Take 5 with Cierra Washington
Filling a food gap
CIERRA WASHINGTON is the strategic outreach and partnership coordinator for the Northside Food Cooperative, an organization working to build a community-owned cooperative grocery store in the Northside of downtown Wilmington. Over the past few months, she’s spent the majority of her time launching Frankie’s Outdoor Market and the co-op’s pilot store, both located at 1019 Princess Street, in addition to building relationships with other organizations, sharing the co-op’s work on social media, and looking for new ways to connect with the Northside community.
Take 5 with Cierra Washington
WHY DOES THE NORTHSIDE NEED A COMMUNITY-OWNED COOPERATIVE GROCERY STORE?
“Prior to 1898, the Northside of Wilmington was a thriving Black community, home to over fifty food-related businesses. After the 1898 coup, most of those Black-owned businesses disappeared. About thirty-five years ago, the only grocery store in the Northside closed down, and the area has been a food desert ever since, further disenfranchising this historically Black community. Over the years, a number of nonprofits and organizations have made efforts to fix this, but none have been successful. So instead of asking the city to do it, some nonprofit organizations and community members came together and decided to bring a cooperative grocery store to the neighborhood.”
HOW AND WHY DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE NORTHSIDE FOOD CO-OP?
“I graduated from UNCW in 2019 and was hired as a program associate by the Center for Healthy Communities, which is part of the College of Health and Human Services. One of our responsibilities was to be a bridge between the university and the community, focusing not just on public health, but on neighborhood health. I joined the grocery store task force, met Northside Food Co-op folks, and immediately got fired up about it. As part of my job, my supervisor let me continue attending the co-op meetings. I got more and more involved, started working for the co-op part time, and then joined the team full time in April 2021.”
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BECOMING AN OWNER OF THE NORTHSIDE FOOD CO-OP?
“Anyone can become an owner for a one-time payment of $100, which is an easy way to support our mission and be a part of the solution. As an owner, you’re also eligible to be on the board of directors, join committees, and help plan the startup and implementation of the store. It’s a way to be a part of the greater movement to bring food justice to Wilmington.”
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED THROUGH THE CO-OP SO FAR?
“I didn’t study any of this in school, so I’m learning and advocating as I go. Learning looks different when you leave college, but you still have to invest in it. Also, collaboration is key. Working together rather than duplicating efforts, not always thinking you need to be the expert, being open to feedback, realizing you can’t be everything to everyone, and remembering to take time to rest. Burnout is a serious risk.”
SPEAKING OF REST, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEAL OR RESTAURANT IN WILMINGTON?
“I love Block Taco, which is connected to Satellite. Their fried mushroom taco is my favorite, and I’m not even a vegetarian. I can easily eat two or three at a time.”
CIERRA WASHINGTON’s full profile will appear in an upcoming WILMA Roundup email.
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.
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