Tacoma Food Co-op is open!

While I was out of town during the last weekend in August for the Con, the Tacoma Food Co-op opened its doors to the public. This business has been in the works for five years and now it finally stands in its brick and mortar form. Though I wasn’t physically in Tacoma on Aug. 26, I still beamed with a little more pride that day. Our co-op’s open!

I stopped by last week to check out the store, meet General Manager Henri Parren and ask him a few questions about the co-op and what kind of offerings local vegans could look forward to.

Before I began to ask my questions, Parren told me a little about his twin sister who still lives in his home country, Holland.

“She’s vegan. Well, nearly vegan,” Parren laughs. “She’s a strict vegetarian. Like her, I have a strong connection to animals.”

If you haven’t met him yet, Parren has a warm and welcoming way about him, and the fact that he shared this story with me was genuinely endearing. It set the tone for the rest of the interview, and for the way I viewed the spirit of the co-op as I walked through the aisles.

Though not vegan himself, Parren has worked for many notable grocery companies in Washington state the past and thus is very familiar with the brands that vegetarians love. In the freezer section, all kinds of vegan meals – from Amy’s pizzas, to burgers to breakfast items, Sunshine and many other veggie burgers and great organic veggies and fruits – all line the shelves. Bulk bins are teeming with grains, (including Bob’s Red Mill), bottles of nooch and Bragg’s are available, chia seeds are in the spice bulk section and soy yogurt and many various milk alternatives are available, too. Almost every product made by Seattle vegan grain meat company Field Roast is available, which was an intentional move on the general manager’s part.

“I’ve worked with the owner of Field Roast, (David Lee) before, and I know all about it. I knew I wanted to have his products here,” Parren stated. Check out my photos of a few other vegan items and products I scouted on my visit:

Not just food! The co-op’s stocked with natural personal care, cleaning, pet and other health-related products. The shelves are still filling up, but I think the options available are an excellent start.

So much local, sweet, fresh produce, (okay yeah, minus the pineapples and avocados).

Does looking at all these vegetables make anyone else feel giddy?

Yes, all three Daiya varieties are available, (I’ve got the Pepperjack in my fridge to prove it).

Gluten-free items abound!

Adorable new grocery bags are in, too. A convenient way to show TFC pride and be good to the environment at the same time.

Two of Tacoma’s premier coffee roasters are represented and available in the co-op, Valhalla and Bluebeard. Coffee’s available by the pound in whole beans or you can grind it in store. Many Mad Hat Tea varieties are also available.

Parren seemed to have a solid basis of essential vegan items in mind, but I wondered if they’d gotten many requests for items before opening.

“Yes, we did get many on Facebook,” Parred affirmed. “We definitely had requests for organic produce and most vegan requests focused also on fresh and local, such as coffee, baked goods and bulk items.”

Though the co-op doesn’t have every item in that a vegan (or anyone else) could think of, Parren and the co-op welcome requests. During the interview, he showed me a stack of items that had just come in as a result of individuals asking for them. So if you can’t find an item you’re looking for, let them know. Parren and co. want to stock the shelves with items they know the community wants. More bulk items and a deli are two things that have been requested the most and that are in the works.

When asked how the reception had been to the co-op thus far after its “soft” opening, Parren didn’t hesitate to say that it’s been all positive.

“It seems that everyone is all about the organic veggies!” Parren exclaimed, with a smile. “With vegans, they are real, conscientious, fun and interesting people. They’ve seen things, heard things and are fun to socialize with. And they definitely aren’t afraid to speak their mind and voice their concerns!” You’ve got that right, Henri. And I for one appreciate shopping at a grocery store where the general manager actually knows what “vegan” means, and respects the lifestyle.

Whether you’ve stopped by the co-op multiple times since it opened (guilty) or you still haven’t made it over yet, all are invited to the Co-op’s official grand opening celebration, taking place this Saturday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. There will be a toast and opening remarks at that time, and it’ll be a great opportunity to meet Parren, the TFC board, fellow member-owners and even join the co-op if you were still holding out. If you haven’t fully realized all the reasons why you should be a member by now, maybe going to the storefront and feeling the sense of community and ownership that emanates throughout will help you understand exactly what we’re all so jazzed about.

