Friday, September 29, 2023

Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op looks to ground itself in community

January 20, 2023
<p>The outside of "Your Neighborhood Grocery Store" – the Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op on Jan. 10, 2023.</p>

The outside of "Your Neighborhood Grocery Store" – the Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op on Jan. 10, 2023.

Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

On East Kalamazoo Street sits Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op, or ELFCO, a new food cooperative dedicated to providing fresh produce to the community at a wide range of prices. 

Upon entrance, customers will see the shelves lined with fruits and vegetables picked from local Michigan farms. Wood tables holding a spread of breads and bagels, made by local bakers. 

ELFCO general manager Sally Potter described business as “a slice of success.” 

A previous iteration of the store had previously been located in East Lansing, called the East Lansing Food Co-Op. However, that store was forced to close from lack of business in 2017.

“The ELFCO veterans, the legacy members, are incredibly happy it’s back,” Potter said. 

Potter said part of the store’s success is its location, as the business is positioned in a neighborhood where many can’t afford their own vehicles.

“It’s easier for a lot of them, it’s closer for a lot of neighbors to walk here than to downtown Lansing or to Kroger,” she said. “It’s on a main drag, it’s on Kalamazoo. It’s got decent sidewalks, it’s got easy parking. So all the elements are set up for it to work and it’s working.” 

Potter said Lansing's east side community is very diverse, which is why ELFCO aims to have a wide variety of prices. 

“You’re putting a neighborhood grocery store in a zip code, in a neighborhood on the east side that has a great variety of people culturally, economically, and so you have to have price points for everybody.” 

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Manager, Sally Potter, poses at the Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op on Jan. 10, 2023.

When the store opened, the staff set up a payment system that did not process electronic forms of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly called food stamps. However, the store changed the payment system used in the store and have been accepting food stamps for around four weeks.

Potter said that around 20% of the store's sales are through food stamps.

ELFCO employee Patti Akley was ecstatic when ELFCO was finally able to accept food stamps because it allowed her to shop at the store she works at. 

ELFCO produce manager Milton Shoup said the store tries to provide most of its produce from Michigan farmers, with the only setback being the seasonality of certain crops. 

“We try to sell (from Michigan farmers) as much as we can," Shoup said. "We have the greens local, we have apples that are sourced in state, we have a couple of operators who have cold storage and they are able to provide us with Michigan grown apples and that is substantially year round.” 

Shoup said the store's year-round operation is a reason why local farmers are willing to do business with them. 

“This offers another outlet," Shoup said. "Farmers markets are seasonal and this allows us to carry their product year round and then offers them an opportunity to connect with their regular customers to say that when they are not providing through the seasonal market there is a place where you can find their product here.” 

When it comes to deciding prices, Shoup said the process is a "partnership" between ELFCO and the community. He said the store tries to keep the prices customers pay around the same price that the store buys it from farmers.

The store however, is not a workers' cooperative where the store is owned by the employees running it, but a customers' cooperative. Potter said customers pay an annual fee and can attend board meetings to say what direction they want the staff to take the store.

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The cashier checks out groceries for customers at the Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op on Jan. 10, 2023.

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Shoup's goals for the store include making sure it is ground within the community of not just Lansing's east side, but Greater Lansing. 

“I’m trying to build relationships with people who are not only just immediately local but the ones in the surrounding area so that we can establish ourselves as a place to do business with, to make it worth coming in to see us,” Shoup said. 

Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op is located at 1605 E. Kalamazoo St.

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