At a rally in Middlebury a few weeks ago to protest police brutality against Black people, a pick-up truck full of young men sped by the line of protesters and one leaned out the window to yell, “All lives matter!”. Maybe he thought he was being clever, but clearly it’s important to keep pointing out why Black lives matter in particular. We are seeing the many ways police target people of color— it’s nothing new, but impossible to deny with video-cams and courageous citizens filming assaults on their smartphones.
If indeed all lives matter, why do Black Americans consistently have fewer opportunities to lead long, healthy lives? And why are people of color up to five times as likely to be hospitalized or to die from COVID-19 as whites? Although injustices in the ways police and courts treat people of color compared with whites are a huge reason, many of the answers are baked into our food system. This food system has been exploiting people of color from plantation days through the present, stealing their land, and denying them access to resources, information, and markets that are open to whites.
We now know that dying from COVID-19 is much more likely for people who have diabetes, obesity, or other diet-related diseases. Diet-related diseases are more common among people of color: for example, diabetes affects 7.5% of the white population in the US, but 11.7% of Blacks, 12.5% of Latinx, and 14.7% of Native Americans. People of color have more diabetes and other diet-related diseases not because they prefer to eat less healthy food, but because healthy food is less accessible and affordable where they live.
Poverty affects the ability to buy healthy food, and people of color are more likely to live in poverty than whites. The percentage of white people in poverty in 2018 was 10.1%, but 20.8% of Blacks, 17.6% of Latinx, and 25.4% of Native Americans. Reasons include big differences in assets held by each race (part of the legacy of redlining), wage and employment discrimination, and the shockingly high rates of incarceration for Blacks and difficulties getting a job after being released. Claims for economic reparations are getting more visibility, as the US learns more about the economic disadvantages borne by people of color. Poverty affects access to education too: plenty of white people have poor diets, but their ability to get well-paying jobs and learn how to improve their health through education is greater than the opportunities open to people of color.
Finally and perhaps most perversely, people of color hold most of the lowest-paid jobs in the food system: farmworkers, food-processing workers, meatpackers, supermarket stockers, etc. These jobs have finally been recognized as “essential”, but fair compensation, protection from COVID-19, and access to healthcare and childcare haven’t followed.
Our food system doesn’t have to exploit people of color. But we’ll need to accept paying the true cost of food (and accept subsidizing more federal food assistance for people whose wages won’t cover that cost). Our expectation of cheap food makes us complicit in this exploitative system.
You may have seen the full-page ads that Tyson Foods put into the Washington Post, New York Times and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on April 26, warning “The food supply chain is breaking” and “millions of pounds of meat” will disappear from the supply chain. It’s very true that COVID-19 has hit hard in huge meat-packing plants owned by Tyson Foods, JBS and Smithfield Foods; and many were forced to close as nearly 12,000 meat-packing and food processing workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 48 have died. Donald Trump issued an executive order to re-open closed plants soon thereafter, saying that they were “essential infrastructure”; but re-opening doesn’t depend on whether workers receive sick-time, adequate personal protective gear, health insurance or any other protection from the devastation that COVID-19 could wreak on workers and their families. Nor whether undocumented workers (estimated to make up half of meat-packing plant workers) will have at least temporary protection from deportation. Now meat-packing plants refuse to release figures on how many workers are testing positive within their plants, only saying that they will close if more than 10% of their workers get sick.
In contrast, while in Middlebury the coop has seen missed deliveries and shortages of some items, we’ve also had an abundance of good food available to us; and as of this writing, not a single worker has tested positive for COVID-19. Coops are thriving around the country now, as are subscriptions to CSAs. So what’s going on here?
First, we need to recognize the differences between an industrial food system and a more localized and relational one. Industrial food systems like the one Tyson is part of are organized to maximize profit for their stockholders; Smithfield’s CEO Ken Sullivan assured his Board that he would keep the plants open so that they could continue selling pork to China, where prices were 4-6 times higher than in the US (ironically, because another virus, SARS, which originated in a Chinese Smithfield plant, had killed such so many Chinese pigs that prices swooped up). And indeed, now that Smithfield has re-opened the Sioux Falls, ND, plant that was the first epicenter for COVID-19 cases, sales to China have soared even as some parts of the US still have meat shortages.
Our Coop does not operate for maximum profits, and that’s one reason prices we charge are sometimes higher than prices for the same or similar items sold through supermarkets. The Coop tries to sell at fair prices that allow our employees to get decent wages and benefits, compensate farmers fairly for their time, and allow them enough to give their workers decent wages, and provide for community needs such as pantries.
Second, remember that Smithfield pork sausage and Tyson chicken are not essential to health and well-being. The idea that these plants are essential infrastructure is ludicrous. That makes the fact that so much of the agricultural bailout for COVID-19 is being scooped up by the biggest farms and businesses even more disgusting: small-scale farmers are hardly seeing any relief for their loss of business. While most families are getting checks of merely $1200 plus $500 per child, the largest farmers can now get up to $250,000 per person from the new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, with farm corporations receiving up to $750,000. Contracts for the poorly-conceived food boxes that USDA plans to distribute to food banks are likewise going to big companies like Borden. And none of the money ear-marked for COVID-19 relief is going to farmworkers, including the people keeping most Vermont dairies going. The money from USDA would be far better spent boosting SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) so that people can buy what they need. SNAP isn’t perfect, but it’s the best social safety net we have.
Third, the producers, processors and packers who serve the coop are mostly small and medium-scale. We know many of them personally and we can visit their farms or businesses to see what they do. They don’t pack workers in tight quarters where they are almost guaranteed to get sick or tell them to use hairnets as face-masks (as Smithfield did). Similarly, our meat suppliers aren’t using industrial-scale confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where animals easily transmit diseases because they are packed into unhealthy spaces. Our Coop seeks out ethical suppliers who aren’t trying to short-cut labor and environmental laws.
And finally, it’s the small-scale and local food systems that have been able to adapt most successfully to COVID-19. They are the most resilient food systems. Industrial systems still haven’t been able to shift, months after COVID first emerged. Resilience is hugely important. This pandemic is not the last crisis our food system will face; pandemics are increasingly likely, given the ways that wildlife habitat is being destroyed and how we live today. Climate change will create more crises. Do we want to rely on our local farms as much as possible, or do we want to put our faith with the John Tysons and the Ken Sullivans? As meat-packing workers have realized painfully, “they don’t care about us”.
Local farms aren’t the whole answer: even the coop can only source 37% of our food locally and local farms can’t provide many of the things we like, such as bananas, coffee and chocolate. With good legislation that gets more land into profitable farms, we could raise the potential for food production considerably in Vermont. That said, the most pragmatic upper limit for local and regional food is about 75%, since we don’t have the capacity to grow enough grain here.
The Coop cares deeply for all customers, as well as its producers. As member-owners your continued support will make a difference in how well the coop can show that care: Dan Barber from Stonefield Farms in New York recently surveyed small-scale farmers and 1/3 of them said they anticipated being bankrupt by the end of this year. While small-scale farms are ramping up production, labor is hard to find and they are worried customers will switch back to the cheapest food sources as soon as they can.
We don’t need cheaper food in the United States, we need laws and regulations that ensure a social safety net of reliable, healthy food for everyone (SNAP is a start, but woefully underfunded) and opportunities for decent work. The coop business model is one of the best alternatives for a food business that demonstrates care for producers and eaters alike.
Molly Anderson is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member
I have had the pleasure of serving as the Middlebury Natural Food Co-op (Co-op) Board Treasurer for the past four years. For me, this time of year always includes working with Glenn Lower (GM) and Steve Koch (Finance Manager) to develop the annual budget for the next fiscal year. The Co-op is no longer a buying club nor a mom & pop operation. It is a robust and thriving food cooperative that employs 115 staff members and serves 5,500 member-owners. I mention this because our Co-op has grown and evolved in the past 40 years into a complex organization.
