How Common Market Food Co-op Is Impacting the Community Through Their Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Common Market Co-op is a rapidly expanding food co-op started in the home of the two original owners back in 1974. Since then, the market has become a cornerstone for the Frederick community and now boasts nearly 8,000 co-op owners and two locations in Frederick.
The Common Market is beloved for its wide selection of local products and its commitment to the community, which influences everything sold in its stores. Products are tagged, denoting whether an item is “local,” “BIPOC-owned,” “women-owned,” or so on so that customers can shop in alignment with their values.
Their commitment to the community also goes beyond the products on their shelves and can be seen in their commitment to accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion for all.
Common Market President of the Board of Directors, Megan Schneebaum, shares that their values stem from the 7 cooperative principles shared by most cooperatives. The 7 principles include providing education, training, and information so members can contribute effectively to the co-op and betterment of the community. The principles also include being community-minded and contributing to the sustainable development of the community.
Libby Nuss, the Education, Events, and Outreach Coordinator, states: “The necessity for DEI can’t be denied. There’s such a wide economic range in Frederick County. The team members at Common Market understand the value of incorporating DEI initiatives into our business model. Within the co-op principles, we can make those decisions based on the needs of the community.”
The Creation of New Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
Last June, they created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee within the Common Market’s board of directors. This committee meets monthly and anyone can attend their meetings. This committee has catalyzed new initiatives at the co-op, such as “Food For Thought,” a 20-minute TEDx Talk-style event and speaker series that happens at the beginning of each monthly board meeting and features a speaker from an underrepresented community within Frederick. The wide range of speakers so far has included one of their employees that’s in the deaf community; the director and founder of the Asian American Center of Frederick; Román Diaz (General Manager of Common Market), who’s part of the South American immigrant community; Shana Knight, the Executive Director of SOUL Street; and others. The “Food for Thought” talks will soon be available on the Common Market website, pending ASL translation.
Another initiative is the Co-operative Conversations, which is a monthly meeting based on a book club concept. People who attend don’t have to read the monthly book topic, and they’re invited to participate in the discussion around the monthly theme. (This is currently on pause for the summer, and they’re exploring possibilities for continuing these conversations in the store at a later date.)
They also recently partnered with Kimberly Scott of Moving Us Forward Inc to bring Wellness Wednesday talks, where they share concepts related to mental health and community health.
A Commitment to Accessibility Within the Store and the Community
The Common Market is also committed to accessibility inside and outside the store.
They never want cost to be a barrier to ownership or education, and they have scholarships available. Common Market also continues to work towards keeping its prices affordable.
To support local charities and organizations, they run a financial initiative called Bring a Bag for Change Program. A 5 cent charitable donation is made to a local organization for each person who brings a reusable bag. While Covid slowed down the Bring a Bag for Change Program, they were able to substitute some of their giving through their sales and donated a lump sum to Frederick Health to support the front-line workers there.
As Libby says, “We want to make sure that people in our community have what they need in order to deliver their services that support our community.”
With a robust budget for sponsorship and donations, they can also sponsor community activities such as tree plantings, community farm clean-up events, and events related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. They recently hosted Soul Street, a local collective of Black business owners and community members in Frederick.
Their commitment to the community can also be seen in how they take care of their staff.
After opening their second store in Frederick last fall, they had a much larger footprint in Frederick, and they were able to add to their staff and pay higher wages. They raised their minimum wage to $14 per hour and are currently evaluating raising it to $14.50 within this fiscal year. These wages are competitive with the other grocery stores in the area, even though Common Market is smaller.
Within their staff, 80-90% of employees are full-time, and those who aren’t full-time still receive some benefits.
They’ve also made the job application process more accessible at their store, moving from online-only applications to paper applications in the store (as not everyone has access to a computer). They’ve removed the criminal background history question from the application, which can limit opportunities for those in reentry.
Lessons Learned in their Journey of DEI Initiatives
Megan shares: "We created our DEI board committee, opened our second store, and brought Román on all during COVID. We are continuing to seek out DEI conversations even as we are continuing to get the word out. Consistency is important and letting folks know that we’re here, doing this work, striving to do better, and pushing to improve our inclusiveness. We’re always actively looking to expand our DEI initiatives by including more of the Frederick community in this conversation. We are inviting more of the community to become Owners and encouraging more of the community to become employees, all in the hopes of living up to those 7 cooperative principles that really make us stand out as a different way of doing business in Frederick."
Román Diaz, the General Manager, shares: “Every day, diversity, equity, and inclusion are an ongoing focus. These are deep-rooted into our business practices and are top of mind in the hiring, education, events, and sponsorships inside and outside the store. It’s easy to lower the guard on these initiatives with everything going on. The secret is to make sure it’s an ongoing conversation every day and part of the daily to-do list. We’re in a good place, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be in a better place. We’re always looking for what we can do to make a bigger impact.”
Megan shares that while co-op stores have historically had an “exclusive” reputation for being the one place you could go to buy local or organic, now that’s changed. Today, co-cops have to figure out what makes them stand out from other places. For Common Market, being able to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a core part of their business has come to play a large role in their uniqueness and authenticity. They see it as an ongoing process that they’re always looking to improve.
Libby says, “We’re not just a grocery store. We have so much of a community mindset. So much of what keeps things going is our desire to support our community in every way we can.”
The front of Common Market says “Everyone Welcome,” and their practices speak even louder than their words to confirm this is true.
Visit the Common Market online at https://www.commonmarket.coop/.
Visit the Common Market store at 5728 Buckeystown Pike, Unit B1, Frederick, MD 21704
or 927 W 7th Street, Frederick, MD 21701
Attend their special event, Loco for Local, on July 17 from 11:30 - 2:30, with 30 local vendors, live music, free samples, great deals, and much, much more!