Why I Shop at the Co-op #12

July 14, 2022

Dianne and Jay are seasoned food co-op shoppers who are happy to have a local store!

Please tell us a bit about yourselves.

Jay Odell:  I was raised in southern Maryland, in Accokeek on the shores of the Potomac, across from Mt. Vernon. I went to college at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where I met Dianne who was also a student there. I’ve had a career as an ocean conservation biologist, including thirteen years with the Washington State Dept of Fish and Wildlife and nearly nineteen years with The Nature Conservancy.

Dianne Baker:  I’m originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, but I went to school in Washington state, including getting a PhD in Animal Physiology at the University of Washington. When I met Jay at The Evergreen State College, he had cute yellow lace up sailing boots and when he started to talk with me about science, I knew right away that he was the one. We’ve been together ever since and have moved to several places, including western Massachusetts where I had a post-doc at the University of Massachusetts, and here to Virginia where I have been a Biology Professor at the University of Mary Washington since 2006.

We have joined food co-ops nearly everyplace we’ve lived. Our first was the Olympia Food Co-op that we joined when we were undergraduates. Back then the idea of owning a share of a food store felt a little radical or revolutionary and at the same time so obvious and practical. When we moved to Massachusetts, we joined the Leverett Village Co-op. When we visit family in Maine, we enjoy shopping at the Belfast Co-op. We are thrilled today to live about a mile from the Fredericksburg Food Co-op

When did you first hear about the Co-op?

We first heard about the Co-op at the Farmers Market at Hurkamp Park. Food Co-op volunteers table at the Farmers Market each Saturday and we were happy to meet them there many times. We joined the Co-op as owners in August of 2017, less than two years after the Co-op was incorporated. We were relatively early adopters because of our prior positive experience with food co-ops. We are among the first 500 owners of the Co-op; today the Co-op has over 2,800 owners.

From the beginning we were confident that the Co-op would be successful. We were impressed that the people leading the effort had a very well-researched and data-driven plan, informed by analysis of food co-ops around the country. This leadership makes us bullish on the future success of the Fredericksburg Food Co-op. We were delighted to be early supporters of the effort that resulted in Fredericksburg having its own community-owned food co-op.

What are your favorite products at the Co-op?

We like the fresh produce and the local products – including the produce from Blenheim Organic Gardens, eggs from Earth’s Echo Farm, wonderful beeswax products from Walnut Hollow Naturals, and sustainable seafood from Rogue Oysters. During the pandemic we really began to appreciate and discover more local foodways. We are delighted to see these local businesses on the Food Co-op’s shelves. We recently learned that the Co-op has explicit goals for increasing the proportion of locally produced food over time – fantastic!

We love the bulk section. It’s hard to pick just one, but the bulk pistachios are great quality and a good deal even when they aren’t on sale. We also love the soul-satisfying Route 11 chips. They are the best! This is a nice example of the Co-op supporting a Virginia-based company with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability. Watch for the seasonal organic sweet potato flavor made with the entire crop from one great farmer on the lower Eastern Shore of Virginia! We’d be happy to see Route 11 chips have even more shelf space at the Co-op. Alden’s Organic Ice Cream is also a product that we discovered and now buy at the Co-op.

What do you love most about the Co-op?

Of all the co-ops we’ve belonged to or shopped at, we like our own Fredericksburg Food Co-op the most. We like the size of the store. It’s not too big and not too small. The people are friendly. We think the location is great and there is always ample parking. One of our happiest experiences is biking over to the Co-op to shop. We live close enough that we are driving our car less since it opened. We like finding new products that we didn’t know about. The store has a very well-curated selection of products.

The events that the Co-op offers make a real difference – the educational, gardening, and nutrition classes, the music nights and so much more. These events help to make the Co-op a real gathering place for the community. It’s easy to see this value to our community growing over time.

A measure of the success of this Co-op is how it can serve people who have less money. It’s great that the Co-op offers the Virginia Fresh Match and other discounts to people shopping with SNAP EBT. This encourages the purchase and reduces the costs of fruits and vegetables which research shows are nutritious and improve health. We were glad to learn of active and ongoing plans to make the Co-op increasingly effective at serving the full diversity of our community.

We like the Co-op’s sustainability efforts — like the free reusable bags made from recycled t-shirts and the carrot coin program that encourages people to bring their own bags and rewards local charities.

Have you ever made a suggestion to the Co-op and what was it?

When the Co-op first opened, we bought some bottles of milk in glass containers that were past their expiration date. We brought that to the attention of management and that problem went away. The Co-op’s management style is nimble and adaptive. They are willing to listen and make changes.

What advice would you have for someone thinking about checking out the Co-op?

Come in and check it out. You don’t have to be an owner to shop here. You can find some great values in the products sold by the Co-op. And shopping at the Co-op makes you feel good because you are keeping your money local, supporting local producers, and taking home products that are often better for you and the planet.  It’s like voting for a better future with our food purchases.