Grand opening info:

Date: Saturday, Sept. 10, (09/10/11!)

Time: 2 p.m.-?

Location: 3002 6th Ave.

Tacoma Food Co-op general info:

Address: 3002 6th Ave.

Email: info@tacomafoodcoop.com (this is the co-op’s preferred method of contact)

Phone: (253) 627-3344

Regular hours: Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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Tuesday to-do: TFC’s Food and Drink Affair

If your plans for tomorrow evening consist of, well, the usual, I have an event that will take you off the couch, into some great local businesses, get you mingling with other members of your community and supporting an excellent cause.

The Tacoma Food Co-Op will be hosting TFC Food & Drink Affair this evening from 6-9 p.m. at Bluebeard Coffee and Cork! Wine Bar. This event is open to all and not just members, so come out and bring your friends. The event is all ages as well, and there’s a 21 and over section that will be near the bar inside Cork!

Included in the array of events for this special evening are: a coffee tasting (Bluebeard is staying open late specifically for this event), wine at happy hour prices, many local vendors that will sell their products at Tacoma Food Co-op will attend with tasty treats for sampling, (TFC informed me there will be vegan treats at the event) and more. The Co-Op will receive 10% of Cork’s sales for the night, which is an excellent incentive to come out, enjoy some delightful wine, chat with friends old and new and meet your fellow co-op owners.

Here’s a sampling of the vendors that will be in attendance:
- Tofu Phil from Vashon Island will sample his Small Planet Tofu and dips. Island Spring Tofu from Vashon Island will be there, too
- Samantha from Tacoma will have samples from the Pip & Lola’s Soap collection
- Intrigue Chocolates from Pioneer Square will be armed with organic chocolate truffles
- Tobin from Tacoma will relax you with free Mad Hat Tea tastings
- Neal from Essential Baking will bring some of their freshly baked, artisan breads
- Sevierly Good Gluten Free Baking Mixes
- Tacoma Mountain Muesli
- Main Street Cookie Company and Jumpin’ Jellies Jams, Jellies and Butters

I am personally intrigued about the tofu vendors coming. Locally made tofu? I’ve been seeking some for years! Count me in.

There will also be raffles going on in the earlier half of the evening and many baskets filled with local food and goods will be the prizes. Winners will be announced at 7:30 p.m., so get in early if you want to have a shot at taking some home.

The Co-Op isn’t just going to be a grocery store (I covered that and more here), but rather will eventually function as a community center as well. TFC wants to get those who’ve already joined the Co-Op even more fired up, and get those not familiar with it up to speed on where the co-op is now (still needing to raise additional funds before August 1), and hopefully getting them on board to support this greatly needed community resource.

I will definitely be in attendance and I hope to see you there!

Pertinent details:

Date: Tuesday, June 28
Time: 6-9 p.m.
Location: Bluebeard Coffee and Cork! Wine Bar, 2201 6th Ave. (at the intersection of State Street & 6th Ave.)
Cost: Free! But proceeds from drink sales go towards TFC, and Co-Op members receive special discounts on drinks
Facebook event page
TFC Blog post

On the importance of food co-ops and bringing one to Tacoma

If you live in Tacoma or if you have read this blog before, you’ve probably heard buzz about the future Tacoma Food Co-Op, and the fact that they are planning on opening their doors at the space currently occupied by the Neighborhood Market on 6th Ave. & Junett on Aug. 1. But maybe you’ve never heard of a food co-op and don’t know what they are. Or maybe you’re wondering how it will differ from a traditional grocery store, or exactly how it will benefit you and the community. Maybe you fear that only hippies and earth huggers go to co-ops. These are all great questions and thoughts, and after realizing this I thought I’d write a bit about food co-ops, why they’re so important and why Tacoma definitely needs one.

Storefront of Madison Market Co-Op in Seattle. Photo courtesy of http://madisonmarket.com.

