Serving Toronto's most liveable community with the Annex Gleaner

NEWS: Celebrating 50 years of  sustainable food and community (July 2022)

July 18th, 2022 · No Comments

In a laneway behind Palmerston a not-so-secret food co-op thrives

The Karma Co-op blackboard wall getting decorated on their 50th anniversary on June 25. COURTESY DAVE BELL

By Rebecca Weigand

On Saturday, June 25, a crowd gathered to celebrate Karma Co-op’s 50th anniversary in the laneway outside the store. Longtime members joined with newer ones, Karma staff, and Karma kids to connect over a shared appreciation of this co-operative community store.

While enjoying fresh strawberries and produce from local farmers, eating homemade cake, enjoying wine from Frogpond Farm Organic Winery and cooling off with popsicles from one of Karma’s suppliers, Karma members chatted and relaxed under much appreciated shade sails. 

A few co-op members shared what Karma means to them and their visions for the co-op over the next 50 years. 

In between taking photos, Dave Bell shared that climate change and overconsumption have guided his decision to be part of Karma Co-op. “It’s the ability to do something better for everything I need,” he said.

Erika Reyes also talked about how being a member of Karma has deepened her commitment to organic food. 

“What attracted us to Karma was the zero waste products and organics. To be honest, it was a little bit difficult in the beginning to pay for organic products. In the orientation session we learned why it’s so important to purchase organic products so we decided we would try it out, and we have come to realize that all our vegetables are good again!” she said. 

“We trust Karma’s choices because the choices are made by the community, for the community. That means a lot to us. We like to see where it’s coming from, whether it’s fair trade, organic, or just conventional produce. Whenever we enter Karma, we can relax.” 

As the conversation wrapped up, Reyes and her partner, Clement Bureau, mentioned that their commitment to zero waste led them to create Inwit, a new reusable container takeout option and a true reminder of the exciting possibilities and cross-pollinations that happen when people come together in a sustainable community. 

“I always run into people I know when I come to Karma,” said Harriet Friedmann. The former chair of the Toronto Food Policy Council has been a member of Karma since 1990 and says that having studied the problems facing food systems, she joined the call for more food co-operatives.

“Instead of trying to grow bigger, you be a model. You scale out rather than scale up. And we tried to do that many years ago, and it didn’t work. But I think it’s still a brilliant idea. So, my vision would be to have Karmas in every community and to be able to help from very practical experience, you know, what are your connections to farmers, or to artisans, any of those suppliers.” 

Marina Querelos added “I think we should have a co-op in every neighbourhood with a public market attached.”

Friedmann and Querelos are not alone in wanting to share the co-op model. Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale) joined the celebrations with his daughters Phoebe and Chloe. 

He talked about his hopes to replicate Karma’s model of co-operative community. 

“We got through the pandemic and what we realized is that access to healthy food as well as community networks didn’t exist for many, and we have to almost invent it. But when you have something like Karma Co-op you have that embedded in your community. It’s not only about the sustainable food, it’s about the resilience that you get as a community.”

As she watched her son and other children decorating the new outdoor chalk wall, Karma’s General Manager Talia McGuire reflected on how the co-op offers community for kids and adults. 

“There are kids here who grew up at Karma. They are pure joy, seeing them running in the aisles. The biggest thing for me is the people: that connection, that sense of community.”

Karma Board president Andrea Dawber shared that Karma will be embarking on a visioning process over the next year. 


Tags: Annex · News