There is a noticeable shift occurring - in which it is commonplace for consumers to not only want to know where their food comes from, but where they are also voting quite literally with their dollars by supporting producers and purveyors who embody the processes they feel their food should to travel through before getting to their tables (hint : go slow!). The growing abundance of community owned grocers in and around Chicago alone is a testament to this shift (hello, Chicago Market and the soon to be expanding Dill Pickle - to mention a few). Now you can add another name to the list - The Sugar Beet Co-op in Oak Park, IL - a suburb just outside of Chicago. We had the opportunity to speak with Cheryl Munoz, the Marketing + Outreach lead of this new oasis for local goods shoppers.
What would you be doing right now on a typical workday?
Spreading the word about Sugar Beet Food Co-op! I spend most days working on the many marketing tactics for our store. Our community is still learning about us as we have only been open for 2 months and we are still growing, too. I research local producers and farmers to highlight in our newsletters and develop and advertise programs like cooking classes, wellness events and collaborative cross promotions in our community. Rallying our community to build a co-op took over three years. Rallying our community to support our co-op is an ongoing effort!
What’s the best part about your job? The hardest part?
I love talking to people about food! From meeting with our local vendors and farmers and learning about their lives and all of the passion and hard work that goes into growing and making good food to our customers who so excited about the delicious foods that they are finding at The Co-op. Our store is a busy hive of people discussing, sharing, and celebrating good food. The hardest part is not eating all day long and finding a quiet space to get my work done.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for Chicago’s food systems to overcome?
Lack of education and awareness. Many people do not realize the many benefits that a strong local food system would bring to our region. Jobs, more green space, fresher and healthier food, connection with the land, investments in technology, food security, agritourism, and tasty, local food! Alongside Sugar Beet Food Co-op we created Sugar Beet Schoolhouse which is a non profit that serves our community with food literacy programming. We have developed and facilitated camps and after school programs for youth of all ages, farm tours, Chicago food and sustainability tours and we are growing food on park district land with volunteers. Fun, practical programming that inspires people to rethink their relationship with food is central to changing our consumption patterns.
What do you think should be up next for trendiest food item - kale’s successor?
I was asked this when I spoke on a panel at Good Food Fest called “The Future of Food”. I would like to shout from the roof tops BEANS! Beans of all kinds are grown here in the Midwest and are an amazing source of protein, fiber and other goodies. I want to see beans on every table across Chicagoland. They are cheap, they store well and they are so easy to cook. My family eats Breslin beans almost every day. Do we fart sometimes? Yes. It’s ok, though because laughter is good for the soul.
What wins - avocado toast vs. artichoke toast?
I am less about the toppings and more about the toast. Is it bread from HEWN or Pleasant House Bakery? I cannot choose between those two... they are both so good.
What is your second favorite Chicago food related social media account to follow (because Slow Food Chicago is your favorite of course)?
I am new to my job as Marketing & Outreach Lead at Sugar Beet Food Co-op so I am always looking up to our “Big Sister” co-op, Dill Pickle, for social media ideas. Their casual product photos and fun social media posts highlight the best of this movement - good food and good people.
How does your work relate to the Slow Food objectives (good, clean, fair)?
Food is a very personal matter and Sugar Beet Food Co-op and Schoolhouse have earned the trust of our community by offering practical and positive solutions and information about food - from growing it to buying it - without being negative. People are drawn to the celebration that we have started and continue to come back because we are making Good Food accessible, delicious and fun. Slow Food also embodies a positive approach, as well, through their beautiful publications and fun events.
Why Chicago? If not Chicago, where?
Chicagoland is alive with curiosity, hope and people who are working towards systemic change. Chicago is also bristling with tension due to financial instability and wealth disparities with no relief in sight. Localizing our food system through sustainable urban agriculture provides so many solutions from creating local jobs to revitalizing neighborhoods and communities by activating green spaces and neighborhood centers with green industry. Empty lots and buildings can be turned into urban and vertical farms. Corner stores could be filled with fresh produce alleviating health disparities and boosting small independent businesses. Unemployed people could be learning new skills that will support the birth of a new city plan that is more sustainable - both financially and environmentally. The vision is clear for many of us and we are building a movement that will gain the attention of many more...one bite at a time.