First off, let’s define a co-op, short for cooperative.

From www.coopdirectory.org: “In the loosest sense, a co-op is any voluntary organization composed of a group of individuals (or organizations) formed for their mutual (generally, financial) benefit. A familiar example is a group of roommates who rent an apartment together to save money.

These informal associations and the more formal ones discussed below all share a number of common features.

  • They all are democratic, volunteer associations.
  • They are formed for mutual financial benefit (to save money or to increase buying power); in short, they are businesses.
  • They have no owners other than their members.
  • They are non-profit organizations; what would be profit in other organizations is returned to the member/owners.”

See also: the seven principles of co-ops.

Co-ops can take many forms and don’t just sell food. You may already belong to one without knowing it. Member of a credit union? A mutual insurance company? REI? All co-ops, my friends.

Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity, and they uphold these in their day-to-day business, hiring and retaining of employees, extending ownership to their members and in many more ways.

So with the pertinent example in Tacoma of a food co-op, anyone who joins becomes a member, and thus an owner. Your paying your share of the co-op means that you own a part of the co-op, which is pretty cool in and of itself. But as a result of that, you also have a say in the business of the co-op, including but not limited to: who is on the board of directors, what products and services come to the co-op and the ways in which the co-op becomes involved in the community. You have the opportunity to listen to and be heard by your community and see the changes affected by the people and organizations who step up to support the co-op.

And when the co-op does well, the money is not shared between executives, but rather goes back to the owners. Herein lies the main differences between co-ops and grocery stores: you choose, you say, the products come, you benefit. As opposed to a traditional box grocery store where there are limited distributors and thus there are limits on the types of products they can carry, the quality of the food may not be as great as you’d like, and you may be supporting a corporation that doesn’t align with your values. With co-ops, keeping members involved and happy is tantamount to their success.

We haven’t even talked about the food and products yet. Natural, higher quality, organic, hard-to-find and local are all qualities of food that co-ops strive to fill their aisles and shelves with. As I mentioned in my previous post about attending the TFC member meeting, I belong to Madison Market Co-Op in Seattle. What I love so much about being a member there (both now, and when I lived in Seattle) is the fact that I could find hard to track down health products, food items and get all the spices and random odds and ends I needed from their plentiful bulk bins.

Regardless of your diet, if you are health-conscious and care about your food, co-ops are your friends. And if they don’t have something you’re looking for, chances are there will be a person there who would be more than happy to talk to you about bringing it to the store, rather than filling out a form that you’re not even sure reaches the right person in the end. On top of all this, co-ops also work to bring all of these great types of products to their members at affordable prices so that members can maintain a healthier lifestyle without feeling as though they’re breaking the bank.

In addition to food and member-ownership, food co-ops also function as community centers. Events, cooking and other educational classes, music, parties, even yoga classes take place in co-ops and are added benefits to members. With the future Tacoma store, the co-op’s current methods of outreach and querying current and future members makes me feel pretty confident that education and events will be an integral part of the TFC once it opens its doors, and I can’t wait to see the ways in which it continues to build and foster community.

Though Tacoma does already have a health food store, farmers markets and grocery stores that lean more towards healthful, organic and local products, we can still greatly benefit from having a food co-op in our city. Money from sales supports local farmers, businesses and the local employees who run the store. Healthy, local and affordable food will be accessible to individuals of every income level, and that is an important value that the community should remember and consider when pondering whether or not to join.

Membership for the TFC is $100, and once you join you become a member for life. There are payment plans available, and they are all outlined on the co-op’s website.

If you’re just as eager to see the ways in which a co-op can change a community for the better, I’d urge you to join as well.

If you have more questions, check out their site at http://tacomafoodcoop.com/, Facebook, Twitter or check out one of their upcoming Coffee Talks where you can speak with board members, the co-op’s new General Manager and become a member of the co-op. The next Coffee Talk takes place tonight, May 13 from 5-6 p.m. at the Greener Bean coffee shop in Fircrest.

What are you looking forward to most about having a food co-op in Tacoma?