After an all too brief sojourn at home in Greensboro I packed up my things and wandered into what would surely a good and new adventure. I drove past familiar road side vistas, not terribly breathtaking on this stretch between the Triad and the Triangle, but familiar still were the Cook Out signs and truck stops. It would be some time before I came back driving the opposite direction.
I spent my evening on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill where FLO Foods (Fair Local Organic) is dreaming of a grocery store where students can have access to healthy local and affordable food. Walking across the quad my belly carried mixed contents of proper nerves and excitement. I had never met these folks before, I didn't know what they expected of me and if I could deliver, but I also knew that this job is one I have wanted since I first learned what a student coop was, this work is love. And like any labor love, the nerves and excitement are what make those first steps special.
I met with a group of 8 students mostly first years and second years (which are always exciting to work with because they'll be around a minute!). Sitting with them I could tell that many were eager to enter into this world of cooperatives and food & were committed to figuring out a way to do it. They were sitting around this table figuring out what to do, what some steps could be, and my job wasn't so much to tell them, but to bring attention to all the opportunities around them.
Of course like most schools, Carolina Dining Services has a contract with a large food service provider and so starting with a brick and mortar location would be hard, but not impossible. While I was there I inquired about a cafe that didn't seem to have the normal branding typical of dining services and they told me it was locally owned and later would discover that there had years earlier been a call for local businesses to open a spot on campus. So there is precedent and it is not impossible.
However in the short term, there is a square in the center of campus through which all the students of UNC will pass, where students are allowed to sell food. Just a little square--- and so the dream formed of a veggie cart where students could buy their vegetables and bread (which is lacking on campus). They were confident that they already have relationships with farmers, and that sourcing wouldn't be an issue and they would be an on campus outlet for these farmers who do not have the proper certification to sell to the food service provider.
They were busy making their arrangements for food week, so I am eager to follow up with them and start turning this dream into a reality. To bring some coops neighbors to the Greenleaf. Not only would this be a win for students, the food justice movement and the cooperative movement, but everyone who thinks of UNC would then have a coop to add to the list the includes Michael Jordan.