A look back at Hamilton’s first food co-op in the 1970’s: The Hamilton Natural Food Co-op

by Mustard Seed member Barbara Wallace

In the late 70’s, several of us living in Hamilton came together to create the first food co-op.  We found space at 228 Locke Street South where LuLu & Lavigne Home Studio now sits.

Lulu

Few of us knew anything about co-ops or even running a store, but we were eager and energetic.  I remember we had a fridge we weren’t using and we lent it to the store. Others cleared out their basements to donate shelving units, counters, blackboards and old couches that we put in the basement for our meetings. We bought very little.  Everyone bought a share – maybe about $200 and we were all expected to contribute at least 3 hours of volunteer labour a week.  My family’s original job was washing out the gallon jugs and taking them up to Bennett’s to fill them with cider for the weekly order. We would buy 30-40 jugs a week that we then delivered to the eager folks stocking the shelves.  There were buyers and stockers, cleaners and cashiers, admin folks and financial “wizards”. Some of the folks I had an opportunity to reminiscence with were:  Jennifer Powell-Fralick, Jean Sedimhradsky, Edie Thompson and Joy Warner. We remembered stalwart members like: Chris Priest, Lorelei Kilgour, Sharon and Graham MacQueen, George and Lenore Sorger, Jesse Kaye, and Jim and Gail Spring.

Some memories we had were:

  • the key issue: who had the keys, who was home to open for the next shift, how did we lock up, the woman next door – maybe Agnes’ Florist who kept an emergency key – just in case.
  • critters appearing in barrels which meant the whole thing had to be thrown out.
  • dead bees in the barrel on top of the honey.
  • members getting the co-op to buy their particular item – be it garlic or sprouts or seeds. Oh the laws we broke!
  • members who didn’t show up for their shift and those who had to fill in.
  • repeated requests for yet another levy because we had no money.
  • the big decision to hire a manager – the only staff person we had.
  • drinking wine at the “BOC”…      (basement of the co-op)

Even with a lot of devotion and hard work, we were not able to keep it going more than about 5 years.  None of the folks I talked to remembered “the end”. People just drifted away.

What a difference the Mustard Seed is – how clean, how well stocked, how well managed, what knowledgeable staff.

If others have memories or knowledge of the life of the Hamilton Natural Food Co-op,  do in touch with me (barbarawallace666@gmail.com) or share them on this Facebook post.  It would be fun to learn other memories.

Editor’s note: In particular, if you have any photos to share of this former Co-op we would LOVE to have them for our archives!

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