Starting a business can be a lengthy process. For Urban Greens Co-Op, the wait has been worth it. It was founded in 1999 as a buying club for a small group of people with a mission to supplement the lack of grocery store options in Providence’s West End. Since then, it has grown into a full-blown co-op with several hundred members. The cooperative has enjoyed a steady presence at farmers markets across Rhode Island, such as the Winter Market, Broad Street Farmers Market and the Hope Street Farmers Market. And soon, they will be opening a retail market; the exact date is currently unknown, but it is expected to take place over the next few months.
For now, board member Philip Trevvett says, “While there are some things that are taking a little longer, there is a lot that is coming into place and that it’s really exciting. We’re starting to get some early inventory in with the vendor selection coming, and a lot of the smaller local stuff is going to come in a little more last minute, but that’s the stuff we’re really excited about.”
Now that Urban Greens is hiring staff and the group of members continues to grow, Trevvett provides a sense of an organization that is really on the heels of fulfilling a project that they have been working toward not just for years, but for decades. Trevvett, who has been with the co-op for 9 years, says that Urban Greens has been in the process of creating a store for 13 years out of its 20-year history. “There have been a lot of ups and downs and hiccups and learning during that time,” he says.
After previously conducting meetings in offices across town, over the past few months Urban Greens has been able to actually meet in their own store, a spacious mixed-development building on Providence’s Cranston Street. “For most of this project, we were talking about something that doesn’t exist in any physical way yet, and we were pointing to an empty lot, or we didn’t even have have any empty lot. And then over the last year and a half there has been the start of construction to an exterior building, to now a full building, that we can point to and say, “This is what we’ve been working for.”
Aside from the administrative work of finalizing the details to determine a target date for opening the store, one of Urban Green’s most pressing initiatives is educating communities about the critical impact of healthy eating. In addition to appearing on local panels about the intersections of fresh, nutritious food and health, the co-op partners with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank for the organization’s Community Cooking Program — eight weeks of classes making affordable and healthy recipes that also address food insecurity. Urban Greens provides free memberships to students who complete the course, but also plans on housing the Rhode Island Community Food Bank courses in cooking spaces at the market.
Another issue core to Urban Greens’ mission is to “bridge the gap” between national grocery store chains and local farmers markets. Their market will be large enough so that customers can have the convenience of shopping for a full grocery run, while also having the option to buy local foods that customers might only find at a farmers market.
Urban Greens’ market will soon be open to the public, to members and non-members alike.