Yoon said.

The collective's board of directors consists of eight student members who head operations such as finance, membership, policy and education, according to O'Keane.

She said the collective had initially planned to open the store at a larger venue with enough space for a cafe and seating area, but funds were not sufficient to meet this goal. The collective plans to move into a bigger space in the future.

"While we have no seating right now, we're sure some of the grassy knolls on campus will be filled with our customers," O'Keane said.

She added that although inventory orders have yet to be made, the collective plans to work with Veritable Vegetable, a San Francisco-based organic produce distribution center.

"If these students are successful in motivating students and community members to eat healthier, that's good for everyone," Caplan said.


Hailey Parish is the lead local business reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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