Greens on a Brownfield: Grocery Cooperative Coming to a Food Desert on Providence's West Side

The Urban Greens food co-op is being built on a remediated brownfield on Cranston Street in Providence. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News phtos)

The Urban Greens food co-op is being built on a remediated brownfield on Cranston Street in Providence. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News phtos)

By JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — More than 100 people gathered on a golden September afternoon to celebrate a groundbreaking that’s been years in the making.

Urban Greens, which began as a co-operative buying club, incorporated in 2007, has been working to develop a strategy to open a full-fledged grocery store on the West Side since 2010.

“The work is just getting started, but this is a huge milestone,” said Cassie Tharinger, a longtime member of the Urban Greens cooperative council, as she observed the crowd showing up for the Sept. 14 groundbreaking.

Philip Trevvett, another council member who spoke at the event, noted that, “Co-ops take a lot of people working together, and what we’re building here is something all of Providence and Rhode Island can take pride in.”

The new store, which will serve what many would call a food desert — there are no large-scale grocery stores that serve the West Side — is expected to open next fall and is being built on a remediated brownfield. The site, the former home of Louttit Laundry, will host a grocery store and a multifamily building with six units of affordable housing.

The buildings, designed by Providence-based Truth Box Architects, will incorporate sustainable design features and rooftop solar.

“It’s a great project for the community. It’s the perfect nexus of affordable housing, investment in our neighborhood and investment in our local food economy,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, who spoke at the recent groundbreaking.

In the true cooperative spirit, when the time came for the official groundbreaking, it wasn’t just the dignitaries and political officials who got to wield shovels, there were shovels for everyone.

Urban Greens operates on a cooperative model and is owned by its members. As of groundbreaking day, membership stood at 815.

One of Urban Greens newest members is Janiqua Jackson, middle, who was recently hired to be the store's general manager. She recently helped break ground with other co-op members and community stakeholders.

One of Urban Greens newest members is Janiqua Jackson, middle, who was recently hired to be the store's general manager. She recently helped break ground with other co-op members and community stakeholders.

One of the co-op’s newest members is its general manager, Janiqua Jackson, who recently moved to Providence for the job. Jackson, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif., has worked in grocery for 18 years in almost every capacity — from cashier to general manager.

She took the position at Urban Greens because she saw the work as a meaningful way to apply her experience and her passion for healthy local food.

“I needed to do something that encompassed all the work I’ve done and make it purposeful to me," she said.

Asked about the biggest opportunity, Jackson replied, “empowering the community; that’s the most exciting part.”

Over the next year, she and the co-op will work to do just that, as they build community ties and a brick-and-mortar store.