Common Ground began in 1974 alongside a national movement seeking to get back to the land and create a more equitable food system. As the demand for naturally grown produce increased, a passionate and dedicated group of community members wanted to provide healthy and affordable food to their neighborhoods. Because there was a lack of access to these foods in Champaign-Urbana, they hopped in a van and drove up to Wisconsin to procure farm-direct foods and other products such as brown rice, kale, and tofu. Initially a buyer’s club, there was no physical location for stocking or distributing food. Volunteer members would deliver groceries or distribute them in a church parking lot for a low membership fee of $1.
More and more community members became a part of the Co-op for access to ingredients as well as to support its mission of bringing healthy, reasonably priced food to the C-U community. In 1984, Common Ground opened a tiny, 900 square feet store in an empty room of the basement of the Illinois Disciples Foundation in Champaign. Equipment was either donated or hand-built by volunteers. The store was staffed by volunteers, had no storefront or sign, and deliveries were unloaded by hand through a basement window.
Common Ground kept growing in the number of owners and in sales every year and all those years of growth necessitated changes. Many community members now relied on Common Ground for their everyday groceries, and although volunteer labor was still an important component of the day-to-day functioning of the store, there was a real need for the addition of formalized leadership. Paid staff gradually replaced volunteer labor for mission-critical components of operations, an equity system was developed to replace yearly membership fees, and financial systems and policies were instituted to ensure that CGFC operated in a solvent and more sustainable manner. During these years, Common Ground strengthened its cooperative identity by instituting mechanisms, such as electing a Board of Directors and creating bylaws, to ensure that members maintained democratic control of their Co-op.
Two decades later, Common Ground was thriving. More and more customers wanted to shop, and it was clear that the Co-op needed a larger space to better serve the community. With the hard work of owners, the board, and staff, Common Ground expanded to Lincoln Square Mall in 2008. At this time, the Co-op opened its doors to the wider C-U community. Anyone could shop and anyone could join. When the new store opened, new owners and shoppers flocked to Common Ground faster than anyone could ever have imagined.
Only four years after our historic move, Common Ground’s owners and staff were hard at work on an expansion that tripled the size of the Lincoln Square store, including the creation of the Flatlander Community Classroom. The Classroom enables us to showcase local artists, offer seating to our customers, and fulfill our third End by being an educational resource in the community. We host classes of all kinds, show documentaries, and host community gatherings.
In 2010 we started our Round Up for Good program. Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Common Ground Owners expressed a desire to collectively donate to the humanitarian efforts. The Round Up for Good program was so successful that it became a monthly crowdfunding effort to collect donations in support of organizations that enrich our local community.
In order to increase accessibility to all members of our community, we began the Food for All program. Funded entirely by our shoppers via Round Up for Good and various fundraisers over the year, Food for All members receive 10% off our Co-op basics list and produce section and free Co-op ownership.
49 years of community ownership, vision, and innovation have created amazing things for our community, and we are honored to be stewards of the local food movement here in Central Illinois.