Cooperative market opening depends on cooperation

Shannon Thomas moved from Fort Meade to Catonsville more than three years ago, and instantly fell in love with the town.

But the then-mother of two boys with special needs noticed something was missing.

In order to find the organic and natural foods she preferred to feed her family, Thomas said she had to drive 15 minutes down Interstate 95 to shop at Mom's Organic Market in Jessup.

"It's not real convenient," Thomas said. "If only there was a natural market in Catonsville."

Instead of just wishing, Thomas, who has since added two daughters to a family that also includes husband Alex, is working to create a cooperative market in Catonsville.

A cooperative market is owned and supported by members who pay a fee and receive discounts for the products they purchase.

Thomas noted that nonmembers are also permitted to shop at the store, but don't receive the same discounts.

"Essentially, a co-op is member-operated and member-owned," she said.

Thomas admits her idea is still in its infancy.

"There's a lot of framework that needs to be set up properly," she said.

Before Thomas can even consider articles of incorporation or creating a board of directors, she said, she needs to gauge interest in the idea and get more people involved than the "few generous souls" she has already recruited.

To help measure that interest, a general meeting on the topic will be held Thursday, Aug. 4, at 6:30 p.m. at the Catonsville Library, 1100 Frederick Road.

"I've got a few people who are already committed to coming," Thomas said on July 7. "My goal is to really have at least 50 people show up.

"I think we're going to need 100 members to get this off the ground."

Sue Greenberg, a Chadwick resident, said a co-op is something she would be interested in.

"I think it would go over good," said Greenberg as she put grocery bags into her car outside the Safeway grocery store at 5660 Baltimore National Pike.

"I'd basically go for the fruit and some veggies," Greenberg said

A matter of necessity

Joseph Coates has shopped at co-ops in various states for most of his life and has signed up to do some graphic design work for the co-op should it start up.

Coates has lived in Catonsville for the past four years and currently shops at Trader Joe's, Giant and Mom's Organic Market.

"I'm not a hippie. I'm not from that generation," Coates said. "One of the reasons I'm interested in this is because Mom's is too expensive."

Coates noted that the other stores have a large selection of organic bath products, for example, that he doesn't use.

"We don't really want to focus on that kind of stuff," said Coates, who noted having people with different skill sets invest time in the co-op is important to its success. "It's more about what you eat and the fresh food you can get.

"I'm interested in that type of quality being brought to the community."

The interest in the co-op isn't surprising to Thomas.

"It's been kind of a quiet rumbling in the community for a while," Thomas said. "It's a passion of mine and I'd love to see it happen."

A co-op wasn't always Thomas' plan.

Initially, she wanted to try to open a retail store.

She soon realized, she said, that she didn't have the right attitude to run a business for profit.

"When you're in a profit-making mode, there's a lot of guardedness. You have to protect your brand and your idea," Thomas said. "It honestly made me feel uncomfortable."

Thomas, who married her husband, Alex, 11 years ago, began researching and buying natural and organic products "almost as an emergency."

She said her oldest son, Alex Jr., 10, has autism, and she uses a special diet of organic foods and supplements to help him cope.

Thomas started easing into the organic foods diet about 10 years ago, she said, by feeding Alex Jr. jarred organic baby food.

Her son, Brandon, 7, is deaf and blind as a result of having CHARGE syndrome.

According to the Charge Syndrome Foundation website, the name is an acronym developed in 1981 that refers to a cluster of birth defects seen in one in 10,000 children.

The symptoms, according to the website, consist of fissures of the eye, heart defects, an absence of the posterior openings of the nasal cavity, genital or urinary abnormalities and ear abnormalities or deafness.

Thomas said Brandon could not eat solid food until he was 4, so she made high-calorie shakes using organic foods that could be fed through his feeding tube.

The amount of organic foods in the Thomas family's diet has gradually increased over the past 10 years.

Now, 80 percent of the food that Shannon, Alex, Alex Jr., Brandon, Hannah, 4, and Lillian, 7 months, consume is "as organic as I could get," Shannon said.

Thomas even makes baby food for Lillian from organic produce.

"Once you know something, you can't unknow it," Thomas said of her choice to feed her family natural and organic foods.

"And once you know something is better for your family, it's very difficult to go back doing what you've always done."

Thomas doesn't plan to go back.

She said she hopes the Aug. 4 meeting at the Catonsville library will attract enough community members who are willing to support the co-op.

"I think we're going to need 100 members to get this off the ground," Thomas said.

For information about the meeting, go to

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad