Elm City Market

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Elm City Market is a co-op in New Haven that has over 1500 member-owners. Anyone can become a member-owner; you just have to fill out an application and invest $200 in the Market. (You can pay all at once or in $20 payments.) If you can’t make the $20 payments, but still want to be a member, there are other payment plans available. Member-owners vote on the Board of Directors and receive patronage dividends on years that the Co-op turns a profit, among other benefits and responsibilities.

Anyone can shop at Elm City Market – it is a hybrid co-op in that its first priority is the community. Elm City Market has, therefore, local and organic products as well as conventional grocery store products. A staff member explained to me, “We are a community grocery store, so we are a hybrid. We emphasize the local, but we also have that fake Parmesan cheese that comes in a shaker, because if someone is taking the bus here to do their shopping, we are going to make sure we have everything they want. If we were trying to be a Whole Foods, we wouldn’t appeal to New Haven.”

The Market considers food that has traveled 0 – 200 miles to market (m2m) to be local, and food that has traveled 201 – 400 miles to market to be regional. All products that traveled 400 miles or less have either a Local or Regional sticker, as well as a sticker that says exactly how many miles the product traveled to reach the store. It was very refreshing to see products that only traveled one mile to market (like Chabaso’s bread) when on average, food travels 1,500 to 2,500 miles to get to the grocery store. Cutting down food mileage benefits the environment (think of how much gas you’re saving) and strengthens the local economy and community.

Unlike many other grocery stores, local vendors don’t have to buy shelf space at Elm City Market. “If we like your product, and you’re within 400 miles, we want to carry it,” a staff member told me. The Market has very quick turnaround for getting products on the shelves, sometimes taking only two days.

When I went to Elm City Market, I brought my friend Teddy, whose mom, Robin, owns Four Flours Bakery. Robin operates Four Flours out of her home in Woodbridge, and Elm City Market stocks her cookies. (They’re marked with a 7 miles to market sticker.) When I told Amy, the marketing director of Elm City Market, that Teddy’s mom makes the Four Flours cookies, she was thrilled. She said that she was in the process of making a sign with a picture of Teddy’s family and a description of Four Flours. These signs litter the store, giving more information on local vendors. Amy said that she was happy to meet Teddy, because that’s what Elm City Market is all about. “Local is about the people,” she said. “We are helping our families and our neighbors, making New Haven and Connecticut strong.”

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