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Community Carrot Co-op Takes the Cake

North End grocery store, community hub wins big in Aviva voting

by Miles Howe

Community Carrot Co-op celebrates! (Photo: Miles Howe)
Community Carrot Co-op celebrates! (Photo: Miles Howe)

K'jipuktuk (Halifax) – It was cause for celebration Jan. 29 on Gottingen Street as the Community Carrot Co-op was awarded $115,000 in an online competition. The winnings are a part of the $1 million insurance company Aviva annually gives out to community initiatives across Canada.

The idea behind the Community Carrot Co-op, a co-operative grocery store with designs towards eventually becoming a community hub in the North End, resonated with online voters and has attracted a strong team of volunteer staff. Switching gears from managing a successful social media campaign to now effectuating all the on-the-ground necessities that come with opening a co-op grocery store is the next step — and it isn't one the co-op can take alone.

The Aviva prize money is granted so long as certain milestones are met and, says the co-op's director of communications Gwen McCauley, the grocery store is going to need the community to get the necessary work done.

“Our critical priority is expanding our volunteer work. Our current volunteer base is in dire need of expansion. We need people with good organizational skills, people with building skills, people with writing skills.”

Viewed from a purely profit-driven perspective, the notion of a co-operatively-run grocery store, managed by volunteer staff, may at first appear as an initiative with a shaky potential. But McCauley emphasizes that the Community Carrot has attracted the attention and efforts of Haligonians precisely because it isn't simply profit-driven.

“What I find so exciting is the notion of social enterprise,” says McCauley. “Businesses are often just interested in higher and higher profits. The purpose of our business is to meet a greater social need [and] lots of people are drawn to that model. They're turned off by global enterprises always concerned with profit and growth.”

There is, to be sure, the question of actual need for food services in Halifax's North End, be they run co-operatively or not. The closest chain grocery store is not within easy walking distance, a situation made especially difficult in light of an unseasonably frigid winter. It's a situation that Bernard Smith, executive director of the North End Business Association, likens to a “food desert.”

Smith, whose business acumen has played a significant role in shaping the look and feel of Spring Garden Road — touted as the busiest commercial street east of Montreal — sees Halifax's North End as a neighbourhood with great business potential. His new role in the North End is to support initiatives that fill gaps in the local marketplace.

The North End is, however, a neighbourhood that has recently been subject to the difficulties concomitant to real estate speculation related to the as-yet unrealized warship building contract. Community initiatives have run head-long into development projects and, without proper rent control measures, it is a neighbourhood at risk of further gentrification.

To ask a co-operative grocery store to somehow navigate these trends in development, and be tasked with serving both existing and emerging visions of food security, is a tall request indeed.

“The impact of the shipbuilding contract is [currently] a psychological impact rather than actual,” says Smith. “There have been significant land sales based on speculation, rather than economy. But this community is going to change. It's going to become much more dense and more affluent, and we're going to need a food store. The changes are impossible to foresee, but it will be the place to do business and I'm very pleased that the [Community Carrot Co-op] has gotten this far. It's not easy with a volunteer board.”

As for those volunteers, McCauley has already found a potential space to lease on Gottingen street. She encourages all those interested in helping out to visit the Community Carrot Co-op website for more details.

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