Food co-ops that feel like home

One of the common themes in The Mustard Seed survey was that Hamiltonians are seeking a place where the staff know their name; a space with qualities that reflect their own style and values; a place where they feel at home.  But how does a grocery store feel like home? In the past few months we have travelled to about 25 other food co-ops looking for inspiration and advice as we develop The Mustard Seed. Each store is unique, reflecting its co-op members and community.

The Putney Food Co-op in eastern Vermont has nailed down this feeling of home in their store. The large-scale photos throughout the store are of their members, producers, and staff. The message is that these people own and make decisions about the products and values of the store, that everyone can be involved in re-imagining their food options.

Accurate labelling is an important part of every food co-op. At the People’s Food Co-op in Ann Arbor they clearly label items as local and organic – two important values that co-op members can trust when shopping.  We hope to identify the distance that food products travel to the store to help members better understand our foodshed.

The Ypsilanti Food Co-op in Michigan has an artisan bakery as part of their store. Other food co-ops have a kitchen that helps to create value-added products from local sources, reduce food waste, and increase profits.

Education is another important component of food co-ops. At the 2-year-old Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Chicago, there is informative labelling throughout the store like this one about biodynamic agriculture. Other food co-ops share seasonal recipes, tips on things like composting or fermenting, and canning supplies.

Kids are important at food co-ops.  The Unicorn Grocery Cooperative in Manchester, UK, has created a fun play areas where kids can hang out while their parents do the shopping. The Unicorn also provides free local apples for the kids, which seems like a great idea!  We have seen similar play areas in other co-ops.

Food co-ops are often in unique locations, like the Ypsilanti Food Co-op in Michigan. We are on the lookout for the right home for The Mustard Seed in downtown Hamilton. Our location team has put together a weighted matrix of different qualities we are looking for in a space. Will we find a vacant building that we can transform into a special space? Will we be part of renewing a neighbourhood? We can’t wait to find out!

Food co-ops are not only about groceries, they are about building community. At the People’s Supermarket in London, UK, their space has hosted community meals and other events. Many co-ops organize educational workshops, cooking classes, and producer demonstrations. They respond to the vision of the members, creating a sense of place in what can otherwise be just a consumer environment.

Below are some photos from our travels to other co-ops in Ontario, the US, and England. What qualities can you identify that you would like to see reflected in our co-op?

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7 thoughts on “Food co-ops that feel like home

  1. Pingback: Non-Traditional Places to Look for Wine « Wining Wife

  2. I love the idea of a kid’s space with apples!!! I would also love to see a community kitchen and dining space -one that could be used for baking/canning/soup making workshops and community dinners. Can’t wait! I wish we had known about this sooner but now that we know, we are excited to give the co-op our support both financially and in some volunteer capacity.
    Carolyn, Mike, Hannah and Declan Ralph

    • I love this idea. I’d also like to see a community workspace for things like canning. I’d also love to see recipe ideas with all the ingredients together, for interesting ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks, etc.

    • A community kitchen would also be a great space for workshops on how to use seasonal ingredients which might be unfamiliar, or to break the long winter stretch with fresh recipes.

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  4. Our family had a co-op membership at Kootenay coop in Nelson BC, what a lovely experience it was to be a part of that. They offered something similar to what you’re proposing, a children’s membership card that had punch out spaces to receive a box of organic raisins or an organic apple during shopping visits. The kids loved feeling that they were welcome and part of the happenings. That was a very appreciated effort.
    We’re so looking forward to this new venture here in Hamilton.

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