Building an annual budget is a bit like putting a puzzle together. In the case of the Co-op, the process starts with projecting annual sales for the next fiscal year. Think of annual sales as the frame, or border, of the puzzle and the remaining puzzle pieces as all the competing needs and priorities that must be considered, sorted by color to make up the interior of the puzzle. Believe it or not, there is an art to building a realistic and financially sustainable budget! It requires looking at past performance, current trends, and imagining a desired future state.
The Co-op’s annual budget process is guided and informed by our Mission and End Statements:
The Middlebury Natural Foods Cooperative is a democratic, member-owned cooperative committed to providing healthy, competitively priced foods; encouraging ecologically sound and healthful patterns of production and consumption; and responding to members’ needs accordingly.
Our cooperative exists so that Co-op member-owners, customers, and the community benefit from:
Vibrant Local Economy
Environmentally Sustainable and Energy Efficient Practices
Co-operative Democratic Ownership
Learning About These Values
The “Ends” guide day-to-day operations, inform decision making and serve as a constant reminder of the purpose of our cooperative. The Ends represent our cooperative values. As you can imagine, there are many competing priorities to consider and balance as we create a budget that aligns with our mission and values and is financially sustainable.
The Co-op strives to provide the fairest possible prices to customers and at the same time provide fair compensation to employees and fair prices to farmers/producers. During the past year, there has been a lot of discussion about the minimum wage on a local, state, and national level. The Co-op has followed this public conversation and recently committed to bringing the lowest-paid positions up to $15/hour by March 31, 2021. This decision was made thoughtfully and took into consideration the current and long-term impact on the budget. This is one example of the thought and consideration that goes into building a budget that reflects the Co-op’s commitment to staff and a vibrant local economy.
I will close with a simple graphic depiction that Glenn often shares at the annual meeting. Imagine $1 in sales and how it is sliced up by big expense categories.
As you can see, 65 cents of every dollar go toward paying fair prices to farmers/ producers and 22 cents provides fair compensation (wages & benefits) to employees. The remaining 11-12 cents cover other operating expenses (administration, physical plant, promotions, governance, taxes, loan interest, Patronage dividend) leaving a small net profit (1-2 cents of each dollar). The net profit is saved for reinvesting in the future community co-op.
Managing and operating within a financially sustainable budget is a bit like walking a tight rope. It requires focus, foresight, and commitment to balancing all the demands of running a business while embracing our Co-op mission and values.
Lynn Dunton is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member
The Coop hosted a public talk last month by Dr. Teresa Mares, an anthropology professor at the University of Vermont. Dr. Mares gave a presentation on farmworkers and food justice in Vermont.
In her 2019 book, Life on the Other Border: Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont, Dr. Mares explores the personal vulnerability and food insecurity experienced by migrant farmworkers in our state, and analyzes the inequities, fear, and invisibility experienced by those who sustain our dairy industry. She speaks to these farmworkers’ humanity and resilience; their efforts to remain connected to the foods and customs that link them to their homes and families of origin.
While most of us take our ability to move freely about the state to shop for food for granted, nearly 95% of the migrant farmworker population in Vermont lacks personal transportation, despite the passage of legislation that allows state residents to obtain driving licenses regardless of citizenship status. Access to grocery stores (and healthcare) typically depends on the assistance and support of the farmers who rely on this workforce; or on volunteers. This disenfranchised and vulnerable population is uniquely challenged to access these basic necessities.
It is difficult for most of us to relate to these challenges and as a Coop Board, we want to understand our place as buyers and sellers of Dairy products produced in Vermont. In addition, there is a well-founded fear among migrant farmworkers that visiting a local grocery store, farmers market, or food shelf could result in detention or deportation. There is a reluctance to speak Spanish in these public spaces, and efforts are made to call as little attention to oneself as possible.
