Know Your Neighbors: Cheryl Munoz of Sugar Beet Co-Op (opening soon!)

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Cheryl Munoz, founder & project lead at Sugar Beet

If you have traveled down Madison Street in the past several months, you likely have noticed the storefront at 812 W. Madison with the large windows covered in the white outline of produce and the words “The Sugar Beet Co-Op.”

If you’re like me, you probably then did some internet research (i.e. googling “what is a co-op?” and reading the Sugar Beet FAQ page). Upon concluding your studies, you may or may not have started stalking them on social media to see when they would open.

That day is approaching quickly – the soft opening will be on July 31. As Sugar Beet Food Co-Op’s founder and project lead, Cheryl Munoz, has a lot on her plate right now (no pun intended) but was kind enough to take some time to tell us more about herself, what she loves about Oak Park, what the Sugar Beet Co-Op means for you, how it all started, and more.

Around Oak Park
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What keeps you busy when not working on Sugar Beet Food Co-Op?

Cheryl Munoz
I am a mother of two kids, Cedar and Cora, who go to school at Whittier Elementary. I started this project when Cora was only two years old! I was a stay-at-home mom and simply wanted to do something good for our community, my family and get more involved in the Good Food Movement. When I am not working on the co-op stuff I am working on other food-related projects around Chicagoland. I most recently taught a two-week camp called The Good Food Experience with the Oak Park Education Foundation. My passion is to connect people with food through incredible experiences.

AOP
When did you move to Oak Park? Why did you move here?

Munoz
I live in Northeast Oak Park. I love my neighborhood – it’s full of hard working and interesting people. My husband, Anthony, and I wanted to relocate our growing family from Pilsen over five years ago. I wanted to be in a more walkable, quiet and green place and we wanted our kids to have the opportunity to go to excellent neighborhood schools. We are happy here!

AOP
What does a perfect day in Oak Park look like for you?

Munoz
I’d say biking to the farmers’ market with my family is the beginning of a perfect day here in Oak Park. I bike all over town for meetings & errands and love seeing friendly faces, beautiful trees and buildings on my adventures. I hope to see more people on bikes in the next few years. This is really a perfect place for cycling from April to November.

AOP
What is your role within Sugar Beet Co-Op?

Munoz
There are so many people involved with this work now- it’s amazing! I am the founder and project lead, but my role is changing to marketing and outreach manager now that the co-op is opening. We truly are working cooperatively and each of our board members, staff and volunteers has made this possible. I would say my role is to keep everyone working towards opening the co-op. We are almost there!

AOP
There is a ton of great information on the Sugar Beet Food Co-Op site explaining what a co-op is, what you can get there, why you should shop there, etc. If you had just a couple minutes to explain Sugar Beet Co-Op to a friend, what would you say?

Munoz
Sugar Beet Food Co-op is your one-stop shop for all of your grocery needs. The Co-op is owned by over 1100 owners and will sell everything from fresh produce from our local farmers to craft beer and wine. When items are not available locally, such as bananas or cucumbers in December, then we’ll carry the next best thing- organic. Sugar Beet Food Co-op is a marketplace for small farmers and producers a hub for skill sharing and learning and an economic engine for our community.

AOP
How can/why should people become owners?

Munoz
Owners of the co-op will receive discounts (outlined on our website), a vote in the democracy, and can hold a seat on the board. Moreover, when the co-op is profitable that money is returned back to our owners in what is called a patronage dividend. Local food, local farmers, local economy.

AOP
How did the idea for Sugar Beet Food Co-Op come about?

Munoz
Neighbors in Northeast OP were hanging out one wintry night and we were talking about how much we missed our farmers’ market. We asked ourselves why can’t there be access to local food all year round. I had been to a food co-op before in Traverse City, Mich. and proposed that we start one in Oak Park. It was that simple!

AOP
Why Oak Park?

Munoz
Oak Parkers LOVE their local farmers’ market and are an engaged, well-educated and progressive community, making it the perfect place to start a food co-op.

AOP
What has been the most surprising thing about the process? The most fun? And the hardest?

Munoz
The most surprising: I am still surprised that so many people have invested money, time and effort into something that did not even exist until recently. Our team has been asking for support for an IDEA that we had. Of course, we had a strong business plan to prove our idea could work. It’s incredible to think what a group of people can do if they set their minds to it.

The most fun: I love collaborating! This community is home to many wonderful organizations, businesses and social services. I am so happy to work with many of them as we find ways for Sugar Beet Food Co-op to add value to their work.

The hardest: Staying the course. I am excited about all of the possibilities and want to explore them all now! Sugar Beet Food Co-op is going to do a lot of good work in our community and I can’t wait to see what we are doing in five years… but I need to open the store first.

AOP
What can people expect when they come to the store on opening day?

Munoz
July 31 is our soft opening and we’ll have tastings, tours and demos all weekend. August 14 will be our ribbon cutting and grand opening and we’ll have giveaways and chef demos all weekend long. Our over 1100 owners are anxious for opening and we can’t wait for them to meet the staff, see the store and shop for good food.

AOP
The Edible Garden Tour is coming up on July 25. Can you tell us a little about that?

Munoz
Started four years ago, the Edible Garden Tour is a way for people to share their love of growing food. Over the last four years we have featured over 40 unique gardens that each express a variety of ways to grow food, keep bees, chickens and even goats and rabbits! From Austin, River Forest and Oak Park we have scouted out beautiful 14 gardens for this year’s tour.  Tour goers will meet our local food growers who are generous and interesting people and are happy to share their tips and tricks. It’s a family friendly event and this year we’ll have boxed lunches available for pre-order and a picnic site at Cheney Mansion.

For more information on everything you want to know about the co-op, events and even becoming an owner visit www.sugarbeetcoop.com

1 COMMENT

  1. […] Opening weekend for the Sugar Beet Food Co-op The Sugar Beet Food Co-op, located at 812 W. Madison St., is finally open! The store owners will officially let customers in starting at 10 a.m. on Friday and they welcome all who are interested in the Sugar Beet to take a look around the store and ask any questions they have. We recently caught up with the Co-op’s founder and project lead, Cheryl Muñoz. Read all about it here. […]

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