by Bonnie Rukin 

The Lewiston-Auburn Community Market (LACM) has more than $3 million in regional and national funding lined up to support the cooperative grocery business that has been in the works for several years. The market will be located in the Tree Streets neighborhood, where many residents are New Americans, facing food insecurity, with unmet grocery needs in the immediate area. In addition to selling groceries, the facility will also have kitchen space to rent – by community members and local food entrepreneurs – as well as dry and cold storage space available for lease. 

The market formally incorporated as a Maine cooperative business in 2022 and its development has been steadily guided and supported by St. Mary’s Nutrition Center and the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI). Its board of directors has 18 members, who come from three different continents, speak eight different languages, and possess a wide range of skills including food preparation and education, management, marketing, youth education, multilingual interpretation, building management and, of course, shared passions for cooking, food, and community. 

Project leaders are actively negotiating to purchase a building in downtown Lewiston that would meet all of the criteria in the market’s expanded business plan. The LACM board will soon hire a community organizer to develop co-op membership, build a market presence, and oversee the sourcing of product offerings.  

Beckie Swanson Conrad, CDI consultant and longtime Auburn resident, said she is delighted by the participation of local schools, farmers, funders, and community leaders. She said that themes of social justice are integral to this endeavor. In addition to deepening and strengthening community roots, the market will provide living wage jobs and a range of economic development opportunities for local growers. 

LACM board Vice President Palmira Carvalho, who is originally from Angola, shared her reasons for engaging in this project: “I embraced this project because I saw in it a gratifying manifestation of social inclusión, through the concern to do something about the lack of good quality food products at lower prices for immigrants in Lewiston and Auburn. When I heard about this, I didn’t hesitate to be part of something that would help Mainers get to know an important part of my culture through the socialization of food, which is one of the strongest and most striking cultural traits of the people.”