This coming Saturday, January 12, Unity Temple (875 Lake) will host Sugar Beet Cooperative's Winter's Eve Farmers' Market/Membership Kick-off Party.
At this event, which features a market of locally sourced goods as well as live jazz and local food and drink, Sugar Beet founders Cheryl Muñoz and Jenny Jocks Stelzer will present their plan for establishing a brick-and-mortar food cooperative in Oak Park. The proposed community-oriented grocery store will provide accessible, price-competitive locally sourced food and other items from a site planned for northeast Oak Park.
"It's important that we be accessible to Oak Park, Austin and surrounding communities," Muñoz told me. "Sugar Beet is very supportive of the Oak Park Farmers' Market, but it's only once per week and only for part of the year. We want to be more convenient, and more accessible, for the community."
The plan is that Sugar Beet will be a full-service grocery.
"In addition to fruits and vegetables, we want to offer things like diapers, beer and shampoo," said Muñoz, "and our goal will be to source such items, whenever possible, locally. We want to keep the dollars in the community."
"And it will be more than just a store," Muñoz told me. "It will be a community center, with a community kitchen and regular events that bring people together. We want to turn the traditional grocery store model on its head."
At this Saturday's event, Muñoz and Stelzer will explain the details behind how the not-for-profit Sugar Beet will operate. Basically, families and individuals will buy memberships, and the one-time cost will be on a sliding scale, starting at $50 for Link card holders, seniors and students.
"We want everyone to feel welcome," said Muñoz, and people will be able to shop at Sugar Beet even without a membership. A membership, however, will provide discounts to food items as well as other events and activities, such as farm tours, sponsored by Sugar Beet.
In the past year, Sugar Beet has held community-building events, including a sold-out "celebration of summer and food" at Fitzgerald's that drew 200 people and an Edible Gardens bicycle tour around Oak Park.
Saturday evening's event, Muñoz told me, will be a celebratory review of "what we've done in the year past with volunteers. We'd like to get the community behind what we're doing, and we're definitely on a fast track with Sugar Beet. Some co-ops take 8-9 years to get off the ground; we're aiming to do it in 18 months."
Sugar Beet Cooperative's Winter's Eve Farmers' Market/Membership Kick-off Party starts at 7PM and admission is $20, which includes food, a few drinks, and entertainment.