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Eat healthy, save money at a food co-op

Published December 28, 2012 12:14 pm

Shopping • Some Salt Lake valley shoppers say buying food at co-ops helps them save money and help others.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If your New Year's resolution is to eat better, save money or help those less fortunate, then shopping at a food co-op might be for you.

There are two such grocery programs in Salt Lake County: The Community Co-op in Salt Lake, and the Utah Co-op in Murray.

Both are dedicated to providing low-cost, high-quality food. They operate on a shoestring with volunteer staffs, yet still find a way to give back to the community.

Here's a snapshot of each:

The Community Co-op

This co-op operated for six years as part of the Crossroads Urban Center, until January 2012, when Crossroads closed the nonprofit program to focus its resources on other projects. Then a local entrepreneur stepped forward, and the co-op was able to reopen in March, said director Katherine Ghiai.

What's available • Fruits and vegetables in season, poultry and other meats (including Utah raised grass-fed beef), bread, cheese, eggs, milk, honey, olive oil, apple cider, hummus, gluten-free baked items, and nuts.

Two ways to shop • Patrons can place orders either ­online, by telephone, or in person. Orders can be picked up at the end of the week at one of the 68 designated sites (usually local parks, community center and churches) from Ogden to Payson to Heber City.

The Co-op also offers a market three times a week. (See hours below). It takes place inside the co-op warehouse and has a farmers market-like atmosphere, where shoppers can buy food and also sample products, visit with vendors, and get suggestions from co-op volunteers.

Giving back • The Co-op donates 5 percent of all sales to the Crossroads Urban Center or the church pickup site.

Director comments • "We are really trying to help people get good, healthy food on their table," said Ghiai, noting that through volume purchasing and volunteer help "we can keep the prices low." On average prices are 20 to 50 percent below major stores, she said. The majority of products come through local produce houses. "We strive for local, sustainable produce and organics when possible," she said.

Shoppers say • "We love it here. The produce is a lot fresher than anywhere else and the prices are better, too," said Shari Humphrey, of Salt Lake City. "In the spring. we got the very best asparagus we've ever had."

Adds Karen Duncan, of Salt Lake City: "You can shop here, no matter your income level and it helps makes things more affordable for everyone."

Requirements • $5 a year to participate in the pick-up program; or two volunteer hours once every three months per household. For every 20 hours of service, volunteers can get a one-time certificate for 20 percent off food purchased at the weekly warehouse market.

Location • 1726 S. 700 West, Salt Lake City; 801-746-7878. Open Mondays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Online • thecommunitycoop.org

Utah Co-Op

Mercedes Zel-Pappas started this nonprofit cooperative six years ago for low- and middle-income families, who are often forced to buy cheap, processed foods because they are unable to afford healthier produce and meats. "I felt there should be some kind of healthy option for them," she said.

What's available • All the fruits and vegetables at the co-op are organic, purchased through the same suppliers who sell to Whole Foods and Sprouts, Zel-Pappas said. Eggs, milk, poultry and grass-fed beef that are either organic or locally-produced are available, along with yogurt, tea, honey, granola, peanut butter, sauces, chips, crackers, tortillas, dried food, olive oil, coconut oil and hummus. The store also offers products for those who eat vegan or gluten-free diets.

Shop • Just like a regular grocery store, the public can shop at the co-op during regular business hours (See below). Customers who want to ensure that they get organic produce every week can pre-order either online or in person a special produce baskets, priced between $12 and $26.50. The largest basket contains about a week's worth of fruits and vegetables. Baskets can be picked up during regular business hours.

Giving back • After paying rent and utilities — there's no payroll — all the profits are donated to a different Utah charity each month. The co-op also offers people with special needs job training through volunteering.

Director comments • The mark-up on items ranges from 5 to 25 cents above cost, Zel-Pappas said. That saves shoppers "25 to 90 percent" over grocery store prices. "Because it's affordable, people can make healthy choices and still be on a budget," she said.

Shoppers say • Since Ashley Palmer and her husband started buying the weekly produce basket, "we've cut our grocery bill in half and we weren't even buying all organic before." The Midvale resident said the produce is always fresh and the basket offers a good variety. "It's more than enough for me and my husband."

Adds regular shopper Barbara Koppang: "When you can eat good healthy food, even when you are poor, it helps bring you up. You have more energy and your family doesn't get sick as easy." Koppang, of Murray, also likes that her money goes to charity. "It doesn't just help me, it helps someone else."

Requirements • There are no requirements to shop at the Utah Co-op, Zel Pappas said. "But if you fall in love with the co-op, we ask that you tell at least two people a year about it."

Location • 4892 S. Commerce Drive (300 West) Murray; 801-566-2223. Open Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Online • utahcoop.org

kathys@sltrib.com; Twitter: @kathystephenson or facebook.com/kathy.k.stephenson —

Wasatch Cooperative Market

A membership drive is currently underway to start the Wasatch Cooperative Market.

Organizers say this member-owned grocery store will sell high-quality natural, healthy, sustainable foods and goods, with an emphasis on Utah-made products. While everyone will be welcome to shop at the store, those who have paid the $300 membership fee would enjoy additional benefits.

Organizers hope to have 500 paid co-op members by July 2013. Currently, 165 people have joined.

For more information or to become a member, visit http://www.wasatch.coop.