Columinate is excited to welcome Cassia Heron as a new consultant. Cassia is a dedicated activist, a skilled community development professional, and a proud Kentuckian who brings 20 years of experience to the Columinate network. She is deeply rooted in the Kentucky local food movement, having organized farmer’s markets, established the Louisville Food Policy Council, and co-founded Louisville Association for Community Economics, which is opening the city’s only cooperative grocery store. Cassia is working to transform the local food system through a lens of racial justice and economic equity and is championing such policies at the state and local level.
A born community organizer, Cassia has been building power in Louisville, and across Kentucky, since she was in university. “When I was in school, there was a lot going on in our city — a lot of change,” explains Cassia. While advocating for student needs and Black political representation, she embedded herself within the Louisville community as an agent for change. Accepting an organizer position with Community Farm Alliance, she began what would become a lifetime of working to enhance the local food system, supporting farmers, and transitioning the state’s agricultural community.
Years later, after completing her Master of Urban Planning degree and working as a consultant, she decided to start a catering business…and accidentally started a grocery co-op in the process. “I found a building down the street with plenty of space for my business, but I only needed the kitchen,” explained Cassia. She casually mentioned to a few people that someone could open a grocery store in the space, and more than 40 people showed up to her open house to discuss starting a co-op grocery.
Initially, she was pretty overwhelmed by the idea of starting a co-op, but she was also inspired by the possibility. After gathering a crew to help, she began organizing the Louisville Community Grocery in 2016.
Throughout this work and her work advocating with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Cassia caught the co-op bug. She discovered the world beyond cooperative grocers, specifically rural electric co-ops, and the model resonated. “I got really interested in the idea of regular people owning a part of the economy,” explains Cassia, “and I was adamant that we build our local capacity to teach cooperative economics and support the start-up of all kinds of co-ops.” She founded the Louisville Association for Community Economics (LACE), a nonprofit cooperative developer, to open the only co-op grocery in Louisville, teach the community about cooperative economics, and enhance the ecosystem of co-ops.
While there is a need for education around co-ops, Cassia is quick to point out that cooperatives are not a new concept. “Particularly for Black communities, [cooperative economics] is something we have done. We’ve had to rely on each other and pool our resources together, so while the current language and structure around co-ops might seem it, it’s not a new thing.” Cooperative enterprises are a well-tested, successful model that allows communities to control their own destiny. “In my work, I have found that folks who want to develop their community or grow their local economies have to work with someone outside of the community to do it. [These outside partners] spend a lot of time convincing you what they have is good for your community, and you spend a lot of time making sure this is the case.” For Cassia, co-op development is the opposite of that. “Co-ops put the power back in the people’s hands. You only need to convince yourself and your community that your vision can be this brick and mortar reality.”
Cassia is now expanding her consulting services to the Columinate community and is excited to provide planning and strategy support to other Black-led cooperative start-ups. “I love the model that Mark Goehring is creating at Columinate. Finding skilled practitioners and connecting them with their peers is a smart and intentional way to build capacity for local communities,” shares Cassia.
Cassia is a talented systems thinker with a great vision for how complexities work together. She is also interested in supporting new co-ops with fundraising and capital raising. To work with Cassia, click here.
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