Thursday, September 25, 2008

Starting a Southold Food Co-operative: Sustainable and Money Saving

By Heather Cusack

A group of people in Southold met recently to discuss the creation and opening of a Southold Food Co-operative with a storefront in Southold. The idea came up because the long time health food store business on the Main Road (Natural Choice) closed down.

Many people on the North Fork do have their own mini co-ops of a few families who order natural foods directly from United Northeast Food distributors; a truck arrives at their houses once per month delivering bulk and cases of food. Also, as we live in a farming and sea area much of our food comes from our own gardens, farms, and fishing/harvesting from the sea.

What is a food co-op and why would that be a good thing to have here in Southold? A food co-op is a non profit organization, organized with a board of directors, volunteer labor, and some paid staff. The food prices are low as there is no profit, and costs are the rent for the space, utilities, and any paid labor. Food co-ops exist all over our country and provide everything and more than a supermarket.

The current group did the legal work to form a not for profit, but were unable to get enough members to commit to renting the space the Natural Choice had, so the idea is in limbo now; but still it is a viable possibility! The best way to get started would be to use a space where there are very little costs; possibly a barn or garage or other space that is empty; to receive the bulk orders from the truck. People can meet to pick up what they order, and then eventually set up shelves, refrigeration, etc and sell to the public at a marked up price that would cover any expenses.

What can you get from a co-op? Items such as organic fruits and vegetables, grains, and beans, nuts, cereals, baking supplies, frozen and convenience foods, and all the other things that the group wants to stock, from toilet paper, to light bulbs, to shampoo would be available.

I recently went to an awesome, beautiful co-op in Bozeman, Montana while out there to visit Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman is a college town, which helps with the support of a co-op. Co-op members work 2 hours per week for a discount on food. The co-op there was huge, like a big Whole Foods market. The store was totally powered by solar panels on the roof; it had fresh baked breads and a deli full of delicious organic foods, soups, salads, and dinners of all kinds. It also had bins of bulk foods, nuts, grains, granolas, etc.

How is a food co-op a more environmentally sound way to buy food than a supermarket? The food is mostly in a bulk form so there is less or no packaging; members bring their own jars and bags for refilling. Co-ops can also carry the packaged health food, but that stuff is more expensive. The least expensive and most nutritious are whole foods: oats, flours, pastas, raisin, nuts etc., which the Co-op can buy in ten or twenty-five or one hundred-pound containers, and members can purchase these items by the pound. I was in a food co-op for many years in Rhode Island; it was great to go there and refill everything from empty shampoo and dish soap containers, to jars for beans and grains.

Is there enough interest in Southold to start a food co-op? I think so; it will take some education and commitment from a group of 10-20 people to get it going. Are you interested? If yes, email me or call me for more information: Heather Cusack-765-3301 or .

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