Generally speaking, what kind of people shop at co-ops? Are they mainstream folks, or hippie-types? Why I ask: I'm writing a mythbuster-type article about co-ops. I want to dispel the perception that only hippie-types support organic food co-ops. I'd love to get comments on either side of this myth.
My boyfriend's co-op has their meat hidden in the back store room. He was embarrassed to ask about it, but when I went with him I asked loudly where the meat was and was literally shushed and then surreptitiously guided to the back. The choices were all mass produced highly processed "organic" meats and the price was, well, punitive. I asked if they ever got anything local and the guy behind the counter told me that local meat hadn't caught on there yet.
As far as the clientele, they were mostly older and I hate to make this generalization, but not very healthy looking. That might be an unfair characterization, because I know a lot of cancer patients start an organic, vegetarian diet and the people in the store could be fighting cancer. I am specifically thinking of a woman I saw who was about 5"6 and looked like she weighed 85 lbs. She was shuffling through the store looking for vegan products. I wanted to hug her and give her a bacon wrapped turkey leg.
Well.. here's mine:
1 The Daily Show infiltrated it to investigate their proposed ban on Israeli products.
2 Adrien Grenier was booted as he wasn't fulfilling his shift duties - IMO that was a pretty awesome move. No star treatment heah!
3 This guy live-tweeted his notes from a coop meeting. It's kinda good.
4 You have old school hippies and new school hippies and everyone in-between. Note: The new school hippies have thousand dollar strollers, live in 3 million dollar brownstones, and put their children in the middle of crosswalks to scream at cyclists to stop.
5 All I want is healthy and affordable food. Local, organic, pastured, bulk spices!
6 There are times I really just want to punch the coop.. if it were punchable. Why have the case of oranges on one side of the room and then carry one single orange at a time all the way to the other side?!? I understand wasting shift time but that is just pure stupidity.
Honestly? Worked as a cashier for a short period of time in a co-op, it is at least 50% older hippies in my community. That being said, it was on the West coast, on an island, and relatively rural, so that might be a self-selecting crowd. They pick up their kefir grains, craft beers, holy-crap cereal, sheeps cheese, greens, fermented soy, and gourmet sausages. Also, if you were interested in customers that complain the most about every possible thing (these dark chocolate bars are too thin! why don't you have this really specific type of kale that I can't see among your 14 other varieties!), I would say older hippies- but they also come with the most interesting, entertaining kookiness that really does brighten up the day.
That being said, I think there is an unexpected number of young people (kind of high-school, university age), and lots more interested parents over the years who are looking for the good deals and are now aware of the importance of eating local and organic. I think some customers initially feel out of place, especially if they don't know what to expect, but co-ops generally have better on-floor service to help you navigate things, and there is a greater sense of welcoming and comradely amongst the shoppers there. Nobody should feel intimidated entering one, and even my back-woods business man/farmer dad (aka opposite of a hippie) LOVES going to the co-op and just hanging out and talking about the economy, chicken feed, and his favorite recipes for zucchini to other customers.
I shop at a Co-op. My sons call it The Coop, as if we sprout beak and feather each time we open the front door. I'm your everyday New Mexican, a mongrel of mixed ethnicity, age 46, single mom, with a slim wallet and hungry teenage boys to feed. The Coop treats me well. My membership means a nice check at the end of the fiscal year, means special deals on cases of product (coconut oil!), means fresh, organic produce, and grassfed beef and meaty bones.
90 percent of the folks at my Coop are professional, middle class people trying to eat the most local, healthy and sustainable food that they can. I see as many "hippies" in the Albertson's big box grocers as I do my beloved Coop.
I have shopped at two different coops in my city, one of which I volunteered at for a period of time. That particular coop was pretty crunchy - very small, anarchist, definitely not for everyone (though anyone could've shopped there and it would've been fine). Financial problems took them out a number of years ago. I have been a member of the other for roughly...oh let's see...17 years or so? And in that amount of time I have seen it change from a largy hippie/crusty punk place to a place that has a pretty diverse membership. The hippies and crusties still shop there, and you definitely find some of these folks among the staff (which has very little turnover), but I see all kinds there now, particulary hipsters and young and middle-aged professional types. There are fewer straight-up yuppies since the Trader Joe's went in across town a few years back, which is fine - fewer people to run into you with their shopping carts while talking on their cell phones - but it's a pretty succesful operation and has a lot more locally-produced and artisinal foods, than places like Whole Foods do. And they also sell the best braunschweiger I've ever tasted in my life.
The best part for me is that they still hold to the basic principles of cooperatives. Not many do anymore.
[Edited to add that another group of people you'll see at the coop sometimes: Mennonites/Amish. And this is NOT a rural community - most of the peace church folks live at least an hour west or north of here. They're around more often during market season, but they shop there at other times of year as well.]
I get to shop at one of the best co-ops in the country (in Oregon), no volunteering involved.
They source as much as possible locally/regionally, including grassfed and finished beef and lamb, pastured eggs, and veggies. Their bulk section is amazing. They stock lots of raw vegan stuff which I like to pilfer from because it's often grain-free, refined sugar-free, etc.
Lots of hippies. But lots of regular folks too. They're really responsive to suggestions. They seem to have a strong code of ethics. Between that and my farmers' markets, I'm good to go.
Ummmm... I shop at co-ops and have since I was a pre-med student back in 1981. I ended up changing majors (to agronomy) and working in the software industry for awhile before I opened a fine art gallery in Seattle. Did that for seven years, then became a personal trainer and later a life coach. Now I do pregnancy coaching.
I have never worn my hair in dreads, owned Birkenstocks or lived in a VW Van.
However, I was a vegetarian for 14 years (to my undying shame, lol!)
New Pioneer Co-Op in Coralville Iowa (next to Iowa City) has a meat section in the freezer aisle and a meat counter with meat that they butcher right there in the store, so it's not like hippies are their only customer base. With the quality of the cheese, wines, beer, and everything else in there, it's as much a gourmet store for foodies as a healthfood store for hippies.
I don't see many hippies at the co-op. I do see yuppie granola types, with a majority of holdout farmers that extol the virtues of "clean meat" while smoking a pack of Marlboros a day... and hipster foodies.
Of those, I hate the hipster foodies the most - they are the reason why I'm paying $8/lbs for shank and oxtail now.