Food Co-op Initiative began as a pilot project designed to test the theory that new food retail co-ops could open more quickly and successfully if they had appropriate guidance. Launched by a group of visionary co-op supporters in 2005, Food Co-op 500 started out by offering development grants and peer support to groups starting new food co-ops in diverse settings. In addition to providing guidance and funding, the organization wanted to see first-hand what impact different organizing practices and community types had on successful startup efforts. Patterns and trends started to emerge and Food Co-op 500 was able to offer more effective guidance based on our experience working with these early startups.
During these first years, FC500 began building a library of resource materials that startup organizers could use. It was obvious that a small organization could not provide direct assistance to all of the swelling numbers of startup groups around the country, so online resources, webinars, and regional conferences were developed that would enable us to provide the most support possible. Today our resource library provides free access to unmatched training materials for every stage of retail food co-op development.
By 2010, Food Co-op 500 was providing resources and guidance to over 100 startup groups, but was losing some of its original funding support. The governing task force decided to incorporate the project as a 501c3 nonprofit so that we would be eligible for new grant funding. The newly incorporated organization was re-named Food Co-op Initiative. The Blooming Prairie Foundation ensured our survival by pledging $1 million in support over the next 5 years. FCI was also able to obtain federal support through the USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Program. The original founders and many other cooperative organizations and individuals continue to provide financial support that enables us to serve the many communities across the U.S. that are organizing new food co-ops.
Since our founding, over 130 new retail food co-ops have opened in the United States and over 75% have survived to serve their communities. As we start 2017 we are working with over 125 more startup groups and get calls from more every week.