Seattle Permaculture Guild
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For the readers out there who buy organic foods, bulk foods or food from local farms, I have some exciting news. There is a group of Pierce County volunteers working to create a Tacoma Food Co-op.
What is a co-op? In this instance, a food co-op is a store that will sell natural, local foods. But, you say, can’t we already buy natural foods at a variety of big box stores, or at Marlene’s Market and Deli? True, but a store set up as a cooperative (a co-op) is different. Co-ops are created by members, the people who “buy shares.” Member participation make co-op stores that reflect a community’s needs.
For example, Fred Meyer carries health foods, but lacks local foods or support for local businesses. Marlene’s is locally-owned, which is great, but the customers hardly participate in the shaping of its policies and values. A co-op, on the other hand, is a collective vision. The store is not just a store, but a focal point for community desires. A co-op’s structure can be based around local food security values: healthy food from local growers available to all.
What does this vision look like in other food co-op examples? Many food co-ops have a “working member” program (someone can volunteer in the store to receive discounts on their food). In Seattle, the PCC co-op not only sells locally-grown foods, but generates money to preserve farmland.
In Olympia, the food co-op actively engages with community needs. They’ve helped create a low-income credit union, participated in local alternative currencies, offer anti-oppression trainings to their staff and organize for local disaster relief causes. One co-op I know of even took the bold step to just lower their prices after making an unexpectedly high profit.
Lots of towns throughout the country have a natural foods co-op. Eatonville and Yelm even have tiny co-op stores. When I’m travelling I tend to stop by a town’s co-op to educate myself on their great local food, joyful community projects and diverse bulletin boards. Co-ops tend to be a focal point for sustainability and social justice work. Tacoma needs this.
I’m hoping that one day Puyallup will be able to have their own co-op too. Until that time I’ve been happy to learn from the Tacoma group’s process.
If you’d like to learn more too, or even buy a membership, come to an event this Saturday. The Tacoma Food Co-op folks are hosting a free educational celebration in Wright Park in Tacoma. It sure beats lurking around the Fred Meyer bulk foods hoping to make some friends.
CALENDAR: July 17 – Tacoma Green Drinks at the Tempest Lounge. July 19 – Tacoma Food Co-op event is 4-9 p.m. at Wright Park. July 23 – Puyallup River Watershed Council meeting in Sumner. July 27 – Sustainable Puyallup potluck.