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Anna Colby, Eastside Lansing Food Co-op

Patron in the City: Anna Colby

At Patronicity, we believe that passionate individuals can spur change in their communities. We recently spoke with Anna Colby to learn more about her passion for her Lansing community and how she serves as a Patron in the City.

In 2021, the Eastside Lansing Food Co-op (ELFCO) in Lansing, Michigan launched a crowdfunding campaign to re-open its doors and provide a year-round market to support local farmers, food producers, and the community. ELFCO has a long history in the Lansing area, operating from 1976 through 2017 in East Lansing.

The co-op had the desire to re-open in the Allen Neighborhood Center's Allen Place, a food innovation hub, and saw a unique opportunity for collaboration as part of the new, mixed-use development project.

ELFCO exterior circa 1980
ELFCO exterior circa 1980

The crowdfunding campaign had a goal of $50,000 and went on to raise $52,000 from 228 patrons. By reaching their goal, the project unlocked a matching grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) through the Public Spaces Community Places (PSCP) crowdgranting program.

During her time as a board member of ELFCO, Anna Colby played a key role in the crowdfunding campaign and its success. Although no longer on the board, her career has been focused on improving food systems and food access with extensive experience in public policy development, research, and evaluation. Her food policy work has included research to inform the development of food assistance programs and policies and evaluation of the impacts of nutrition and food access programs. Currently, Anna is a Project Manager at Public Policy Associates, the Vice Chair of the Environmental Commission for Meridian Township, and on the Policy Committee for the Michigan Good Food Charter.

At Patronicity, we believe that passionate individuals can spur change in their communities. We refer to those individuals as Patrons in the City, dedicating their time, sweat, and tears to building vibrant communities. We spoke with Anna to learn more about her passion for food, community, and how she serves as a Patron in the City.

Inside the recently completed ELFCO featuring fresh, local food.
Inside the recently completed ELFCO

Patronicity: Tell us about yourself. What is your role in the community?

Anna: I’m a former board member of the Eastside Lansing Food Co-op (ELFCO). My primary role with the co-op was to raise funds. Along with other board members, we raised around $400,000 to re-open the co-op and help sustain it through its first year. A big part of that, of course, was the crowdfunding campaign and the PSCP matching funds from the MEDC. That’s one part of my community work. Most of the work I do is related to food systems and food and nutrition programs.

Patronicity: What got you interested in working within food systems?

Anna: I can’t say that getting into food was entirely intentional. I have always been very interested in public and social benefits, and how we can increase access and resources for people in need. Somewhere along the line I got involved in food policy, food access, and food advocacy. It has just always been a really good fit for me, both in terms of my personal experiences and what I feel passionate about–I love food!

Patronicity: Why do you love where you live and work?

Anna: I really love where I live because of the really strong friendships and network I’ve been able to build.

I love the Eastside, because of the food innovation hub that’s really coming together. You see the passion around food innovation, farms, and food businesses. We’ve seen this with the co-op–the community really has a way of coming together and that’s really beautiful to see.

Patronicity: Tell us about your community and why your project is important.

Anna: The Eastside of Lansing is really a food innovation hub. There is strong local and hyperlocal interest in food, food innovation, and food business right in the Eastside Neighborhood. There is just a lot of passion for food, growing the local food economy, and supporting local farmers.

ELFCO is an important project because it fills a unique function in the community, while at the same time being really synergistic with other food and farm businesses. The co-op is really intended to support local and hyperlocal farmers, while also improving healthy food access. It can be hard to provide access to healthy food for all of our neighbors and make sure our farmers are getting a fair price for their food at the same time.

Another part of it is that there is a strong community on the Eastside of Lansing. What we’re hoping to see, and what we’ve started to see, is that [ELFCO] is becoming another community gathering spot and an opportunity to educate people about our food system, in particular about the hyperlocal food system within and directly outside of the Lansing area.

Patronicity: How has the community responded to the project and your efforts to build a vibrant community?

Anna: The community response has been wonderful. The community has supported the co-op through the process.

It has been helpful that the co-op has a long history. There are a lot of existing members that were members of the co-op before I was born, quite frankly. Some have visited the store and told the staff about their memories of the co-op and what it used to be. The co-op closed for five years and it’s been a process of trial and error to get it restarted, but the community did not give up on us.

Part of that is reflected in the successful crowdfunding campaign with Patronicity. The community stepped up financially to say, “Yes, we’ll support you,” nearly all through individual contributions.

The community has also been involved in creating the space. We have a lot of the artwork in the store–a mural by a local artist, photography by a local photographer, and signage by a local sign painter.

Patronicity: It’s so neat to see the community stepping up in a variety of ways.

Anna: I think it’s really important for something like a co-op, because you want there to be community ownership. The space is a big part of it! Being able to work with the community on what the space looks like and feels like has been really great.

Patronicity: If someone wanted to become more involved in their community, what advice would you give them?

Anna: The first step is to look inward and think about what your passions are and what skills you can really bring to the table. Then, look at the opportunities within your community to use those skills. If those opportunities don’t currently exist, is there a way for you to create opportunities to put those skills to use and bring your passion to the community?

Something that was really helpful for me was talking to my neighbors, getting to know community members, and asking a lot of questions. Share how you’d like to be involved and what your goals are and ask about what opportunities are available.

Patronicity: What could other cities learn from your community or project?

Anna: A little about the process that we went through; originally, we modeled the co-op off of something that was working successfully in another community. That model has changed a ton from where it started through the process of having discussions as the board, with representatives from different sectors of the community, with our store manager, Sally Potter, and with local farmers.

We really adjusted our model to what we think is going to work with the specific context within our community.

I think that it’s really important to look at what has been successful in other places, but also to be really flexible and be able to customize to the situation, the context, and the specifics of the community that you’re in.

There’s a lot to learn from what other people are doing. There’s a lot of inspiration! So, how do you mold that idea into something that’s going to work for you and for your community?

ELFCO included art in the space with a large mural of fruits and vegetables.
ELFCO included art in the space with a large mural of fruits and vegetables.

Today, ELFCO is open and nourishing the community. The new location provides local farmers and food producers a year-round market for their goods while increasing access to healthy, locally grown foods for the people in greater Lansing.

“ELFCO is a wonderful place to shop, and I am so glad they are back! I can pull right up in front of the store and park, walk in and fill a long shopping list, and check out within 15 minutes or less. I am constantly amazed that I can get nearly everything I need there. For me, shopping at ELFCO is an enjoyable experience much like visiting a neighbor. It is a warm, welcoming space where I can grab a coffee and a pastry and visit with the staff or other customers. ELFCO is building community while providing folks in Lansing with a great variety of foods, many of which are locally sourced. It is truly a gem in our city.” – Barb Barton, ELFCO member

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