There are many ways to get the food you eat from local sources. Buying from farms and farmers markets is one way to get closer to the source of your food. Another way to support your community and still have an abundance of options at the grocery store is to shop at a food co-op. A co-op is run as a business but supported by the members who join voluntarily. Although many cooperative grocery stores are open to anyone who wants to make a purchase, only members can participate in the co-op’s decision making process. Some co-ops require members to work at the co-op as part of their membership, others offer work in exchange for the cost of membership and many co-ops only require members to pay a fee to join.
Cooperative grocery stores are independent businesses in a growing sea of big box and chain stores. Co-ops are locally owned, provide jobs to people in the area, support local food producers and farms, and rely on their members to help make decisions for the business. Besides being a place to buy a variety of high quality foods, many co-ops also offer cooking and nutrition classes. Co-op employees are highly likely to care about their work, their customers, and the products that the co-op sells. Membership in a co-op is a great way to shop for healthy food and keep your grocery money invested in your community.
Most co-ops specialize in organic, locally grown, and natural foods. Although this can often seem more expensive than buying from a conventional grocery store, co-ops are especially convenient and economical for people who like to cook and care about their food. You’ll find a wide variety of minimally packaged produce, most often from local and organic sources. Co-ops usually have an excellent selection of items that you can buy in bulk. Instead of purchasing pre-packaged and processed foods, buying in bulk makes perfect sense when you plan to cook from scratch and buy exactly the amount you need. It can also help to cut down on excessive packaging since you can bring reusable containers or refill your bottle of dish soap, olive oil or vanilla.
If you are interested in finding a food co-op near where you live, the Cooperative Grocer Directory and Local Harvest both have lists of co-ops in the United States. If you don’t have a food co-op nearby but are interested in starting one, the Food Co-op Initiative can provide resources.