A food co-op (short for cooperative) is a grocery store that is owned, operated and financed by its members. There are several ways to structure this but typically you become a member by investing cash (and sometimes, but not always, labor) in the organization. The advantages are lower prices or discounts, more control over what's on the shelves and being a part of a community.
The first co-op was said to have started in England in the 19th century by a group of weavers known as the Rochdale Pioneers. In the US, co-ops were revived in the 1970's as a part of the hippie-influenced alternative culture. Most co-ops today still have an emphasis on natural and health foods.
Besides natural foods, co-ops are known for their bulk bins (to cut down on packaging) and as early proponents of local and organic foods. Many of the co-ops that have survived to today have cleaned up their crunchy hippie image, with brand new buildings, sleek shelving and state-of-the-art cash registers. Some, like Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee, have opened branches in the suburbs.
For more information on food co-ops, visit StrongerTogether, a website developed by the National Cooperative Grocers Association. Here you can search for a co-op in your area and connect with other people interested in food, sustainability and community.
Do you have a neighborhood co-op and do you shop there?
• Store Review: The Park Slope Coop
• Store Review: Dill Pickle Food Co-op
(Image: Mike Greenlar/The Post-Standard of the Syracuse Real Food Co-op)