Nourishing Communities: Food Co-ops Serving Low-Income, Low-Access Areas

Friday, May 31, 2024, 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. ET | Vermont/New Hampshire Room


  • Jeremy DeChario, General Manager/CEO, Syracuse Cooperative Market
  • Anthony Goodwin, Business Innovation Director, National Co+op Grocers
  • Seth Nauman, Director of Operation, The Merc Co+op
  • LeAnna Nieratko, CEO/General Manager, Erie Food Co-op
  • amaha sellasie, Board President, Gem City Market      

This session focuses on the critical role of food cooperatives in addressing food insecurity and fostering community resilience in low-income, low-access (LILA)* neighborhoods. While food co-ops have been predominantly associated with affluent or college-town communities, there is a growing recognition of their potential to transform food systems and promote equity in underserved areas. Join us for an interactive discussion with cooperative leaders about challenges and opportunities faced by food co-ops serving LILA communities.

Jeremy DeChario, General Manager/CEO Syracuse Market

Jeremy DeChario graduated with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in 2010. He moved to Syracuse to be with his long-time partner, and, having no idea what to do with a Liberal Arts degree, he got a part time job at the Co-op. After filling multiple roles, he was hired as the Co-op’s General Manager in 2014. In his time as General Manager he has nearly doubled the sales at the original Kensington location, investing in improved infrastructure and expanding fresh departments. He opened the Co-op’s second location in the Salt City Market in 2021 after seven years of searching for a location in Syracuse’s Downtown neighborhood.

He currently serves on the Board of the Syracuse Onondaga Food Systems Alliance and is a Co-Director of Salt City DISHES, a community-based food-centric public arts microgrant dinner. He has served on the Board of the Friends of the Central Library, the Onondaga County Democratic Party. He is passionate about small-scale neighborhood grocery; supporting the local, organic food system; and growing the cooperative economy.

Anthony Goodwin, Business Innovation Director, National Co+op Grocers

Anthony Goodwin (he/him) serves as the Business Innovation Director for National Co+op Grocers (NCG) where he is focused on the research and development of innovative solutions to grow the size, scope, and diversity of the cooperative grocery sector in low-income, low-access (LILA) communities. His passion is improving food access in under-resourced communities. He has over 17 years of grocery industry experience across various sectors including national chains, non-profits, and cooperatives. Prior to joining NCG, Anthony worked in retail operations and new store development for Meijer and Lucky’s Market and led the development of three non-profit grocery stores in Ohio and Michigan.  Anthony has a Bachelor of Science degree and Master of Business Administration degree from The University of Toledo and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Health with a concentration on food justice and health equity.

Seth Nauman, Director of Operations, The Merc Co+op

Seth has over 17 years of grocery retail leadership experience. As a district coordinator for the nation’s largest grocery retailer, Kroger, he assisted 22 stores in produce, front-end, grocery and general merchandise. During his tenure as a store manager, he led his store team to divert 92% of waste from the local landfill, deeming it the first “zero waste” establishment out of 91 stores in his division.

Seth joined The Merc Co+op’s Lawrence location as Store Director in 2019, and in 2021 he accepted the role of Operations Director managing teams at both the Lawrence and Kansas City, KS locations. He has supported the transition to a hybrid product mix at both locations, a remodel and installation of self-checkouts at the Lawrence location, and two co-op-wide livable wage adjustments. Seth’s leadership style is defined by staff empowerment, compassionate accountability, effective communication and successor planning.

LeAnna Nieratko, CEO/General Manager, Erie Food Co-op

LeAnna Nieratko is the CEO/GM of Erie Food Co-op; a medium-sized community owned grocery store in the rust belt.   While her degree and early work experience was in psychology, she spent most of her career in retail leadership roles, learning through a lot of trial-and-error.

In her time with the Erie Food Co-op, she has focused on increasing staff wages, as well as community accessibility and connection to the Co-op.  She has also served on the NCG DEI committee since 2021, and completed a term on the NCG Board.  She is active in her local community as a member of the Athena Circle of Trust and a Board director for Meals on Wheels, Erie.  In 2018 she completed Erie Ambassador training, and in 2019 was named as one of Erie’s 40 under 40.