An estimated 1000-1200 farmworkers reside in Vermont, and it is calculated that nearly 70% of Vermont’s milk originates from dairy farms that rely on the work of migrants. Although these workers pay taxes and contribute to Vermont’s economic wellbeing and food security, there is an illogical disconnect between these farmworkers and their own access to food. Work schedules can approach 70 hours a week, thus there is little time in the day to prepare and eat wholesome meals.
Dr. Mares’ presentation highlighted the following topics:
The reality and life experience of migrant workers and their families who sustain Vermont’s dairy industry include a deep connection to family, both local and beyond, along with considerable knowledge about agriculture. These are resilient individuals with a strong work ethic and a desire to be self-reliant, despite the challenges of limited access, choice, and opportunity.
Vermont is a border state and, as such, migrant dairy workers face many of the same dangers as migrants at our southern border. The reach of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) extends up to 100 miles from the Canadian border, thereby presenting very real obstacles to food security, a healthy diet, and the overall well-being of workers and their families.
Huertas means “kitchen gardens” in Spanish and the Huertas Project is a collaboration with volunteers and undocumented farmworkers that promotes growing and preparing food that has cultural relevance and helps diminish food insecurity. Participation in this project, which has largely been in Franklin County, has allowed workers to demonstrate their agricultural knowledge and skills, though gardens are often situated to reduce visibility from the road and therefore attract little attention. Efforts to expand this project to Addison County are important.
Dr. Mares’ presentation concluded with a multitude of questions from the engaged group. Speaking for myself, this was a beginning step in education about the unseen group of hard-working people who underpin our dairy industry. Next steps would include:
Learning more about how our agricultural system and immigration policies are misaligned and how this has an impact on our overall food system in the United States.
Exploring opportunities to become involved in actions that promote greater interaction with these invisible members of our community, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion of these neighbors.
Investigating affiliation with existing local groups that have established trusted connections with migrant dairy workers and engaging in activities that would alleviate food insecurity and promote access to foods that meet the cultural preferences of Latinx workers and their families.
For more information about this topic, please see an earlier post on our blog:
If the 40 degree morning temperatures and the large V’s of Canada Geese I have seen fly south since the end of August are any indication, winter is once again around the corner. For me winter is uninvited, fairly predictable, and mostly a welcomed “guest” because I am ready for soups and curries, and cozy quiet evenings snuggled on my couch with a book. In the Chinese Medicine world, this time of year is marked by a turn inwards. Yang peaked a number of weeks back and we are now officially in Yin season, with Yang receding back down into the roots. We can no longer reach for the sun for all our nourishment; we have to rely upon the foods that have gathered up the sun/yang energy to sustain us. We go inwards, relying on the stores of summer’s natural vitamin D and the harvests that have been cultivated by the many local farms in our community.
Luckily, fall comes before winter. Fall always brings such a mixed bag for me, the excitement of a new school year, the bounty in the gardens, the relief of hot, humid summer days, and also the loss. The end of casual backyard barbecues with local brews and spirits, and a good corn hole competition, not to mention the local veggies straight from the farm to our plates. My family and I are now thinking about curries and stews – warming foods.
I have relied on the access to healthy foods at our Coop for more than 21 years. I am so proud that one of our Ends commits our cooperative to the mission of providing healthy foods. We all benefit from this commitment and access. I know this access is a privilege; one I never take for granted. As years have unfolded and the seasonal cycles change, so has the kinds of foods my body needs to stay healthy. The foods that kept my microcosm healthy in 1998 are very different than what is healthy for my system today. At the same time, my family’s eating patterns have also shifted significantly during this same time; my college kids even admitting that white refined sugar and mainstream processed foods really do make them feel sick. So, come winter, all I want to do is go deeper into that commitment to eating healthy food. Won’t you join me?
