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Locally Owned

The Prairie Food Co-Op is currently recruiting people who will pay a one-time fee of $200 to become member-owners. As of late February, the effort had approximately 450 members and was growing every day, said co-founder Jerry Nash. Co-op board members are seeking 800 members before they take the plunge and sign a lease and they feel that they need to reach a membership of approximately 1,500 in order to actually open the co-op, which will be managed by a professional.

“My wife, Kathy, and I had been member-owners of The Common Ground, a food co-op in Champaign, and when we moved here, we were surprised to find that there weren’t any nearby. The closest one was The Dill Pickle in Chicago,” Nash said. “So, after complaining for awhile, we decided to start a co-op ourselves and we launched the Prairie Food Co-Op.”

Food cooperatives are worker- or customer-owned businesses that provide grocery items of the highest quality and best value to their members. Some are retail stores like the one planned for Lombard and others are buying clubs. Regardless, all food co-ops are committed to consumer education, product quality and member control and usually support their local communities by selling produce grown locally by family farms.

“Traditional grocery stores cannot get the locally-produced, sustainable food that many people seek. Besides, food co-ops have proven to be economic generators for a community. They support local food producers and contribute to the local economy whenever possible,” Nash said.

He acknowledged that not all products sold in the co-op can be locally produced. Citrus, for instance, is hard to grow in the Midwest, so compromises have to be made for co-ops to succeed. But whenever possible, products are sourced locally.

Nash said advances are being made in extending the growing season in the Midwest through the use of “hoop houses,” for instance, which is making more locally-sourced produce available year-round.

“You don’t always have to bring in produce from 1,200 miles away,” he stated.

Anyone can shop in a food cooperative. You don’t have to be a member-owner. But those who invest do reap extra benefits, according to Nash. Besides the pride of ownership, those who become members of the Prairie Food Co-Op will probably be able to share in the proceeds through “patronage dividends” that they can use while shopping. In addition, they will have a vote on board members who will choose the professional manager and will enjoy free or reduced admission to seminars and workshops when they are offered.

Once enough members are recruited for the Prairie Food Co-Op to sign a lease at a location they are choosing to keep secret, the group plans to initiate an owner loan drive.

“This will be the owners’ chance to make some money from the co-op. We need to raise $1 million in loans in order to proceed and while the average loan will probably be for $5,000, we will also need a couple of big ones and those big lenders will be able to pretty much state their own terms (ie. interest rate and loan duration). So it will be a good investment,” he said.

Once open, the Prairie Food Co-Op will be a full-service, modern grocery store featuring not only food, but detergent and other household items that you would generally see in a grocery store.

“We may only sell them in bulk in order to avoid too much packaging, but those items will be there,” Nash stated.

The Prairie Food Co-Op board of directors is soliciting new owners through community events like the Lilac Parade and other Lilac Time events, library programming, yard signs and other special events.

For information about events, progress toward an opening, and ownership opportunities, visit

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