When I lived in Knoxville, I often visited the local food co-op to get my groceries. I was on a budget and loved to cook. The food co-op was a small “no frills” establishment where I had to bring my own bottles and jars to take advantage of the bulk foods scattered among the aisles. I remember feeling somewhat like a hippie gathering my local produce and health foods and carrying them home in my makeshift containers.
I don’t remember the name of that co-op, but I do remember it’s wooden floors and plastic bins scattered among the cases of health foods cut open for purchase. On one of my first trips I paid the $35 membership fee so I could take advantage of their best deals and to contribute to their wonderful mission. I felt so good about myself for saving money, being a part of a healthy community and shopping local.
After I left Knoxville and health food stores became more mainstream, I no longer sought out food co-ops – establishments formed by a cooperative of member owners looking to reduce the price of healthy and sustainable groceries. Now that I’m back in rural Michigan, I am once again dissatisfied with the availability of natural foods in the mainstream grocery stores. I have to drive 45 minutes to get to a Whole Foods and over an hour to get to a Trader Joe’s. I do it from time to time out of necessity but it sure doesn’t make it cost effective.
As I’ve traveled across Michigan, I’ve stumbled upon several food co-ops. No longer the fringe grocery concept that I supported in Knoxville, these food co-ops feature salad bars and hot food options alongside local dairy, craft beer, eggs and vegetables. I frequently visit the People’s Food Co-op in Kalamazoo when I’m out hiking and have to travel near that area. The produce is fresh and plentiful, and my favorite treat is a large container of European-style whole milk yogurt from Mattawan Artisan Creamery.
I’m already going crazy with the lack of fresh produce this winter. After the fall harvest is done, the produce stands shutter and the winter sets in, fresh vegetables are hard to find. The ones in the grocery are grown to be transported across the country for weeks and taste nothing like the summer fare. When I was in the Upper Peninsula last week with even fewer grocery options, I didn’t see a green vegetable for days. Coleslaw slathered in mayonnaise was the closest I got to eating a vegetable unless you count the potatoes and rutabagas in the pasties.
I just found a website called Local Harvest which lists farmer’s markets, local farms that have CSAs and food co-ops. I would really like some local dairy and cheese this week. And I crave a small grocery with good karma that isn’t run by major food corporations. My nearest food co-op is the Purple Porch in South Bend. It’s still 45 minutes away, but it’s better than nothing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll head on over to see what they have.
Y’all try to eat well this week and support your local farmers. Who knows, maybe you have a local food co-op near you! And, yes, the Knoxville one is still open and is bigger and better than ever. If you are in that area, please stop by and tell them Midlife Moments sent you. I’m sure they won’t remember me, but it will make me feel good.