Friday, June 12, 2009

Local Love Fridays: Own Your Own Business - Become a Member of the People's Food Co-op

Photo Credit: ©2009 Kevin Sharp

My own experiences with Ann Arbor's People's Food Co-op started back in my student days, as they do for many Ann Arborites. First off, I'd come to Ann Arbor from Berkeley, CA, and secondly, it was still a whisper of the 70s (early 1980 to be exact), so the idea that a food co-op was one of the first things I'd seek out was a natural.

I spent the first couple of years as a co-op member cutting the cheese. I kid you not. And it was one of the stinkiest jobs imaginable, but it earned me my extra 5% discount, so it was worth every wire through every block of Jarlsburg.

These days, The Ann Arbor People's Food Co-op is in one location, rather than two. It has a gorgeous cafe that sells a huge variety of coffee drinks, sandwiches, juices and baked goods, and it has a full, delicious hot bar and salad bar. (Also, the volunteer discount program is discontinued, much to the chagrin of cheese-cutters everywhere).

And we now have a bright, shiny store with a large variety of local, national and international products, all natural, all carefully selected under co-op guidelines:

Photo Credit: ©2009 Kevin Sharp

And I'm still a member. Why?

Because we own the place. All of us. Every single member. All 6000 of us.

We get to make business decisions through our democratically-elected board members, and we have excellent professionals running our business for us. And we get to buy delicious, natural, local (when possible) foods and products. Who wouldn't want to be a share owner of that?

I sat down with Kevin Sharp, Outreach Director at the PFC, to get his take on what makes the People's Food Co-op unique, and Kevin's response was this: each co-op is designed to uniquely serve its members, so our co-op is a reflection of our community. While the Hyde Park co-op in Chicago carries Heinz Ketchup and Coca Cola because the members demand it, our co-op has a completely Fair Trade coffee bar and an emphasis on locally grown products.

Ah, yes - locally grown. Music to my ears.

The Co-op has long been in partnership with many of the area's farmers, and has actually had a symbiotic relationship with some local organic farmers for two generations now:

"They helped us get going and we helped them get going and this is the second generation of local organic growers, and hopefully we’ll be here 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now, we’re in an area that’s now producing more of our local foods, but that’s changing and growing and we’ll sell those things as much as possible."

Photo Credit: ©2009 Kevin Sharp

One of the great things about the Co-op is the solidity and the longevity. Even in Michigan's economy, the Co-op is solid, solid financially, and it will be around to serve us even as larger ventures tumble. And that means I can get food I trust from people I trust.

And that's the reason to be a member - to help to provide that stability for the local economy and to ensure that the Co-op will be here for generations to come. Plus, you receive many wonderful benefits.

As Kevin said it, "The local aspect is one of our core issues. It will stick with us long after the bigbox stores move on. Our business is really stable, even in this economy. With all the other options in town people still come down to this little storefront."

Besides, you can get wonderful things like these blueberry bars (Photo Credit: ©2009 Kevin Sharp)and a cup of great Roos Roast Free Speech Roospresso at the Co-op's Cafe Verde:

For more on our Co-op, see the wonderful video below by Zana Networks:

Are you a member of your local Co-op? Why or why not?


Mariposa said...

Wow! Nice to know you also have Co-ops...unfortunately ours here don't operate as successfully as yours there.

Co-ops here are usually to give financial aids to people who wants to starts small those vendors in Larsian.

However in the suburbs where my grandparents' farm is...they have something like yours! :)

This is such a nice idea!

Jen said...

Mariposa, we also have similar business co-ops. This store, and many others like it are part of a national Food Co-ops association. I can't remember the exact name of it right now. There are also giant co-op supermarkets in California and maybe some other states as well, and they are very different in character from this one, but they still provide good food at good prices for their members. Again, I loved your post on Larsian!

Jackie said...

I've never heard of those co-ops. It's a good thing to help start business. Nice initiative

anno said...

Me, too! I've been a member of the co-op for just about as long as you have. Love my lifetime membership!

painted maypole said...

so cool! wish we had one around here.

by the way... love the family picture!

Trish said...

Just a point of correction, the Hyde Park Co-op did carry a large selection of Fair Trade coffee but it also went out of business over a year ago.

Jen said...

Jackie - it seems so weird, because I first found out about them when I lived in your area - you might want to see if there are any around.

Anno - it really is one of the treasures of Ann Arbor.

PM - there really are no co-ops in NOLA? I would have thought there would be. It's interesting to hear how relatively rare they are.

Trish - I'm sorry to hear that. The Fair Trade coffee I was speaking about is at the Cafe Verde which is part of the Ann Arbor People's Food Co-op. Kevin was illustrating the fact that individual co-ops will meet the needs of each community.

Marianne Arkins said...

I'm so jealous! We had a co-op in Sacramento I belonged to (The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op) that almost mirrors yours. Nothing like that here anywhere...

Great post and, man I miss the cafe at SNFC. I used to get the veggie sandwich on wheat-walnut bread (it was PURPLE! LOL)... and a really yummy smoothie.