In her spare time,  LeAnna enjoys spending time with her 3 children, Lilly, Lyle and Rosie.  As well as categorizing things onto color coded spreadsheets, and making niche playlists for every mood.

amaha sellasie, Board President, Gem City Market

amaha sellassie is a afrofuturist, peace builder, social healer, freedom fighter, network weaver, student of cooperation and lover of humanity.  amaha is a Nation Builder in the Africana Village under the Dayton Africana Elders Council.  He’s also an Associate Professor of Sociology and director of Center for Applied Social Issues at Sinclair Community College in Dayton Ohio.  amaha is a practitioner scholar and participatory action researcher dedicated towards building bridges of trust, healing historical wounds, and harnessing the unique gifts and talents of every human being as we press towards a just and equitable society. He truly understands the power of local work to transform global experiences by birthing examples of what is possible. Locally, as the former chair of the Dayton Human Relations Council Board, his areas of interest include health and education equity, praxis, cooperative economic development, dismantling structural violence and getting the voice of marginalized communities into the center of public policy in order to emerge structures of belonging that acknowledge the dignity and worth of every human being. He is co-founder and board chair of the Gem City Market, a community driven effort to address food apartheid through a food coop dedicated to increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables within west Dayton. He is also a co-founder and co-ed of CO-OP Dayton a coop incubator that is guided by the Mondragon model towards building a Just Economy Ecosystem.  amaha’s work in the community supported him receiving the J.M. Kaplan foundations national Innovation Prize fellowship to continue his work emerging a cooperative economy rooted in Love, interdependence and human dignity.  Internationally amaha is a Caux Scholar fellow trained in the Swiss Alps in peacebuilding and healing historical wounds.  He helped emerge Arada Tena Community Health Insurance Mahber (Coop) in Shashamane Ethiopia.  Currently he is working towards his Ph. D. in Sociology at the University of Cincinnati with an emphasis on utilizing community based participatory action research (CBPAR) towards emerging health equity, co-creating opportunity and community transformation.  To replenish his cup, you can often find him sitting by the water or building with his family or reading a book and deepening community at the HeArt Dayton.

*A note about Low Income, Low Access (LILA) terminology

The term “low income, low access” (LIlA) is used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to map food insecurity. Like its predecessor – food desert – LILA is similarly problematic.  Here is the description: “Low-income” is defined by the poverty rate and median family income of a tract. “Low-access” means a significant number or share of the population in the tract had limited access to a food store (supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store)—i.e., they lived more than 1 mile from a food store in urban areas or more than 10 miles in rural areas.

The term implies that the problem of limited food access is simply part of the built environment, which suggests that more grocery stores and retail venues are the solution. As a result, the term fails to acknowledge the deliberate policy decisions that created the scarcity of grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods in the first place (such as supermarket redlining, resident segregation, and other historical phenomena).

“Food apartheid” is a term coined by Karen Washington to better identify the root causes of inequity in our food system on the basis of race, class, and geography.

Cooperative Ingredients for a Transformed Food System

Saturday, June 1, 8:30 – 10:00 a.m. ET | Vermont/New Hampshire Room

Jonah Fertig-Burd, Owner of InterRooted

How can we grow a food system that is resilient, diverse and rooted in community? With the backbone of long-time food co-ops and fishing co-ops, in the past decade, the cooperative ecosystem in Maine has flourished with many new worker, producer, consumer and multi-stakeholder co-ops meeting needs while growing visions for the future. Jonah Fertig-Burd, a longtime co-op organizer in Maine, will share cooperative stories while cooking a delicious meal featuring cooperative and local ingredients. You will be invited to imagine what food system transformations can happen in your region and what role your food co-op can play in this ecosystem.

Jonah Fertig-Burd

Owner of InterRooted

Jonah Fertig-Burd is a consultant, facilitator, coach, farmer, cook, and artist.  He is the owner of InterRooted, which co-creates interconnected individual, organizational and systemic transformations rooted in love and liberation. Through InterRooted he partners with the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives as a peer advisor for worker cooperatives.  He is also a farmer and co-owner of Celebration Tree Farm & Wellness Center a multi-stakeholder cooperative in Durham, Maine, growing organic Celebration (Christmas) trees and offering wellness services, retreats, workshops and events.  Over the past 20 years, Jonah has built deep, collaborative relationships; developed new nonprofits, cooperative businesses, and collaboratives; worked in restaurants, food pantries, and farms; advocated for food and farm policies; and helped to grow racial equity in our food system.   He was a Community Partner for Food Systems at the Elmina B Sewall Foundation in Maine.  Previously he was at the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI), as the Director of Cooperative Food Systems, where he worked with farmers, fishers, cooks and food producers to form cooperatives. In 2007, he co-founded Local Sprouts Cooperative, a worker-owned cafe and catering business in Portland.

He’s currently on the board of the Cooperative Fund of the North East, Maine Inside Out, and Land in Common Community Land Trust. He co-founded the Mayor’s Initiative for a Healthy Sustainable Food System in Portland, ME and was a councilor for the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn. He was a 2018 BALLE Local Economy Fellow, 2016 Democracy at Work Institute Worker Cooperative Developer Fellow, Food Solutions New England Network Leadership Institute graduate and Sustainable Food System Leadership Institute graduate.  He loves to cook, make art, play music and walk in the woods.  He lives in Durham, Maine with his wife and two children.