SWYF Find: Willimantic Food Co-Op...and the joys of co-ops

Image from the Willimantic Food Co-Op
While en route to visit a friend's new farm in Quaker Hill,  I took my first trip to the Willimantic Food Co-Op  - and I'm hoping to go back again soon. Residents of the area are so fortunate to have two  co-ops: Willimantic and New London's Fiddleheads Food Co-Op. In general, I love the idea of co-ops. Here's why...

Let's back up and explain what a co-op is. It's what is sounds like - a cooperative, which implies input or cooperation among its members. Although they've been around for quite awhile, food co-ops have had quite the resergence in popularity with the whole foods/hipster/new-age patchouli-wearing hippie/collective action/community movements - whatever you want to call it - among 20- and 30-somethings (though, your age is not a requirement in shopping at them). A number of them are becoming more than just bulk buying clubs, but rather hubs for natural foods and community activism.

By becoming a member of a food co-op, you essentially become a part owner in the operation. You have a say in business practices and the type of inventory carried, among other benefits. Members receive additional discounts on food, year-end dividends, and, in most cases, are asked to volunteer as part of their membership.

What's so great about co-ops, specifically the Willimantic Co-Op? Well, a lot of things:
  • Access to a wide array of whole and natural foods at discounted rates to both members and non-members alike.
  • An amazing selection of bulk grains, flours, grains, herbs, etc., and organic and/or local produce.
  • A warm, welcoming environment with people who want to work and volunteer there, and often share similar ideals on environmental sustainability, human and animal rights and a commitment to good, fair food. 
  • Reasonable membership fees and flexible payment options.
  • As a member (and, sometimes, non-member), you often have access to in-store demonstrations, workshops, and lectures.
  • You save money! (Click on the comparison guide when you click on the page.)
Cooperatives provide an alternative to chain stores and can serve as an outlet when you can't get to your local farmers' market or need fill-in ingredients. I got the same feeling when I walked through the aisles of the Willimantic Food Co-Op that I do at my local health food store or when I go to/work at area farmers' markets: A comfortable, relaxed environment where employees, fellow-shoppers and volunteers are personable and respectful.

Want to learn about co-ops or at least find one in your area? NOFA's current issue of "The Natural Farmer" has a terrific article on co-ops that's worth the read. To find a co-op in your state, check out this directory from the Organic Consumers' Association. And, if you're really interested, order a copy of the National Co-op Directory.

**Willimantic Food Co-Op: 91 Valley St., Willimantic, CT 06226; 860.456.3611. Hours: M - F: 9-8; Sat.: 9-6; Sun.: 10-5