Hail to the Co-Op

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Living in Vermont during my formative years provided me with a true education in what it means to be “green.” I had my first experience with a grease car, had my first friends who were eating almost entirely from their garden, and had my first exposure to the term co-op. The mecca for this sustainable lifestyle in Southern Vermont is the Brattleboro Food Co-op. Founded in 1975, the co-op, which was once a small buying club, is now a massive store of 16,000 square feet. Visiting the co-op is an opportunity to stock up on necessities and enjoy socializing with like-minded folk.

Being a member of a co-op means taking a direct part in where your food comes from, which in this day and age is vital to many. These democratic organizations are non-profits owned and operated by the members. Co-ops are popular because individuals actually participate in all levels of the process, from ordering produce to running the cash register. This democritization of food-buying leaves people with a strong sense of community and a powerful support for sustainable businesses. Plus, these community hubs usually provide a much more enjoyable shopping experience, with plants everywhere, painted murals on the walls, and often have a kid’s section, as well as yummy deli service.

The Brattleboro Co-op, in particular, has the best deli I have ever frequented. When you first walk into the store, you hit the deli section which is chock full of delicious homemade salads, soups and whole food dishes. Next is the fresh flowers and ready-made teas and coffees, where they have some of the best chai around. The produce section is phenomenal with an array of exotic and domestic organic fruits, an ecclectic selection of fresh locally harvested greens and all the roots and veggies one could imagine.

The commitment to whole foods has made the Brattleboro Co-op a favorite and is highly recommended for anyone travelling through Vermont (there is also the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, which is terrific). The food is always vibrant and fresh, and the staff, being members, are always helpful and fun to talk to. My new favorite is the Berkshire Co-op. For more info on co-ops in your area check out the directory. This eco-business list is also useful.
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About Kimberly Jordan Allen

8 Comments

  1. For those of you who don’t live near a food co-op look at http://www.localharvest.org to see if there is a community supported agricultural program near you. You can by local food directly from your regional farmers and help to ensure small family farms stay in business while you get fresh veggies.

  2. Yah, that is the first link in my post. Also check out this site for local farms, markets and buying clubs http://www.greenpeople.org/csa.htm – community supported agriculture is a beautiful thing!

  3. I’ve had a tough time finding a CSA where I live, but I love the farmer’s markets! Yes, i love the Brattleboro co-op too…and Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley (duh) is super great too! They have the best tofu I’ve ever tasted in bulk there! (be still my veggie heart)

  4. There is a co-op not three blocks from my new apartment but I have yet to join. I should get on that. Members get the keys and get to do their own shopping whenver they want! It doesn’t look nearly as peopled or large as those you’ve mentioned, there is frequently just one person tending the whole store (room). But with involvement in ordering and purchasing your own food for great local farmers you can’t go wrong. And they have all that stuff that you just can’t find anywhere else. Crazy flours and roots and things that I wouldnt know the first thing to do with. So, I must join co-op and get cook-book..

  5. When I moved to NYC I did not expect to find food coops or a farmer’s market, but I found that even here there is a great desire for local farm produced produce. There are three co-ops in New York City: two in Brooklyn, Flatbush Food Coop and Park Slope Food Coop, and one in Manhattan, the 4th Street Food Coop. The 4th Street Food Coop, also known as the Good Harvest Cooperative (website http://www.4thstreetfoodcoop.org/), is located in the East Village and does not require membership to shop, unlike the Park Slope place. 4th Street even accepts food stamps.
    There is also a great farmers market in Union Square every weekend – even during the winter.
    I was down in DC last weekend and discovered the Eastern Market, an active public market since 1873, which hosts an indoor weekend farmer’s market all year round.

  6. There are some ecclectic, small coops around the country that I love. One in Nederland, Colorado called the Mountain People’s Coop is a fave whenever we are out that way. There is also one in Hardwick, VT that is very similar to what Danielle was describing – one room – some dusty, anarchistic lefty books – and plenty of flours, dulse, and tofu to last the week long! The culture around coops is so great. On trips throughout the US we always make an effort to find them in local areas because you can learn information about the regions, meet people to go hiking with, or just find interesting rare products that you would never see on the beaten path.

  7. Thanks. I’m the General Manager at Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington, Ma. It’s nice to be considered your favorite new co-op, even if I just saw this post a year later. We know and work cooperatively with Brattleboro as well. We like what we are doing, are passionate about our local community and put out some pretty decent food as well. Stop in and say hi some time.

  8. We lived in Essex Juction in mid 90’s and now live in Minnesota. Lake Winds coop in Minnetonka is where I will shop once my CSA share is over for the season. LOVE VERMONT…there’s no place else like it…Hoping it will stay that way FOREVER! Keep up the good work!

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