The food revolution is coming to a grocery store near you.
That's if you live near the West Side, where a group of "agricultural artists" are poised to open Fertile Underground Grocery, infusing the neighborhood with fresh produce and fresh ideas about food.
Co-founder Michael Giroux is a carpenter and farmer to whom some things appear basic.
"It seems like produce should be always available," Giroux, 27, tells me during a recent interview. "It's food. It's something that we all need every day."
But fresh, local produce is not readily available in the area, except at the once-weekly farmers market.
So Giroux and some other food-conscious folks have adopted a spot in the building at 1577 Westminster Street — across from the West Broadway Neighborhood Association headquarters — that was originally planned for use by the Urban Greens Food Co-op, which opted to scout other locales.
Members of the Fertile Underground Natural Cooperative have big plans for the small space.
"Our offer is of high quality products, at a decent price, along with a real experience," their business plan states. "Food should have life to it, and be delivered with love."
The concept is as basic as bean sprouts.
The store will resemble a full-time farmers market, circulating produce yanked fresh from Rhode Island dirt. Unlike the farmers market that hits nearby Armory Park on Thursdays, it will be open regular hours, not just once a week, making life easier for farmers — who won't need to hang at the market all day — and for busy consumers, Giroux says.
The group dreams of bulk bins packed with beans and grains and liquid bins dripping dish soap and honey. The store will house a seating area and certified kitchen, where crews will prepare hummus, sauerkraut, and salsa, as well as serving breakfast, lunch, coffee, tea, homemade soda, and gluten-free baked goods. Pizza, vegetable sushi, and seasonal specials will be on the menu. The kitchen might also provide a response system for food emergencies. Like, if a farmer has 75 pounds of blueberries, a jam specialist could be hastily dispatched, says Giroux.
To make fresh produce more affordable, the group plans to offer blemished goods at a lower price. Higher rates for top-quality produce will help them pay farmers fairly.
Giroux says being a farmer has shown him the need for such efficiency in the food supply.
"I just saw how abundant a farm really is, and how much work it is to get that food to people who want it," he says.
So he envisions the store as a fair-minded middle man, simplifying the connection between consumers and farmers. Beyond that raw idea, the cooperative is open to neighborhood input. Giroux says the concept has already become a "rooting medium" for creative impulses, with talented people tossing their ideas into the mix.
The cooperative approaches food issues with creative vision; the principals call themselves "agricultural artists." Some also make visual art; the space already features paintings packed with roots and blooms by co-founder Dauna Jean Noble.
Some of the members help maintain a garden on Pearl Street, and if the shop succeeds, the money could give life to more city gardens. The group is also currently restoring a food truck, which, once it gets moving, will serve food prepared in the store's kitchen.