Building Resilience Through a Community Food Centre: The West End Well Co-op

Written by Denise Deby.

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What if you had a place in your neighbourhood where you could stop in for a fresh, local meal, stock up on organic groceries, pick up your Community Shared Agriculture order, hear some live music, attend a yoga or cooking class, borrow a book on permaculture or meet up with friends for a coffee or tea?

Now, what if you and other people in your community actually owned that place, and decided what it would offer?

That’s the West End Well Co-op, opening at 969 Wellington St. West in Hintonburg this spring.

The West End Well is part café, part organic grocery store and part meeting and learning space. The café, to be operated by Jacqueline Jolliffe of the popular food truck Stone Soup Foodworks, will offer freshly-prepared meals using seasonal, local ingredients. The grocery will sell produce, eggs, meat, dairy and dried goods from local farmers and producers, and there’ll be a coffee house space, a teaching kitchen, workshop rooms, and offices for sustainability-minded businesses and organizations.

The West End Well Co-op’s motto is “nourishment for a change.” Its purpose is to enhance people’s access to local, healthy food, but also to nourish mind and spirit as well as body.

“It’s a gathering place for people to support each other in the transition to a more sustainable and socially just society,” explains West End Well co-founder Bill Shields. Recognizing that we’re all going through this transition, the Co-op offers “unconditional welcome” to everyone.

The West End Well is a co-operative, and a social enterprise. That means it’s owned by its members, and run using a business model where profits are reinvested in meeting the Co-op’s social and environmental objectives. For a $50 lifetime membership fee, members can vote, run for the co-op board, and set policies. (Non-members can still shop there, and the Co-op will accommodate people who can’t afford the fee.)

The Co-op has raised enough community financing, managed through a holding company, to buy and renovate its own building. It’s also selling preference shares to raise funds for setup and operations for the first couple of years. It’s tapping into the wisdom of other food-centred co-operatives in Ontario through the Local Organic Food Co-ops network, and lots of people are volunteering their time and expertise to get the Co-op up and running.

The West End Well was created by a group of residents, many of whom have been active in the community network Sustainable Living Ottawa West (SLOWest). In order to make the building and operations as sustainable as possible, the West End Well is being designed using permaculture principles, with energy efficiency, minimal waste, affordability and fair wages for producers in mind.

If you’d like more information on the West End Well Co-op, or are interested in becoming a member, buying shares or volunteering, you can contact them through their website, or attend an information session. The next one is on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at the Hintonburg Community Centre, 1064 Wellington St. West from 7-9 pm.; RSVP to info [at] westendwell [dot] ca. Another session is planned for Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 7-9 p.m.

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