A decade in the making, the Oshkosh Food Co-op—a community partnership like no other in northeastern Wisconsin—opens Thursday at 155 Jackson St.
“Having been along for the entire ride … on the one hand, it is a bit surreal that it’s really happening now, and amazing to think back to where we started,” said University of Wisconsin Oshkosh sociologist Paul Van Auken.
“On the other hand, the last few years have seen our member numbers grow so much, the fundraising efforts be so successful and such collective people power engaged in such a focused and professional manner, that it is no surprise that we’ve reached the finish line and that the store and local cooperative movement is poised to be very successful.”
The idea for the co-op first emerged in 2011 through Van Auken’s Creating a Strong Community Contest. Then UW Oshkosh environmental studies student Bridgette Weber ’14, won $1,750 that became the seed money for what would become the Oshkosh Food Co-op.
This week that idea becomes reality near the Oshkosh campus of UWO and in the midst of a major food desert in Oshkosh’s central city.
“As in most U.S. cities, for years there has been a hole in the middle of Oshkosh when it comes to full-service grocery stores, which ring the outside of the city, contributing to over-reliance on the use of personal automobiles by people doing their shopping, and significant difficulties for people who don’t have them,” Van Auken said. “Its central city location, on a major thoroughfare and a bus line, near Main Street, UWO’s campus, public service centers and residential areas will make it accessible to all kinds of people from the area and help eliminate the city’s largest food desert.”
UWO associate marketing professor Melissa Bublitz said it is hard to eat healthy if you don’t have access to fresh food retailers.
“The new Oshkosh Food Co-op is strategically located to provide critical access to fresh and healthy foods in the center of our city. Better yet, the Oshkosh Food Co-op will become an access point for residents to buy local and support regional food growers and producers year-round. A co-op is community owned, which often brings a strong focus on serving the community and meeting their food needs, but it also provides an opportunity to help diverse people in our community connect and celebrate food,” she said.
Van Auken said the co-op also will encourage “the continued development of a more vibrant and walkable and bikable central city, adding to the recent momentum we have seen in this regard in Oshkosh via the River Walk, new multi-family housing developments, the expansion of the downtown YMCA, building of Menominee Nation Arena, and other projects.”
The project is a true example of community engagement.
“Our beautiful store demonstrates what can happen when good people get together around a common vision and slowly, steadily bring others on board with it,” Van Auken said. “It is the physical embodiment of an organic, grassroots, local-driven effort to collectively and democratically take important matters—where we get our food, what impact this has on people and the land, who gets to decide, etc.—into our own hands for the common good.”
Bublitz added that it is an exciting time for all those who have worked to build the co-op.
“I’m eager to see how this will change the food landscape of our community.”