It’s Not Your Mother’s Co-op

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The Common Ground Food Cooperative (CGFC) is celebrating its 25th anniversary. This little gem of the community is tucked in the Illinois Disciples Foundation building on Springfield Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets. The non-profit grocery store owned and operated by its members has come a long way since its inception in 1978. Shoppers now have many conveniences such as bar code scanning, a produce bin stocked year round, full freezers, and easy access bulk bins for everything from peanut butter to olive oil. The food cooperative, which works to provide wholesome food at a fair price, allows members to have control over their consumer habits. Members pay a one-time fee of $30 for individuals; $50 family (2 adults & dependents) or $60 for a household ( 3+ adults and dependents). Curious souls can come in for a peek, a tour, and a shopping expedition without becoming members.
The democratic style that emanates from this cooperative is ideal in a world where corporations tell us what we need and should want. The cooperative is responsible solely to its members and the members determine all aspects of the cooperative’s operations.
Molly Stentz, one of the managers and paid staff at the coop, says that members trust the coop because “They know that we put time in screening our products.” That time and effort is definitely visible in the store.
The inventory includes all sorts of foods and household items. There is a large assortment of dried fruits, grains, flours, pastas, and rice, soy and tofu products, organic milk and eggs. Household cleaning items such as dye-free and chemical-free laundry and dishwashing detergents are in stock. You can purchase a variety of personal hygiene products that won’t harm your body internally or externally.
One of the CGFC’s largest local suppliers of vegetables is Blue Moon Farms, located in Urbana. Tomahnous Farms in Mahomet supplies organic eggs, some vegetables and herbs. Linder Farm in Buckley, Illinois produces popcorn and black beans. The farmers provide the organic sustenance as the CGFC, in turn, helps to sustain local farmers. Their are large rooms for storage, including a refrigerated walk-in storage room for all the items that need to be kept cool, and in that room are two large freezers housing such items as the soy-based ice creams, vegan burgers, tofu dogs, etc. The dry storage room is large and very well organized to help in the process of inventory and make things convenient when re-stocking shelves in the store.
One consideration of shopping at CGFC is certainly cost. It might be that you will pay more for the foods you buy there in comparison to a regular grocery store. This depends on your own time investment in the Co-op and what you purchase. While buying prepacked juices, milk, and free range eggs may be more expensive than buying items off of the shelf of the big-stores, it is not really an apples to apples comparison. A true comparison of products that are nutritious, locally produced and packaged in an environmentally friendly manner and in a way that supports workers show similar prices. You can actually save money on purchases of some bulk items in comparison to overpackaged, overadvertised items from the local big guys.
There are different workers status discounts that members can also take advantage of. As a shopper you may choose not to work at all, to be a regular worker (one hour per week), or be a core worker (3 hours) and receive a 16% discount. There are a variety of jobs available ranging from operating cash registers, restocking shelves, or managing business affairs. Working members may make bread, sweets and deli items to sell. Members pick jobs that they enjoy.
The satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing less to a corporate-run society seems to be benefit enough, but there is a lot more one contributes when becoming a member. You are aiding local farmers and helping them live and grow so that they can continue to provide wonderful organically farmed produce. Feeding on organic foods has health benefits for you and your family.
When one gets in the habit of buying more fresh and nutritious foods, the body does not need to consume as much to stay healthy and energetic. This can provide a cost savings in your overall food budget. It is great knowing that your food was not inundated with hormones or chemicals and dyes, and your overall healthcare costs could decline as you begin to “eat healthy”.
The Co-op offers non-intimidating ways of healthier eating. The exchange of recipes, advice, knowledge, and opinion enriches your experiences as an informed consumer. They offer cooking classes, special events, and potlucks.
The Common Ground Food Co-op is located at 610 E. Springfield Ave. There is usually plenty of parking in the Illinois Disciples Foundation parking lot. Store hours are M-F, 3-8pm, Saturday, 11am-4pm and Sunday from 11am-7pm. 352-3347.

Rubina is from Villa Park, IL and has lived in Urbana for four years. She studied political science at the U of I. Along with her job at the Market Development Department for the C-U Mass Transit District she is currently the Board Vice President and Fundraising Chair of the Illinois Student Environmental Network. Of her past she says: “I was homeschooled after my mother passed away and took care of my family for almost three years. As the eldest daughter in an Indian household I had to take on the motherly duties. I was twelve years of age, cooked, cleaned and did the laundry…even gave advice to all my siblings. They still call me for motherly advice!”And when asked about the future: “I’m a person of many interests…I could be in Washington lobbying our officials for cleaner air and water– or on a hiking trip in Australia! I would be happy in either of these positions.”

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