Winston-Salem Co-Op Grocery Store Addresses Food System Inequity

Food system inequity deepens disparities in overall health outcomes for residents citywide and across the state.

In Winston-Salem, the SHARE cooperative is committed to engaging the local community to create pathways toward food sovereignty. This grassroots collective of business and faith leadership centers community collaboration while focusing on their mission to combat food system inequity and increase access to fresh, quality food. The acronym SHARE, Supplying Honest and Respectful Engagement, is a commitment that is at the heart of the new Co-Op grocery store, The Harvest Market.

The Harvest Market and the SHARE cooperative headquarters occupy the same shopping center located in the middle of a Winston-Salem community historically designated as a food desert—an area where it is difficult to buy fresh, quality food. Both sites are led by co-op founder Reverend Willard Bass.

Rev. Bass has been a committed community advocate who, through decades of nonprofit and commercial work, continues seeking solutions for the racial and systemic inequity harming our community. He credits direct interaction with a plethora of racially biased systems throughout his life and work as the motivating spark to center racial equity in his work, but it was through recent conversations with many community stakeholders that he understood the impact of food deserts and food system inequity as social determinants of health and overall outcomes.

According to the North Carolina Justice Center, North Carolina has the 10th highest rate of food insecurity in the nation with one in five children experiencing some level of hunger or malnutrition. It is also reported 28 percent of the food insecure don’t qualify for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that helps people with low incomes purchase food, because their income exceeds the poverty threshold.

Rev. Bass alluded to the gaps often left by programmatic support and safety nets that are not led or informed by voices from the community being served. The SHARE co-op and the Harvest Market are working to change that dynamic.

“There’s roughly 160 community gardens in Forsyth County, and most of them are located in the heart of one of our eleven food deserts,” said Rev. Bass. “After we identified where these gardens were, we approached communities about growing the produce commercially for our store, but the shared concern was their inability to store what’s harvested.”

To respond to those concerns, Harvest Market houses an extra-large, dedicated community freezer. Also inside the Harvest Market are ready-made hot meals prepared in-house. On the aisles you’ll find a solid variety of shelf stable items and home essentials with fresh, locally grown and sourced produce and packaged meat lining the far walls.

“We want to address food insecurity and support food sovereignty, but we want to do it as a business. We don’t want to be a charity or a giveaway. That’s why we’ve developed this model,” said Rev. Bass.

The key component of the Harvest Market model is the development of a different kind of relationship with its patrons. The market’s member-owner structure and implementation of democratic governance aims to level power and mutually benefit the grocery store founders, customers, and community. General annual memberships are tiered at $250, $100, and $75 and offer access to a variety of in-store specials and discounts. Individuals who want to make larger initial investments of $5,000, $1,000, and $500 gain the same in-store benefits in addition to preferred shares in Harvest Market that could offer returns. All members can participate in monthly board meetings and retain voting rights on key decisions and board member elections.

The Share Co-Op also hosts lifestyle-focused cooking and nutrition classes, learning circles, and other community events. The Harvest Market store supports programs like “food-pharmacy,” where physicians can prescribe patients living with conditions such as diabetes with fresh foods that aid their health needs in lieu of pharmaceutical treatment alone.

The organizational emphasis on developing community forums and resources is reflected in Rev. Bass’s vision for long-term community connection and collaboration. “That’s the idea of being a community, we’ve got to find a way to get people together,” he said. “That’s what this space is designed to do.”

The Harvest Market opened in October 2022, and Rev. Bass and his team hope this model will be replicable in communities challenged by food system inequity. “We believe the model will be successful because it’s more than just a business around grocery. It’s a model for life.” said Rev. Bass “We need a new model for life.”

Support the Harvest Market by purchasing a membership online or in-store when visiting them at 635A Peters Creek Pkwy Monday-Saturday 9 A.M – 8 P.M, and Sunday from 11 A.M. to5 P.M. Visit the calendar on their website for resources and opportunities to get involved.