More than Capital: Why Worker Co-ops Need Access to Markets
Camille Kerr: I was able with my time in this field to get the capital access we needed for ChiFresh Kitchen to get up, to get the infrastructure it needed. But now we need market access. We don’t want to live on grants or emergency feeding or anything that we’ve been sustaining ourselves on so far. We want to be able to provide food to our communities the way that other organizations already are from outside, but to do it with the love and care of a local organization that really cares about the people that they’re feeding. Right?
So, we’ve been trying to figure out how to access USDA [US Department of Agriculture] summer feeding, afterschool feeding, school lunches, and all those different sources. Or to access Medicaid and Medicare for dual-eligible folks who are low-income and older and need access to food to boost their underlying health. We’re trying to access all those funding streams as well as apply to RFPs [requests-for-proposals]. And the number of barriers that we’ve hit trying to get to these funding sources, the amount of bureaucracy—it would be my whole life just learning for each one of these funding streams, that would have to be my whole existence.
And then on top of that, the RFPs are saying things like “we encourage folks who provide employment to formerly incarcerated to apply,” but then say that everyone has to do a background check and nobody with a felony conviction can work on this program.
I’m like, “Exactly who is it that you are trying to help?” There’s a left hand and a right hand, no communication, and entire barriers, but also with this, “Look, what we’re trying to do. Isn’t it nice?”
So, we’re trying to work with folks who are doing the Good Food Purchasing Program and other initiatives that are looking to shift the way public funding works and to create access. I mean, honestly, we don’t need—Chicago, none of the cities I’ve lived in, Oakland—we don’t need large corporations to feed us. Our communities know food. They know how to feed themselves, but the funding streams are set up in a way that that money goes to outside, really large providers because of this and this and this requirement that are not necessary for health. Right? For other reasons, they exist.