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Co-ops: A Great Way to Spice Up Your Grocery Shopping Routine

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What Several Area Food Co-ops Have to Offer

Local Alternatives to Chain Supermarkets

The Honest Weight Food Co-Op in Albany. Photo Courtesy of GrouponMy dad is the only person I know that loves to grocery shop. No matter where he’s going, he takes his coupons and list, ready at all times for an impromptu stop at the store. Price Chopper, Hannaford, Shop Rite, Trader Joe’s—he loves them all. For most people, however, grocery shopping is a chore, something that needs to get done in order to avoid starving.

Whether you’re like my dad and love shopping for food, or you’re just looking to change up your usual grocery shopping routine, checking out a food co-op might be a good option for you. Often a hybrid of a farmers market and a grocery store, co-ops are becoming increasingly popular lately, and with good reason. There are many benefits to shopping at co-ops, and many feature unique products, locally grown produce, and locally made goods that keep customers coming back again and again.

Co-ops differ from commercial grocery stores in that they are owned and governed by the consumers that frequent them. The Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany describes a co-op (short for co-operative) as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” Essentially, this means that co-op customers have the opportunity to purchase shares of the business, making them members of the co-op. A financial commitment gives members the right to participate in decision-making for the organization, and entitles them to discounts and various member benefits. Those who opt not to become co-op members are still welcome and encouraged to shop at the co-op, and can still reap many benefits without buying shares in the organization.

Shopping at a co-op is a great way to support the local economy and community, a major incentive for many people to check out what co-ops have to offer. Many co-ops have agreements with local farmers and artisans, and provide local products to their patrons. Buying locally keeps the money in the community and stimulates the local economy. Additionally, many co-ops host or participate in community events related to healthy and sustainable living. In doing so, they help to foster healthy, strong communities.

Though they’re not as common as commercial grocery stores, there are quite a few co-ops to choose from in upstate New York and the surrounding areas.

The Honest Weight Food Co-op, located on Central Avenue in downtown Albany, is a popular co-op in the Capital Region. Featuring many local products and fair trade items, HWFC also participates in many community events. For instance, on September 23, from 2-4pm in Washington Park in Albany, HWFC will be participating in the 4th annual Local Harvest Festival, featuring local food, live music, craft vendors, and children’s activities. HWFC also offers classes and workshops, most of them free of charge, in the HWFC Community Room. From yoga and reflexology, to chair massage and knitting, to health consultations and blood pressure/body fat testing, there are many health and wellness opportunities to take advantage of. Additionally, HWFC offers orientation meetings for new co-op members and now offers catering services as well.

Not too far from Albany (about an hour away) is the Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. This co-op stocks lots of local products, and offers Local Deals, sales unique to the Market that feature items from purveyors within 100 miles of the co-op.  And, if you’re like my dad and love to clip coupons, you’re in luck. The Berkshire Co-op Market honors Co-op Coupons, distributed by the National Co-op Grocers Association, and Healthy Clippings Coupons, offered by United Natural Foods. The Market also offers farm and vendor tours, opportunities for customers to visit and explore the farms and local food producers that provide the co-op with products. The co-op’s events calendar is packed with activities, many of which are cooking classes and craft activities for kids intended to encourage and foster healthy eating habits. There are also Shopper’s Workshops, classes for adults on topics like home canning, vertical farming, and healthy shopping. Cooperatively owned and community focused, as their motto states, the Berkshire Co-op Market offers much more than just groceries.

If you’re looking for a co-op north of Albany, you’re in luck. Earlier this year, The Glens Falls Food Co-op was established in South Glens Falls, NY. Though still in its infancy, this new co-op is using the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany as a model and hoping to grow. Selling mostly organic and locally grown food, the co-op already has a solid group of core members and is looking to increase membership by offering four membership levels, each including a financial commitment, a required number of volunteer hours, a discount of 10 to 20%, and a re-usable shopping bag. Even without a membership, shoppers are still encouraged to check out this new co-op, which currently shares a building with Rock Hill Bakehouse on Route 9. Providing lots of amazing local and organic products and fresh produce, the co-op is almost like a farmer’s market that is open all week. Hoping to encourage healthy, eco-friendly eating habits and to gain a strong following, the Glens Falls Food Co-op is another great option for people hoping to try something new when it comes to food shopping.

Now is a great time to get involved with a co-op! Even if you’re not interested in joining one, just stopping in to look around or to pick up a few items can be a fun way to shake up your grocery shopping routine. You’ll likely discover some new, unique products, and you can feel good about supporting the local community with your patronage. Who knows? You may even start to love grocery shopping—though probably still not as much as my dad!

For more information on these co-ops, check out the links above.

Jessica Venezia is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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