[NOTE: The Cornucopia Institute is proud to partner with the nation’s 300+ co-op grocers—the original organic champions. Support your local co-op!]
by Rachel Lazar
Cooperatively owned grocery stores exist all over the country. Some have thousands of members and have been around since the 1970s, and some opened within the past few years to serve communities with unusual needs. Watch this video, below, about the advantages of shopping at co-ops, and check this directory for information about food co-ops near you.
Each co-op has a story – here are a few!
At Food Conspiracy Co-op in Tucson, Arizona, community members teach courses; local nonprofits and schools apply for donations; and workshops on water harvesting and native trees take place. In 2013, the Co-op installed a rainwater harvesting system behind their kitchen with a grant from the city of Tucson. The plan is to build an urban micro farm.
Viroqua Food Co-op is located in Viroqua, a town of 4400, in a rural area of Southwest Wisconsin called the Driftless. Like many co-ops on this list, before opening as a store in 1995, Viroqua began as a “natural foods buying club,” a group of individuals who worked together to procure healthy foods for their families. According to a 2005 USDA report about successful co-ops in rural areas, it benefited from the guidance of local residents who’d been involved with CROPP, a local organic marketing cooperative which helps farmers transition to organic production.
4th Street Food Co-op in Manhattan, New York takes its member participation seriously; the store is staffed entirely by members. Working memberships, which require you to work 2.25 hours a week, pay off in the form of a 20% discount. Refrigerators, lights, and electronics are powered by New Wind Energy, and they have a committee that vets products in an effort to stop carrying products owned by multi-national corporations.
Kokua Food Co-op is, according to its website, the only natural foods co-op in the state of Hawaii. The Honolulu store serves up raw, vegan, gluten-free baked goods, hosts movie and poetry nights, and has eight flavors of kombucha on tap!
In 2003, People’s Food Co-op received a matching funds grant from the Twin Pines Co-operative Foundation to start its own philanthropic fund. This has allowed the co-op to fund projects, including community gardens, health programs, and farm-to-school programs. The co-op, with locations in both La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota, is very focused on local farmers: in addition to labeling all its locally-sourced products, it distributes a brochure which introduces consumers to the farmers whose products they purchase.
The Sacramento Food Co-op , which incorporated in 1973, is set apart by its community kitchen. This partnership with local nonprofits gives low-income individuals and families the opportunity to take a month-long cooking course. The course is taught by members and volunteers, and focuses on low-cost, nutritious meals. The co-op also runs a Community Learning Center and Cooking School, which has classes scheduled for almost every day – “Herbal Wines, Elixirs, and Confections,” anyone?
Co-op Market , located in the middle of a food desert in Fairbanks, Alaska, recently won the Food Co-op Initiative’s “Startup of the Year” award. The co-op emphasizes local products, connecting with small farmers and fishermen in the region. And every kid who comes in gets a free banana!
Though East Side Food Co-op in Minneapolis, Minnesota officially opened in 2003, it exists thanks to efforts that began as far back as 1996. After years of volunteer hours, bake and plant sales, parties, community dinners, and a farmer’s market, the organization’s board was finally able to purchase a space in 2003.
River Valley Market Co-op in Northampton, Massachusetts is described on its website as “large enough to meet your needs but small enough to meet your neighbors.” This 15,000 square foot building has a community room, a cafe, and a low-income member assistance program. Built in 2008 using green construction methods, the co-op is situated on a plateau surrounded by granite cliffs on three sides—stone from the hill on which it sits was removed to build the local highways.
Founded in 1976, the Upper Valley Food Co-op in White River Junction, Vermont is a small, close-knit community of just over 1000 members . The co-op runs a community garden and a monthly movie series on topics related to nutrition and the environment. The town of White River Junction has no library, so the co-op’s cozy, busy library with a large collection of books and DVDs acts as a satellite for the closest public library.