I am sharing a very simple curry recipe that my family regularly enjoys when the seasons turn Yin. It’s dairy and gluten free and can be made vegetarian or with pork, chicken or shrimp. All the ingredients can be found, any day, at the Coop. How blessed are we?
Nadine’s Lentil Curry with rice
2 cans guar-free coconut milk
4 tablespoons red curry paste
1 quart veggie broth
3 medium carrots, chopped in 1 inch pieces
Half a green cabbage, shredded
2 cups broccoli florets
2 medium zucchinis, chopped in 1 inch pieces
1 cup red lentils, rinsed 3 times to remove starches
1 pound of chicken breast (or pork or shrimp) cut into ½ inch strips
and/or 1 pound of drained tofu, cut into ½ inch strips
Combine coconut milk, curry paste and broth in dutch oven and bring to boil, partially covered
Add all vegetables and lentils, and simmer for 25 minutes, covered
Add meat option or tofu, simmer for another 20 minutes until cooked through, covered
Serve over jasmine rice (or short grain brown rice for nutty flavor addition); finish with chopped cilantro, a hot sauce of your choice; a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and toasted curry cashews, and a generous squeeze of lime.
Notes: Add 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and one tablespoon sweetener towards the end of cooking (I use granulated date sugar) for more of a Thai curry flavor. And, if too thick, thin it down with more broth and/or more coconut milk. If too thin, add more lentils, a bit at a time. Adjust curry paste to taste.
Nadine Canter Barnicle is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member
Would you believe it if I wrote that doing laundry has been bringing me joy recently? It’s true! Ever since I learned how to make my own non-toxic, low-waste laundry detergent, I feel immense satisfaction and joy knowing that I’m taking a daily step to keep my family healthy and reduce our footprint of single-use plastics.
As fellow Co-op shoppers, I don’t have to tell you about the importance of minimizing our exposure to synthetic chemicals. For many families, mine included, it was easy to grasp why I would want my food to be organic to minimize the number of toxins I put into my body. Grasping the significance of non-toxic body, beauty, and household cleaning products, however, can be harder, and take more convincing. Many of us have brand loyalties dating back to our childhood, and we associate the smells of these products with cleanliness.
Unfortunately, these smells are frequently a daily source of toxicity in our lives. Our skin is the human body’s largest organ. Therefore, what we put on top of our skin is just as important, as what we put in our mouths. Companies are not required to declare the ingredients of these “fragrances,” which are in fact derived from petrochemicals. These synthetic chemicals are carcinogens and are also known to disrupt the endocrine/hormonal system, which is important for everyone, but particularly young women and girls.
Luckily, our Co-op has a wide array of non-toxic household cleaning products, as well as body and beauty products. If you want to take it a step further, reduce waste, and save money, it’s easy to make your own products using ingredients from our Co-op. For a no-brainer switch, try making your own antimicrobial bathroom and kitchen cleaning spray. Combine equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle, and add 5-10 drops of tea tree, lemon, or grapefruit essential oil. That’s it!
And what about my joy-filled laundry detergent? After doing laundry every other day because of my daughter’s cloth diapers, I felt frustrated by the number of single-use plastic detergent bottles we were going through. Making my own has been absurdly easy, and effective even on stinky diapers. The main ingredient is baking soda, which is naturally derived, and is so abundant that we are at no risk of depleting our domestic sources! To make the detergent, I first picked up a used bucket from the Co-op to mix the ingredients in. You often see used feta cheese buckets from the deli by the door, next to the magazine swap area. Next, I repurposed a scoop from a finished container of protein powder to use as the measuring scoop. Zero waste!
Here’s the recipe–it will last months, and costs just pennies per load. Add 1-2 tablespoons per load.
