Stocked with items from produce to peanut butter, the Moscow Food Co-op is celebrating its 40th anniversary of providing organic and locally-produced fare in Moscow.
Erica Wagner has been the Co-op’s outreach and education coordinator since January 2011 and has organized multiple events to increase community involvement with the Co-op.
“I have worked with farmers in other states for several years and I find it to be one of the best parts of my job,” Wagner said. “The Co-op community is really dedicated to educating themselves about food, who grew it and where it comes from.”
Founded in 1973, the Co-op has made it their goal to bring natural foods to the Palouse. The store moved to its current location on Fifth Street in 2005. The store’s sales increased 50 percent following the relocation, According to the Co-op.
Former Co-op wellness manager Melinda Schab transitioned into the position of general manager of the store in November 2012. Schab said working at the Co-op has expanded and renewed her knowledge and commitment to the importance of organics and natural health.
“I’m certain that my experiences at the Moscow Food Co-op have inspired me to be more mindful and supportive of the local food economy,” Schab said. “I am an enthusiastic supporter of doing business locally (and) I am fully committed to the cooperative business model.”
Even though Schab has only been general manager for three months, she said she knows the co-op has grown and expanded the last 40 years and she is anticipating more positive growth in the future. One of the biggest ways the store has expanded years has been through educational and outreach efforts.
The Co-op sponsors the Food for Thought film series, an outreach program implemented to educate the public on issues that relate to the Co-op’s foundational mission: to build a “strong, dynamic, consumer-owned natural foods cooperative through the use of ethical and sustainable business practices.”
The film series is shown at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre and illustrates the importance of eating locally, maintaining healthy water systems and issues concerning food justice.
Wagner said the Co-op community is committed to learning about differences in the items the Co-op stocks. The Co-op lingo can be difficult to understand, from “locally-harvested” and “organic,” to labels like “gluten-free” and “no GMOs.” Wagner said it’s important the differences be discussed.
“Sometimes it takes some extra work to talk about the true cost of food and why some of our products might be more expensive,” Wagner said. “But as long as we can have a dialogue with people about these food issues, we have done our job.”
Wagner said the Co-op is continually searching for ways to decrease consumer waste and increase awareness for reusable items in the local community. In April 2011, the Co-op stopped using plastic grocery bags at registers and has initiated a program to donate a dime to local non-profits each time a customer brings in a reusable drink cup or grocery bag.
“Consequently, we’ve been able to save several hundreds of thousands of cups and bags from making it into the waste system,” Wagner said.
Schab said putting time into understanding the importance of living greener is a major goal of the Co-op’s. She said the staff at the store will take every opportunity to educate the public on the benefits of supporting sources of local, organic and natural food.
“I have been really in tune with the organic food movement and natural health since my early 20s,” Schab said.
For Schab, learning about the local networks and local food economy has given her opportunity to partake in educating the community on similar issues.
“We are here celebrating 40 successful years because of the loyal support of our owners,” Schab said. “We owe huge debts of gratitude to our owners and this community for their support — we would not be as strong and successful as we are without the larger Moscow Food Co-op family.”
Chloe Rambo can be reached at email@example.com