Eat Local: Join Your Local Co-op
Here in Durham, NC we just got terrific news! Our beloved co-op grocery is making a comeback of sorts. The new Durham Co-op Market is opening soon and will be located less than a block from the old Durham Food Co-op, that closed in 2008 after 37 years in business.
Why does this matter?
Because, unlike the big national chains where you can sometimes buy similar products at a premium price, co-ops are owned by their members.
This means that they are the result of “collective, non-profit efforts by people to supply themselves with affordable healthy food. The mission and mode of operation are decided by the members, who are the owners and democratically govern the place,” as Sheryl Eisenberg, co-op member and long-time adviser to the Natural Resources Defense Council writes.
Sheryl explains, “Co-ops range from buying clubs to storefront retail establishments. Some allow only members to shop and require everyone to take a work shift, while others are open to the public but offer discounted prices to members alone.”
I already belong to another local food co-op, the Weaver Street Market, that has stores in several locations in the western part of the Research Triangle. I love being a part of a local group that is making careful decisions about what kinds of products it offers. And I usually prefer their prices, their service, and their products to, say, Whole Foods.
Co-ops are smaller and more agile, so they can give preference to local farmers, and organic products. They work hard to keep their carbon footprint low, and scrutinize the labor practices behind the merchandise on their shelves.
Sheryl notes that when organic is not available, co-ops usually provide “less expensive alternatives [that] tend to be minimally processed.”
The vast majority of the produce at her local co-op in Manhattan, “comes from within a 200-mile range in the growing season, and within a 500-mile, one-day drive outside the season. Between California and Florida, the co-op picks Florida because it’s three times closer. The food is fresher and the carbon footprint lower as a result.
“When all items in a bin come from the same region, the place of origin is identified. If everything comes from a single farm, the farm is named.
“Most eggs are free-range and most meat, pasture-raised and/or organic.”
To cut down on packaging and waste, co-ops offer as many different foods in bulk as possible. And “the coop favors non-GMO foods, cruelty-free cosmetics, and non-toxic, durable goods,” she writes.
It’s true that you can find some of these products in special sections of traditional grocery stores, or in the big national chains that cater to the “natural foods” market. But by and large, they are priced like gourmet items, and preference is rarely given to small, local providers.
Not only are co-ops usually a more economical alternative when it comes to organic, health-conscious products, but they are truly walking the talk of environmental awareness and social justice.
To find one near you, check here:
Or consider getting together with your neighbors and starting one, since that is how all co-ops get their start. Here are some tools to help you.
Every little bit makes a world of difference.