2 cups baking soda (available in the Co-op bulk department)
4 cups washing soda (A derivative of baking soda. Make your own by spreading a layer of baking soda on a cookie sheet and baking at 400 degrees for 1 hour. Or, purchase separately)
4 cups borax (a naturally occurring mineral)
10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil from the wellness department
As explained on the Co-op’s website, “Patronage dividends are a traditional way for Co-ops to share profits back with their members. As Member-owners of the Co-op, you also own the profits, and a patronage dividend system allows us to share and reinvest those profits in a transparent, mutually beneficial way.”
The annual patronage dividend refund system is four years old. This year, the Co-op Board of Directors voted unanimously to refund members 50% of the total patronage. Last year’s refund was 40%. For a variety of reasons, General Manager Glenn Lower suggested we increase the refund to 50% for this year. By early July, if a member-owners’ patronage dividend is more than $5.00, they will receive this refund in the mail. Patronage dividends less than $5.00 will be combined and donated to the local food shelf. Glenn and staff determined that pooling these small patronage dividends to make a meaningful donation in honor of these members was a better use of Co-op resources (time, paper, ink, postage) that would be expended to send these small checks through the mail.
Many of you have received these dividends in past years and wondered why and how this system works. Member-owners receive a share of the profits from Co-op business in proportion to how much they purchased during the Co-op’s fiscal year (April 1 – March 31). The more you shop, the more you are eligible to earn. At the end of the fiscal year, if the Co-op is profitable, we as a Board of Directors review any anticipated projects and financial needs for the Co-op. We then use that information to determine how much of the profits to retain, and how much to give back to member-owners. The amount retained stays in the Co-op, but please note, it belongs to the member-owners as a group and becomes part of what we own together as an investment in community ownership. The remaining profits are then returned by check or voucher to the member-owners. Law requires that at least 20% of patronage be returned to member-owners.
Nearly 80% of all sales this past year were to current member-owners! The return to each member-owner is slightly less than 1% of their purchases for the year. An estimate of the break down is below:
If a member spent $10/week=$4.70 will be donated to the food shelf
If a member spent $25/week=$11.74 in the patronage check
If a member spent $50/week=$23.48 in the patronage check
If a member spent $100/week=$46.95 in the patronage check
If a member spent $200/week=$93.91 in the patronage check
With 5,880 current member-owners, 3,717 members will receive a check for $5.00 or more, and the remaining patronage for the 2,163 members with a refund below $5.00 will be pooled for that donation to the food shelf.
The votes are counted and the results are in! If you made it to this year’s Annual Meeting, you’re already in the know about the election. But if not, here’s a quick synopsis of how it went:
Please welcome newly elected Board Member Erin Buckwalter. Erin has spent her adult life working and volunteering in the Vermont food system and is passionate about connecting with people through food and agriculture. She is the current Market Development Director at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. To learn more about Erin, please see her candidacy statement in our Annual Report.
Also, please welcome returning Board Members R.J. Adler and Amanda Warren. We look forward to working with you again this term!
This year, Co-op Members voted to Update our By-Laws. The votes were overwhelmingly in support of the recommended updates (see Annual Report to reference these) – with 97% of the votes returned in favor of the recommended changes.
Thank you so much for giving us your input, submitting your vote, and doing your democratic duty as Co-op Member-Owners!
It’s May! Spring is in the air! The flowers have bloomed after the April rains; people are planting gardens and opening windows for the first time. Of all the traditions and changes that come with May, though, I’m most excited about voting for my board directors at the Middlebury Coop! While voting happens in May, the recruiting process happens throughout the year. Members of the Board Development Committee (BDC) typically start meeting with potential board members as early as November for the next year. As your board, we are always thinking about the future of the organization, and part of that is exploring who might be a good board member in the future. (Hey you- yes you- reading this- have you ever considered running for the board?)
This year the Board had a more formal “board recruitment/election” process starting in January. We started by inviting anyone interested in running for the board to come to an “Eat and Greet” conversation with current board members. There were three Eat and Greet sessions so members could come and learn about the board process, check out a board packet, and begin to wrap their mind around policy governance. Policy governance is the formal set of rules the board abides by to make sure the coop is running smoothly. To be sure everyone interested had a chance to learn more about the board, we also set up a few sessions of tabling at the demo counter. We talked with dozens of potential new board directors!
