West Seattle's Delridge neighborhood dreams of a grocery co-op | KUOW News and Information

West Seattle's Delridge neighborhood dreams of a grocery co-op

Sep 10, 2016

West Seattle’s Delridge neighborhood has been struggling for years to get a grocery store in the area. It hasn’t been able to attract major retailers for various reasons. 

As a result, residents say the neighborhood doesn’t have access to fresh, healthy foods. There have been efforts to change that, including a program that encouraged convenience stores to stock up on fruits and vegetables.

These days residents like Jeff Steen get their fruits and vegetables at a farm stand on Delridge Way Southwest, right next to the community P-Patch.

Steen has lived here for 20 years. He says the closest store is in West Seattle, about two miles away. Getting there isn’t a problem for him because he has a car.

“But I can see if somebody doesn’t have one, the bus here only goes north and south; the bus doesn’t go all the way,” he says. “You’ve got to go north then get on a different bus and then go all the way to West Seattle. It’ll take you like, hour and a half, two hours.”

Every Thursday the farm stand offers locally grown produce, though it runs in the summer only.  The long term plan is to open a grocery store. But instead of waiting for a major retailer to come to the area, residents have decided to open a community co-op. It’s been a dream in the making for the past seven years.

“I didn’t think it was going to be this long,” says Andrea Wilmot, president of the Delridge Grocery Co-op. “We’ve been having intentions of opening up our store every year that I’ve been on this board. And every year we’re like, we’re opening this and we’re doing this, we’re going to make this happen. And once again, there was a roadblock, there was something that prevented us from making it happen.”

The major hurdle at the moment is funding. The organization has been applying for grants and recruiting members. To date it has 452 members; the goal is 600. The group is also doing a feasibility study, says board member Ranette Iding.

“I have high hopes that we’re going to open in the spring," Iding says. "Let’s hope everything keeps rolling along as it is. And that we can open when all the good stuff locally is being harvested.”

Having a grocery store in Delridge is not just a matter of convenience. According to a UW study, Delridge has the third lowest life expectancy among Seattle neighborhoods. A host of social issues make it harder for residents to access healthy foods.

But putting a grocery store alone isn’t going to address the problem. What’s sold in the store is also important. Branden Born is associate professor at the UW Department of Urban Design and Planning. He specializes in food systems. Born says it matters whether the food is affordable and culturally appropriate.  “It’s also recognizing what the desires or special needs in any given neighborhood and then trying to do a good match with that,” he says.

Born says groceries are important for more than just food. People look to grocery stores as a fabric of the community.

“Whether it’s for the weekly groceries or for the I-met-my-neighbor or sat down outside and had coffee, or my kid put up their lawn mowing business sign, or their babysitting sign. These things, they seem minor but especially in a place like Delridge, which has this linear, urban form, having those third spaces, those gathering points really helps build a community.”

Back at the Delridge farm stand, the Swiss chard and carrots are gone. Andrea Wilmot tells a customer what’s left.

Nicole Warren, the customer, buys some fruit. She just moved to the neighborhood. She had read about the co-op on Facebook and tells Wilmot she wants to join the board. Wilmot is thrilled. “That’s so awesome—yay!”

The farm stand is bringing in residents, both longtime and new, says Wilmot. It’s what keeps her going on.