This is a guest post written by Carolyn Stypka, an aspiring macro social worker and sustainable foods enthusiast. Carolyn is passionate about spreading the message of how we can take control of how we feed our bodies, while also protecting the entire community, peoples, and the earth. Having lived and worked in southern Japan, having spent time on a small organic farm, and having worked in housekeeping at a remote mountain village in the Northern Cascades, she is well equipped to explore how fair trade can relate to our food systems here in Chicago. 

A model of transparency and community ownership has guided the growth and expansion of The Dill Pickle Cooperative.

A model of transparency and community ownership has guided the growth and expansion of The Dill Pickle Cooperative.

Glancing around Chicago, small health food stores are popping up left and right. From farmers markets to conventional grocers to food co-ops, the food market is expanding rapidly. Not all grocers are created equal, though, and cooperatives such as The Dill Pickle have set themselves apart by promoting a sustainable, transparent food system. This unique model is revealed each month, as member owners, management, and staff alike sit down to review policy, discuss developments, and collaborate on future plans of expansion, mission and range of cooperative influence. The room is abuzz with input from the wide variety of stakeholders from the community, flexing their power as a member in the co-op to steer the trajectory of the cooperative on the whims of the local Logan Square community’s interests. An emphasis on transparency, on accountability to stakeholders, on involving employees, members, and producers in its decision-making processes has maintained an open channel of communication through all levels of the supply chain. Furthermore, by educating and training its members through guest seminars on topics ranging from bee keeping to garden planting, and by the guarantee of a democratic process of decision-making, The Dill Pickle empowers the local Logan Square community as activists and agents in the economic success of their community. This demonstration of fair trade practice is only the beginning of The Dill Pickle’s story.

The Dill Pickle also supports local producers such as small family farms, bakeries, and breweries, offering them a fair price for their products and thus bolstering the local economy. Their support of small farms combats farmers’ historical marginalization without access to social services, infrastructure, credit, markets, or technical assistance. The commitment to the local community resounds again in involvement with local organizations such as Sarah’s Circle (homeless women’s organization in Uptown since 1979), and The Black Youth Project (for African American youth ages 15 – 25, based out of University of Chicago).  Encouraging customers to bring their old bags, The Dill Pickle donates to these groups. 

A wide variety of goals guide The Dill Pickle’s distribution of products. One of their goals is to source from as local a producer as possible. This objective is reflected in the fresh greens from the Gary Comer Youth Farm, grown 15 miles from the store. About 1/3 of sales are from locally-sourced products, as defined as within 150 miles of the store. A second goal is to have product that is as natural as possible, ideally organic, meaning no extra nonsense thrown in.  This is seen in product after product after product!  Finally, they strive to sell from producers and businesses that are also ethically conscious.  Nearly every product that the Dill Pickle sources from outside the United States is of Fair Trade recognition. Furthermore, The Dill Pickle has committed to both locally sourced and fair trade products when possible, as exhibited by their Wild Ophelia fair trade certified chocolate bars, sourced from right here in Chicago. As a Fair Trade organization, its mission is to inspire, empower, and help activate a movement of American female entrepreneurs.

General Manager Sharon Hoyer has reveled in the success of the cooperative model since its conception, and now looks forward to its growth. Seeing over 200 customers per day, and having built up a membership base of about 1800 since it’s opening in 2009, this strong core sought expansion. Under the guidance of its membership body, Dill Pickle will be graduating to a space ten times its current size in December of 2016. What does this mean for fair trade? It means 35 new living-wage jobs, more dollars to local producers to promote their economic self-sufficiency, and a bolstered availability of Fair Trade Certified products. Dill Pickle already stands as a pioneer in the Fair Trade food movement, and this expansion will brighten this image. Already, Dill Pickle is the only distributor of fair trade bananas in the Chicago area, supporting the small banana farmers of Peru and Ecuador. With the conventional banana industry historically rife with human rights abuses, plagued by artificially low prices, and low-wages, Dill Pickle has bravely stepped up to this injustice by providing fair trade bananas. It has set a high standard for grocers, exhibiting that the consumers are willing to spend the extra dime to promote the welfare of the small banana farmers of Peru and Ecuador.

As we expand in numbers at Chicago Fair Trade, Dill Pickle is also expanding its vision to increase awareness and education of fair trade. At its new 2746 N Milwaukee Ave location, the Dill Pickle will strive to collaborate with Chicago Fair Trade. With the space to hold their own educational events, it will promote education and awareness of fair trade, spreading word of how it relates to our everyday lives, and what each of us individually, and cooperatively can do for a stronger future.  Keep your eyes peeled for schedules of what’s to come in 2017!  

Still not convinced? Here are a few facts that must might do the trick:  

  1. For every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op, $1,604 dollars in economic activity is generated into their local economy – $239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer in the same community.
  2. 19% of co-op revenue is spent on local wages and benefits compared to just 13% in conventional grocers.
  3. Their employees are happy!  They boost an annual 11% turnover rate compared to a 37% turnover at conventional stores.

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With high customer satisfaction, regular support of the community in a variety of ways, and a pleasant and happy staff, it only leads to wonder, how we can get these all over our fair city.