The process to run for the board includes filling out an “application” that includes a short list of questions and meeting with a board member. The awesome staff at the coop compile the application Q/As into a ballot, which is sent out via snail mail as part of the Annual Report to all members. If you haven’t already received your ballot in the mail you will soon. This year we ended up with a slate of five candidates running for three seats on the board. If taking part in the most glorious tradition of democracy isn’t enough reason to vote, the ballot is also a coupon for $3 off your next shopping trip to the coop!
As you read through your ballot and consider your possible future board directors, consider this too: We will hold elections every May! Do you think you would be a good candidate for the board? Come to a board meeting, or connect with one of us. We are always ready to have a conversation with you!
I cannot think of anything negative about choosing the bulk option when shopping at the Co-op. We are fortunate that our member-owned market offers so many products in bulk, allowing you to buy just the amount you need, as compared to pre-packaged options that often sit around too long and are then thrown away. When you buy in bulk, you will save money, get into some “real food” cooking, be inspired to create your own combinations from soups to snacks, and cut way down on food packaging waste. Some products sold in bulk are locally produced, and most are organic and not genetically modified. Food sold in bulk turns over quickly, so bins are monitored and refreshed regularly.
While most of us know about the herb and spice selection, the wide variety of flours, nuts and seeds, and various grains and legumes in bulk bins, did you know:
You can purchase just the right amount of safflower or canola oil, vanilla and almond extract, and two varieties of soy sauce from bulk dispensers. Containers are available for sale, but the best option is to bring your own!
It is possible to buy your preferred amount of shampoo or conditioner, along with dish soap from bulk dispensers.
If you ask a staff member, they will refill your container with honey or maple syrup at a reduced, bulk price. Also, inquire about 15% bulk discounts sometimes available on case lots.
The variety of choices for prepackaged tea and coffee at the Co-op can be staggering, but there are additional savings to be had in the bulk section. When you select and/or grind coffee from the bulk dispensers, you are charged a price per pound or 16 ounces. While the sale price of prepackaged coffee in grocery stores is often tempting, remember that these bags typically hold 10 to 12 ounces. Also, consider re-using those lined coffee bags available under the coffee bean bins. They are expensive but rugged and can transport your coffee home multiple times.
Probably my favorite bulk buy at the Co-op is peanut butter, especially now with the new nut grinders. There are salted and unsalted peanut options, along with almonds for almond butter. Bring your own container and get a staff member to help you determine its tare weight if you are unfamiliar with this process … you only want to pay for the weight of the nut butter, not the container.
Finally, consider creating your own combinations from the array of products you can purchase in small or large quantities in bulk. For example:
You can combine dehydrated vegetables, herbs, and legumes to create a meal that is both economical and delicious. A couple of my favorites are Lentil Soup with Carrots and Rosemary, and Lentil Chili, which also contains bulgur for a complete protein, from Arthur Schwartz’s What to Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat. This book is out of print, but grab it if you spot it at a used book sale. It is organized by ingredients and I’ve never had a bad experience with these recipes.
Make your own snack mixes for school lunches using nuts, seeds, rice sticks, and dried fruits. This can be cheaper than buying prepackaged and you know what is in the snack.
I’ve discovered that making granola is a very easy process and it makes your house smell great while it is baking in the oven. If you have access to Jane Brody’s Good Food Book, it contains a great recipe that is much lower in fat and sugar than conventional granola but is still nutty and delicious.
When you need to get something on the table quickly for an evening meal and select some protein and vegetables from the hot bar, consider making these go further with either couscous or bulgur from the bulk bins. These are staples in many ethnic cuisines and require very minimal cooking.
I hope you have some rewarding cooking adventures with novel purchases from the array of bulk foods available at the Co-op!
Louise Vojitisek is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member