I joined my first co-op at Oberlin College in 1975, where housing and dining co-ops were already twenty-five years old. I’d grown up with three brothers, so I was naturally skeptical about large-scale cooperation, but both the dorm and dining hall had well-established protocols, and I fit right in. Sixty of us lived in the dorm; theoretically, we had cleaning jobs, though I have no memory of them. It was the kitchen that ran like a charm, turning out three meals a day for 110 diners, seven days a week.
In 1975, natural foods were hippy, not hip, and finding items we now consider staples was no easy task. We baked all our own bread using whole-wheat flour we milled onsite, and the only way to have tofu was to make it ourselves.
I moved to New York City after graduation and joined a pre-order co-op in the East Village. A few years later, I came to Vermont for the summer – and stayed.
Part of the allure of Vermont was how it felt like college for grownups – complete with a natural foods restaurant (The Common Ground) and the Brattleboro Food Co-op.
I’ve been a working member of the BFC since 1985. Back in the days of the Flat Street store, members were required to work, and my husband and I would sign up for Saturday Night Clean Up and call it a date. Now, my kids are all members, and for Christmas last year, they gave me five months’ of work credits.
As the Co-op has grown, it’s changed – but so has everything else. natural foods have gone mainstream, and both the Co-op’s and conventional stores’ shelves are stocked with industrially produced “all natural” foods. But growing consumer awareness around issues of food security and the benefits of local food insures that the BFC stocks the staples of organically- and locally- produced food that I learned to love since joining my first co-op in college.