A food cooperative, or “co-op,” is like any grocery store, only better. Co-ops aren’t owned by big corporations like Amazon; employees and members of the community own and run them.
The co-ops of the past may conjure up images of small, hippie type stores without much of a selection, but today some of the best can go toe-to-toe with major grocery store chains like Whole Foods Market.
The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op has expanded three times since it incorporated in 1973. The new location on R & 29th streets in Midtown opened less than a year ago and according to Julia Thomas, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op’s outreach manger, it is already exceeding sales goals.
The new building is modern with high ceilings, natural light, and dining tables inside and out.
But the best thing about this co-op isn’t the building; it’s the organic selection inside. Unlike some major grocery store chains that talk a lot about supporting organic farmers, this co-op actually does. All of the produce in the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is 100% organic and grown by local farmers. You won’t find that at Whole Foods Market.
When shoppers know who is growing their food, it creates trust, accountability and the potential for lasting connections between farmers and the community.
The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op prominently displays the names of the farms that grow the food they sell and how far away they are from the store. The goal is to keep it local. Most of the farms are within 50 miles.
As the sign below says, these heirloom tomatoes were grown at Blue Heron Farms. The farm has been certified organic since March 1, 1983 and has sold produce to the co-op for over 30-years.
Co-ops often stock products you won’t find at big, corporate grocery stores, like these organically grown flowers.
All the produce in the self-serve section and juice bar is 100% organic.
HOW IT WORKS Sacramento Natural Food Co-op has 10,000 community members, each of whom invested $300.00. Every member gets a seat at the Board and an equal vote. Co-op workers and investors share the profits, oversight and management of the co-op. The Board hires a general manager (GM) to oversee and operate the store. The bylaws dictate which issues require a vote.
IT’S ALL GOOD Co-ops are often value-driven, meaning they care about issues within the community–it’s not all about turning a profit. The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op does more than sell groceries. They make monthly donations to charitable organizations, like food banks, and offer discounts to limited income families. They also teach cooking classes at their Cooking School & Community Learning Center.
HELPING THE COMMUNITY SAVE FAMILY FARMS But one of Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op’s primary goals is to create and support a strong network of organic farms.
So when they heard that the Good Humus Farm in the Hungry Hallow valley in Northern California wanted to preserve their farmland for future generations by creating an agricultural easement, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op held a fundraiser to help.
“It is so important to remember, as we watch the march of “development” across our landscape, that each Wal-Mart or each corner of gas stations and junk food outlets covers some of the only land in the world suited for the production of almost anything necessary for human consumption.” Jeff Main, Good Humus Farm
The owners of the Good Humus Farm want to insure that their land is preserved for traditional farming.
“The easement will stipulate that this land must be farmed; the farmer must live on the farm; and the farmer’s income must come from farming.”
THE LAST CROP TRAILER This short trailer depicts the issues facing small farms like the Good Humus Farm.
“Every week 330 U.S. farm families leave their land. The feature length documentary The Last Crop chronicles family farmers Jeff and Annie Main’s struggle to ensure their working farm’s future in California’s Central Valley.” – IMDB, The Last Crop Storyline
IS IT TIME TO INVEST IN CO-OPS? Many communities across the country want access to organic food grown by local famers. Whole Food Market offers some organic food, but not enough, and what they do offer isn’t affordable for everyone. Nutritious, organic food shouldn’t be accessible only to those who are able to pay a high price for it.
Co-ops offer organic food at reasonable prices.
Co-ops give consumers an alternative to conventionally grown food, much of which is heavily sprayed with chemically-laced pesticides and herbicides.
Co-ops support the local economy. The profits go back to the community, not to a corporation, like Whole Foods/Amazon.
Co-op Board members decide what values are important to their community and the store reflects those values.
When run successfully, co-ops give organic farmers a way to make a living feeding families in their community.
People from all over the world have shopped at Sacramento Natural Foods Market and wondered, “Why don’t I have a co-op like this in my neighborhood?” Good question.
“Food co-ops are changing the food system, enhancing local economies, building sustainable agriculture networks, offering healthy food choices, and proving that ordinary people can reap the benefits of a community owned business. By starting a food co-op, you will be joining other people and communities that are using cooperation to create a vibrant hub for local food and neighborhood development.” – FCI Guide to Starting a Food Co-op