By Linda Ball
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Andrea Wilmot works full-time as a financial analyst at South Seattle College (WSB sponsor). But in her off-hours, she is motivated to bring healthy food to an area of West Seattle that she – and many others – describe as a food desert.
With no nearby supermarket, every Thursday this summer, from 4 to 7 p.m. she has been setting up a tent between the Delridge P-Patch and the Full Gospel Pentecostal Federated Church, for the farm stand operated by volunteers from the Delridge Grocery Co-op, which just might be on track to finally open as a real grocery store on the ground level of Cottage Grove Commons, the DESC-owned supportive-housing complex that opened almost three years ago in the 5400 block of Delridge Way SW.
Wilmot is president of the Delridge Grocery Co-op and manager of its farm stand.
She’s been involved with the Co-op for more than four of the five years she has lived in the neighborhood. The organization, under different volunteer leadership, goes back even further – launched as the Delridge Produce Cooperative in 2009, changing the name to Delridge Grocery about four years ago.
During last Thursday’s farm stand, while checking out a gentleman who bought just about everything she had, Wilmot said that the past several Thursdays, she has completely sold out all the produce. (It’s not from the P-Patch – the location is coincidental; Wilmot said she sources her produce from the Food Hub, Okanogan Producers Marketing Association, local farmers, and donations from Co-op members. Additionally, she collaborates with the High Point farm stand.)
One of the big hurdles for the grocery-store plan is money.
Becoming a Delridge Grocery Co-op member requires a one-time fee of $100, and you are a member for life as long as you live in the state of Washington. Wilmot likes to think that the 450 Co-op members are like-minded people supportive of having a real grocery store in the Delridge food desert. Her goal is to have at least 600 members. Member discounts will be offered, she said, but she added that people don’t have to be members to shop at the Co-op.
The effort has had support from Partnerships to Improve Community Health, or PITCH, for three years now, which is supported by King County. Brenda Sevilla-Miranda with PITCH told WSB they were able to provide a one-time grant of an unspecified amount to the Co-op, but that involvement ends Sept. 29, the last day the farm stand will be open this fall. Sevilla-Miranda said she was very impressed with the work Wilmot has done, not only with the Farm Stand, but also in building community.
Additional grants have come from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Neighbor to Neighbor, each contributing $5,000. Co-op members have donated $40,000, and the push for more members is ongoing. At the community’s behest, DESC created the commercial space at Cottage Grove with the Co-op in mind. Wilmot says they hope to be able to move in next spring. But first the Co-op has to have a market study done, at a cost of $12,000, in order to obtain additional financing toward the goal of at least $300,000 needed to open.
Dan Malone, the CEO of DESC, tells WSB that there is no firm determination of how long it will hold the 1,500-square-foot space for Delridge Grocery, but he said DESC is due to have a conversation with the Co-op board to see “where we’re going.” Wilmot said the rent would be based on a percentage of the Co-op’s profit; Malone said he didn’t remember what was agreed upon. Wilmot said she doesn’t anticipate any profit for at least the first few years.
“The intent is to make it work for them,” Malone said. He added that it’s been a while since he reviewed the notes on the Co-op so he needed to re-visit them.
Wilmot thinks they’ll be open next spring, though, as a full-service grocery store. In the meantime, they need people as well as dollars; she said the Co-op’s volunteer board of directors is down to five people and she is actively seeking new board members. (You can contact the Co-op through its website.)
Meantime, at the farm stand, a woman buys an enormous zucchini for $1.50. Wilmot beams as she consolidates what’s left into one table. No doubt she will sell out all her harvest once more. She is concerned about childhood obesity, diabetes, and a host of other problems that are a result of poor nutrition, which keeps her motivated.