Smile Politely

Feeding your sense of community

Jacqueline Hannah has some really great tips on how to develop a few habits to get the most out of your community and what it has to offer. And with her experience, it’s best we just do what she says. She is the General Manager at Common Ground Food Co-op, which means she is responsible for all aspects of the co-op under the oversight and vision of the Board of Directors, who are democratically elected by the owners of CGFC. There are over 5,000. In August, Hannah will have been with CGFC for eight years.

When I asked Jacqueline Hannah if she attended college she answered nay.

I was an honors kid in high school, but I am also fiercely stubborn and I’ve got no gift for keeping my mouth shut or going along with anything I don’t believe in. I attempted community college for a semester but it was quickly clear that it was not for me — too much jumping hoops and… not enough learning to think for myself.

So after a decade of some soul searching, she found Common Ground.

Smile Politely: How did you get involved with Common Ground Food Co-op?

Jacqueline Hannah: I’ve been working in local, independent retail businesses since I was 18 years old, over 20 years. I had been working for natural food stores for 7 years when I heard about the General Manager job being open at Common Ground. At that time, Common Ground was still in the basement of a church on campus and, while I knew of them, had been in once or twice, I did not know a lot about them. This was 2006. I went to their website, and there was their 2005 Vision Report, a document that over five dozen Common Ground owners, staff, and board members had worked on for an entire summer. [They created] something that captured what they wanted the future of Common Ground and its impact on the community to look like. It was an inspiring read! That was it for me. I have always been entrepreneurial, and I have always had a passion for growing community. This was the first time I’d seen how they could be brought together -my talent for business and my drive to apply those talents to a powerful end that betters us all as a community. I applied, they hired me, and I’ve never looked back. It has been everything I dreamed of and far more as a job and a life experience.

SP: Did you start in the General Manager position or did you move up through the co-op?

Hannah: I started in this position, the board did a visioning process with CGFC’s owners in the summer of 2005 and while many things came out of that the main thing that came out of that was an awareness that if they wanted to accomplish their vision and have a real impact on food in our community CGFC would need to get out the basement of a church and be a storefront grocery store open to the whole community. The board started a search process for the co-op’s first ever general manager in the spring of 2006, I was hired that August and hired knowing what was expected of me was to strengthen CGFC as an organization and get it into that dreamed-of storefront so the vision of the owners could come alive to a whole new level. I was six months pregnant at the time with my son, the board took a risk on me and I took a real risk on them as my family’s primary breadwinner. I like to believe it has paid off very well for both CGFC and for my and my family. It is the best job of my life and has shaped me as a person in many ways.

SP: I personally love the way the new store looks and is laid out! It’s really come into its own.

Hannah: Thank you!

SP: What do you hope for Common Ground’s future?

Hannah: What’s important to me about CGFC’s future is not what I want for it, but what those community members who chose to step up and own CGFC want for it. A cooperative at its best captures and harnesses the collective vision of those who it serves, its owners. CGFC’s owners speak that vision through the co-op’s “ends.” CGFC’s ends are core to everything we do and are boldly posted on the wall over our registers to remind us all -customers, staff, owners- why we’re here.

SP: How will you achieve those ends?

Hannah: To move those owner ends forward right now, I feel the next step is to be more fully serving the C-U community by having a store presence in both cities. The store serves as a living hub of community. I’ve visited many other food cooperatives and many have two or more stores in their community. What you find is that each store creates another hub of community that is intricately connected to the other, yet brings a deeper physical connection to the co-op community to the area it moves to. We’ve been hearing from Common Ground Food Co-op’s owners for over 7 years now that they want a store in Champaign as well as Urbana, and we only hear it more each day.

Building vibrant, inclusive community is one of CGFC’s ends, and I’m excited to see if we can bring the physical part of that community to Champaign as well as Urbana. Beyond that goal, it will continue to be driven by CGFC’s owners and their collective vision. As long as Common Ground Food Co-op continues to be a dynamic force for the community -through great food, growing the local food system, education, showing people how empowering the cooperative model can be- then it will be filling my hopes, personally, as just one of over 5,000 (and growing!) owners.

SP: Common Ground has a lot of local products, to say the least. What kind of impact can shopping local have on the community?

