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.