Kitchen Chick said...

My first job at the former Packard street location was weeding out the bad potatoes from the potato box! I haven't volunteered in years, but I do still shop there.

Unknown said...

"Much to the chagrin of cheese-cutters everywhere..."

That was awesome. (So was the rest of the post, but I'll just say a big DITTO to everyone else's comments on that front.)

Jen said...

Marianne, I must say, co-ops absolutely rock, and it would be weird for me at this point to live someplace without one. Especially if I was a vegetarian. I wonder what caused the wheat to be purple? I cook sometimes with a heritage corn grain called Bloody Baker that turns baked goods purplish - I wonder if it was blue corn in the mix?

Kitchen Chick - I think they no longer have the volunteer program on that level (probably due to the fact that some of our volunteer work was pretty random, I would imagine), but it's still a wonderful place to shop!

Cindy - thanks so much! I really appreciate it.

Acedog said...


I love the co-op model and have proposed it for a number of business ventures. MOstly, however, I value co-ops for the quality of the food and the participatory nature of the enterprise.

Kim said...

Wow - great post on the People's Food Co-op, Jen! It's my longest running membership. :) I love that they're a go-to place for "grown in Michigan" stuff and other groceries that are healthful.

It's become our main and only grocery store. I love how small and manageable it is - I don't have to spend half an hour just getting from one end to the other. And I'm energized enough to walk home rather than completely exhausted by the experience.

Speaking of which, I have never once seen anyone beating up on their kids at the Coop - which had come to seem inevitable (in my experience) at many of the big box stores. Sad but true.

Make Co-ops, Not Krogers! Heh heh.

Jen said...

Acedog - I couldn't agree with you more.

Kim - that's another positive, and you're right - plus, kids seem so much less stressed out when shopping with their parents at the co-op. Of course, maybe a promised treat at Cafe Verde helps that. ;-) Even without, though, it's a much happier experience in general, I think!

hotmamamia said...

We have our East End Coop but it's not nearly as large and lovely as yours. I should shop there more often but it is out of the way...poor excuse, I know! Bothing beats the beutiful fruits and veggies...I think I will head there tomorrow!

Oh, and I do want you to know that we in Pittsburgh do appreciate how valiantly Detroit played the entire 7 game was just our turn this time! Maybe we'll have a tie-breaker next year!

Jen said...

Hotmama - it's definitely easier if your co-op is nearby, which ours is for us. Thanks for the gracious words about the Wings... needless to say, Detroit is pouting. But I have to actually agree - it WAS your turn, even though I was teasing Lilac on her blog.

Brian Miller said...

stopping by from Lola's...lovely piece. we are in a season here of encouraging more "living locally". great that the co-op is a way to support that and that it reflects your community so well.

have to check and see if we have one here. have a great day!

Thistlemoon said...

I wish we had a co-op here. It looks like a great thing to buy into!

Ivy said...

Thanks for passing from my blog even if I haven't been around lately. We have co-ops in Cyprus but not in Greece but they are much different that the ones you describe.

Jen said...

Brian, thanks so much for visiting! I loved your blog, as well - I found that I couldn't comment, though, as the embedded comment feature doesn't work when I try to comment. I know that's the case for many others, as well, and it can be fixed by going to full-page comments or pop=up comments - it's a bug with blogger. I'm so glad Lola "introduced" some of us today!

Jenn - it's amazing me how few communities seem to have these today. They were such a constant when I was first moving around a lot.

Ivy - what kind of co-ops are there in Cyprus? We also have co-ops where people get together to buy basics like dairy or vegetables in bulk, and then split everything. Is it similar to that model?

Alex said...

I lived by the co-op for three years, and it was my most frequent shopping destination. Cafe Verde was part of my morning routine, and the food bar fed me many nights. There are many things I love about it, and I am thrilled with my membership. They do a lot with a little, and I recommend membership to everyone.

But there are some things they could do better. I can't count the number of times I got a head of garlic that was already turning. Maybe I'm just a bad judge of garlic, or maybe it's that I've never had to judge it. There are a few other items that just are consistently bad like that, and I've never figured out why, or what to do about it. Instead I've learned to pick and choose, and continue to be grateful that I can find burduck at the last minute for a Japanese dish.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A great place and a very good initiative!



Anne said...

My mom was a member back in the '70s didn't know it was still around. I remember the giant blocks of white cheddar tho.

Jen said...

Alex, you know, though, I've had that problem with garlic with Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, too. I think it may be endemic to garlic - maybe especially organic garlic. What I've noticed, though, over the years is that while there is still funkiness from time to time, the PFC just gets more and more professional. Good point, though. And thanks so much for stopping by!

Rosa - is there anything similar where you live?

Anne - The worst part for me is that in my sense memory, I can still *smell* those blocks of cheese! How long did you live in A2?

glamah16 said...

Unfortunately our Co Op closed in Hyde Park more than year ago. It was a great idea replaced by the pricier Treasure Island.

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