We turned off highway 101 and onto Rhododendron Drive. Right at the turn was a tiny store with a sign on the window, Real Food Co-op. I collect Co-ops like some people collect recipes or old cars. We didn’t have time to stop as we were overdue to meet my brother and his wife at their new Florence home. Sometime during the evening I asked them if they had visited the co-op. My sister-in-law said “yes, but they don’t have anything on the shelves. I think mostly what they have is different kinds of handmade soap.”
This sounded sad to me and I debated if I even wanted to go see a grocery co-op with only soap on the shelves. A couple days later we did go. The general manager was standing at the counter with a beautiful welcoming smile on her face. I felt instantly at home and never did see the soap. Instead there was a row of bulk basics, grains, beans, flours, etc…also a row of liquid bulk foods, oils, vinegars, and more. I found my favorite brand of canned salsas, enchilada sauces, and pickles from a Eugene company who only uses locally grown certified organic ingredients. The cold case contained all the dairy products that I buy as staples and there was a small freezer case with an assortment of frozen locally raised meats. The back of the store was given over to a three compartment sink and counter for washing and prepping produce. The produce selection was limited but looked very good. Jen Nelson the manager told me that a fresh shipment was due in that very afternoon from a Eugene distributor who also supplies Ashland Food Co-op. They deliver to this little coastal co-op twice a week.
To my brother and sister-in-law I said, “This is how it all starts, small and with a great deal of integrity. Jen told me the co-op has been here for four years and is in the black with 200 owners. It will continue to grow and serve its community. People say shop the perimeter of a grocery store, not the middle. This little co-op only has a perimeter, that’s why it may feel to you like there’s nothing on the shelves. If I lived in Florence I would shop here because everything I need to make quality meals is on these shelves.”