Nestled in the Rogue Valley, in Ashland, Oregon, Ashland Food Cooperative is celebrating 40 years of bringing healthy, organic food to the community. What began in 1972 as a buying club with no storefront, is now an expanded store, with many new and exciting things.
In 1971 a small group of Ashland families joined together to form a food-buying club. Pooling their resources, they purchased food in bulk directly from distributors, saving themselves money and getting direct access to good quality whole foods.
Membership grew rapidly as word got around. Within a year's time, a storefront on North Main was opened to accommodate demand, and the Ashland Community Food Store was born. The original store was a tiny place, crowded and cozy. Most products were sold in bulk, right out of the buckets, barrels and boxes they came in. Volunteers unloaded deliveries, did minimal stocking, ran the register and hung out. It was the quintessential hippie co-op, passionately loved by its patrons and grudgingly tolerated by the more conservative members of the community.
Business grew steadily, and ACFS moved into larger quarters on 3rd and Lithia Way in the mid '70's. Grocery shelving and coolers now shared display space with the bulk bins and barrels. A wood stove and a large spool table provided heat and hominess. The store was managed and operated by a collective of eight paid employees who balanced their hard work at the store with potluck collective meetings. At these meetings operation decisions were made by consensus.
Volunteers did many jobs in exchange for a purchase discount. A fledgling network of natural foods producers and distributors supplied ACFS customers with some of the healthiest and most creative products available anywhere at the time.
The store functioned as a forum for alternative views and politics, producing a radical newspaper and often-rambunctious discussions at board meetings. The 1980's saw ACFS's customer base slowly broaden as health food consciousness entered the mainstream. The business growth and more diverse shopping community required ACFS to make adaptations, some of them accompanied by growing pains.
By mid 80's volunteer labor was phased out, replaced by paid staff members to improve efficiency and service. Management structure became more focused and hierarchical as collective members evolved into department managers. A General Manager was hired in 1987 to oversee the business and coordinate the management team. The store was extensively remodeled in 1988 expanding retail, office and warehouse space. A community room was also added which was available at low or no cost for community sponsored events and classes.
By the early 1990's ACFS was operating with a paid staff of more than fifty people and still barely able to keep up with the demand for product and service. It soon became clear that, beloved as it was, the Third Street building was no longer adequate for ACFS needs.
A board committee considered options, and eventually decided to buy the vacant lot at the corner of First and A Street to build what is now our current facility. A committee of board, staff and community members worked with architects to develop a building design.
Ground was broken on the new land in April 1993, for the next six months many staff members had double workloads, taking care of regular business while preparing for the new store. On November 9, 1993, an exhausted but euphoric staff opened the doors here at First and A and let the people pour in.
They continued to pour in, in ever growing numbers. It was obvious that the new store needed to expand. After a year of planning, the construction project was begun. January 25, 2002 was cold and rainy but that didn't stop a lovely groundbreaking ceremony attended by board members, staff and loyal members, many of whom had been present at the first ceremony on the site in 1993. The 4500 square foot addition opened to the public in August of that year and now houses our expanded deli, the Juice n' Java Bar, our huge produce department and enlarged meat and seafood department.
The Co-op seems to thrive on change. After many years of debate, research, education, surveys and member votes, Ashland Community Food Store members in November 2002 voted in favor of dissolving the mutual benefit corporation to re-incorporate as a cooperative corporation, operating on a not-for-profit basis. On January 1, 2003, the Co-op opened as Ashland Food Cooperative and began taking memberships in the newly formed co-op. Response has been overwhelming. The Ashland Food Cooperative currently has more than 8,000 households who have signed up and made the required equity investment to become owners.
Ashland Food Cooperative remains the destination food store in Southern Oregon. We hope to continue serving the Rogue Valley and beyond for years to come. Come in and join our cooperative community. Sign up to be an owner. You'll feel so good that you did.