Access to a local food store in downtown Schenectady will reduce hunger and food insecurity, create local jobs, support local farms and local food producers. Access to a downtown grocery store will increase economic activity, and promote health, wellness, and community resilience in the city and surrounding communities. This collaborative project will contribute to a growing movement of diverse partners to create food systems that are healthy, accessible and affordable for all, and fair to the people who grow, distribute, prepare, serve, and sell food, while protecting the air, water, and land. ECFC is committed to building back better – together.
The COVID-19 pandemic represents an apocalyptic moment that at once uncovered and exacerbated health disparities and racial inequities pervasive in the Capital Region and across the nation. Formerly redlined neighborhoods have also tended to be hit hardest by the pandemic. The pandemic also revealed for a broader public what many of us have known: that our food system as it is, doesn’t work for the majority of people or for the planet. We will get past this pandemic by ensuring that each of us, no matter what we look like or where we live, can get and stay well. Beyond access to vaccines and healthcare, we need to nourish each other and invest in community-led solutions and healthy, walkable, equitable, vibrant neighborhoods. Investing in a cooperative grocery in a historically redlined neighborhood in downtown Schenectady promises to have a catalytic, lasting effect on increasing equitable, community-rooted health and wealth. Not only will this investment improve a bricks and mortar establishment with returns on investment in financial capital and sales taxes, it will also generate social capital through community building efforts, human capital through enhanced nutrition and educational opportunities, cultural capital through community events and celebration of Schenectady’s diverse cuisines, and natural capital through support of sustainable local farming and reduced vehicle miles traveled. This holistic, community-rooted approach is the heart of our strategy to build back better.
How can we build back together? National news has brought attention to the K-shaped recovery that has been emerging in response to the COVID-19 recession; some segments of the population are recovering rapidly, while others are being left behind. Wall Street has prospered while Main Streets have been devastated. Unfortunately, all too often, new investments in infrastructure in historically marginalized neighborhoods trigger gentrification pressures for low-income households, rather than supporting community-rooted health and wealth.
These challenges currently threaten downtown Schenectady. On the one hand, downtown Schenectady has experienced a renaissance over the past several years, with an upswing in property values as people with economic means move back into the urban core, attracted by a walkable downtown with unique historical character. Yet, they have moved into a food desert and options for food are limited, with a few options within walking distance at the Schenectady Trading Company and Arthur’s Market. On the other hand, this upswing in reinvestment is contributing to gentrification pressures for a historically redlined urban area that has suffered from structural disinvestment and racial inequity for decades. Rising housing costs make it more difficult to pay for healthy food. Nationwide, historically redlined neighborhoods are frequently hotspots for both gentrification and COVID-19. Poverty remains a concern for residents in the City of Schenectady, with many associated challenges related to the Social Determinants of Health, including lack of food access. Limited access to healthy food is a problem in Schenectady’s downtown core, as well as the Hamilton Hill and Vale neighborhoods, especially with recent cuts to public transportation service in the wake of the pandemic.
In the face of these staggering economic inequities, cooperative economic development is one of the strongest strategies for building back together, through cooperative ownership, governance, and community life. Shared ownership is an economic resilience strategy that can support community wealth-building among diverse residents, whether in periods of economic booms and busts. Cooperative ownership strategies have been a core strategy of social justice movements, as reflected by Fannie Lou Hamer’s Freedom Farm Cooperative and Dr. Jessica Nembhard’s Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. In areas like downtown Schenectady where an influx of new neighbors and market demand for healthy, local, sustainably sourced food and walkable neighborhoods can support a new grocery, cooperative economic models can support shared health and wealth. Unlocking the power of cooperatives requires a commitment to long-term relationship building, community organizing, education and outreach. This commitment is clear in ECFC’s community-led, collaborative approach and intention to collaboratively design a community hub based on the priorities of existing neighbors in partnership with its diverse multi-sector coalition.