Hannah: When we shop local, more of our dollars stay in our community. A national study done on local food cooperatives like Common Ground found that for every $1.00 a customer spends at a cooperative grocery store, $0.38 of it stays in the community as wages, purchasing from local farmers, using local accounting services, making donations to local charities, etc. The same study found that when you purchase your groceries at a conventional grocery chain, only $0.24 of every dollar is likely to stay in the community. That $0.14 out of every dollar may not sound like a big deal on paper, but it has huge impacts in reality. When you realize Common Ground did over $7 million in sales last year…that turns into almost a million dollars that stayed here in the C-U, creating jobs and supporting businesses in our community. That $1 million in revenue that recirculates in our community has huge economic impacts!

SP: Plus, a lot of restaurants (and other businesses) in Champaign-Urbana are just…better!

Hannah: When you talk about what makes our community special, the things you can’t wait to take your out-of-town visitors to try or to see, its not our strip of chain restaurants that are just like the ones your guest have back home. It’s the nationally recognized Black Dog barbecue restaurant; the Urbana Market at the Square; the amazing nightlife scene in downtown Campaign, filled with local bars, cafes, and restaurants with distinctive, rich character. These locally owned businesses and events are what make our communities unique. They provide a sense of home and excitement. They are where the creative, dynamic things happen that make C-U so C-U. When we support these businesses, we vote for a community that has more to offer us all and more community pride.

SP: Does it matter what kinds of products and services you choose to buy from local businesses?

Hannah: In the case of food, shopping local matters even more. When you shop at a locally owned grocery store that supports local farms and producers, you don’t just get the economic benefits that you get whenever you shop at a locally owned business. You also get a second layer of impact on our local food system.

The number of American farmers is dropping daily and the average age of the American farmer is over 60. If we want the future of our food system to be sustainable, we need more young people going into farming, but for that to happen we need local farming opportunities. Common Ground used to work with a dozen local farmers just 8 years ago; now we work with almost 70. That number has grown partially because we have space in our expanded store to display and sell more local products, but it’s also grown because there are hobby growers that have actually decided to go into farming full time because of the access to the market that CGFC has created. When you buy local food, farmers are able to bring back their sons and daughters -the next generation of farmers- to the farm. And we’ve seen that story unfold multiple times, on multiple local farms in our area, since the explosion of support that has unfolded for local food in the C-U area over the last decade. When we buy local food, we strengthen local farms; make it possible for more local farms to start up. We encourage more crop diversity in our local area which strengthens our food shed. I could write a whole book just on why supporting local food matters in C-U, its such a powerful action to create change.

SP: What’s a simple step people can make to start shopping local?

Hannah: Let’s be clear that every dollar counts. If you are buying a few things local at the farmers market, you are part of the change. If you are stopping by a locally owned grocery store once a week and getting a portion of your food shopping done there, you are creating change. It is not an all-or-nothing proposition and its not something people need to feel pressure or guilt over. We all do what we can. It should be fun and feel good, and small steps have huge impacts. Supporting local, at its best, is not just the right thing to do, it’s something that brings happiness into our lives and helps us feel connected to our community.

As you develop these habits and stick with them, you get the great feeling of knowing you are supporting local, but also you develop relationships with these businesses, you become a “regular”. I believe these simple connections we develop with our farmers, our locally owned grocery store, even the attendant at the locally-owned gas station enrich our lives, give us a daily sense of connections to our community, that make our lives rich.

SP: How did you start? What are some of your regular spots?

Hannah: For me, it started with going to the Market at the Square every Saturday [that] I could and exploring doing a portion of my grocery shopping there. I was not only supporting local, but creating a tradition of slowing down and enjoying the weather, the people, the conversations with farmers. I’ve come to find it a fun game to try to find all my gifts for others at locally owned shops. So many local shops make that easy to do, from 10,000 Villages for stationary, decorative items, jewelry; World Harvest for high quality oils and vinegars (everyone uses them!) and unique sweets; to the local Do It Best for tools for my loved ones with workshops; to, of course, Common Ground and the other great locally owned shops at Lincoln Square for all sorts of treats. Building habits of supporting local in new ways doesn’t have to be hard. Another easy habit my family has developed is getting our gas for our car at the gas station on Main Street, a few blocks east of Vine Street in Urbana. It’s one of the only ones in town still locally owned and its not far from our home, so it’s easy to make a little detour to go there instead of the big stations.

SP: Changing one habit doesn’t seem so impossible…


To feed your sense of community, visit Common Ground Food Co-op…or any fantastic businesses that is exclusive to C-U!

Please note that Do It Best is a national chain, but there is a Champaign location on Springfield Avenue. 

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