Never dull, the small local stores known as food cooperatives "co-ops" for short are destinations for health-conscious shoppers who want quality, fresh food and a more personal experience. Customer-owned or employee-owned, theyre open to anyone who wants to join, and they give customers greater control over product quality and range than traditional stores. Do you wish the store would stock lavender-scented EO-brand shampoo? Tell a clerk, wholl turn around and ask a distributor to ship it to the store. Try doing that at a big-box warehouse or traditional supermarket.
The stores tend to be strongly committed to buying from regional farms, meaning the money you spend helps ensure farms remain as farms instead of converting to subdivisions or industrial parks. Organic food is a hallmark of a co-op. Willy Street Co-op which calls itself the largest consumer-owned natural foods store in Madison, Wisc. buys produce in season from more than 20 local growers, nearly all certified organic. Like many co-ops, Fort Collins Co-op in Colorado sells lots of foods in bulk including grains, cruelty-free body care products and liquids such as tamari or honey, and encourages consumers to reuse bags and containers because its cheaper and better for the environment.
Co-ops are nonprofit organizations, and they tend to be the original natural food stores in their communities. Their fans bristle when chains such as Whole Foods Markets and Trader Joes open shop in town.
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