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True community: How the High Falls Food Co-Op Gives it and Lives it by Jamaine Bell

At first glance around the little country store known as the High Falls Food Co-Op, a local shopper or visiting weekender would see a compact, charming health-food store with a rustic, farmhouse feel. Along with the requisite jars of herbs, organic foods, free-trade coffee, and shelves with homeopathic remedies, the High Falls Food Co-Op also offers plenty of on-site freshly prepared foods, as well as local grass-fed meats, local dairy products, local eggs, local produce, local honey, local breads, and local syrups. All with the emphasis, of course, on the LOCAL. Two large cases filled with organic vegetables and fruits, many picked that morning at farms up the road, line one side of the store. Upon entering, you realize that, as charming and sweet as the store appears, the commitment by the staff and members to providing organic, fresh, local foods has become a full-on mission.

But the High Falls Food Co-Op doesn’t just provide great food like other health food or whole foods stores. As a true co-op, it is a community-owned entity, with a current membership of around 450 people. While anyone is allowed to shop there, being a member of a co-op does confer some benefits, such as discounts on purchases and the right to nominate and vote for board members. However, as Jodi Fogel, general manager, explains, “what I try to tell people is that they are part of, basically, a political entity. With their dollars, they are making a statement about what kinds of food and businesses they want to support. “

Co-ops are different from other businesses in that they are non-profit and are run democratically by their members. The food co-op concept has been growing rapidly as the local food movement and farmers’ markets have raised awareness of buying local, organic foods. By pooling their resources, the members can buy in bulk for better prices, while having more say and control over the kinds of foods they purchase, and what types of businesses they purchase them from. The support of other small, individually owned businesses is a big part of the overall mission and ethos of co-ops. With their purchasing power, people can make a choice to support local and small businesses, as well as providing high-quality foods and goods for their families.

While the food co-op movement, which gained some traction in the ‘60s and ‘70s counterculture scene, has been growing, it is still a long way from being ubiquitous in our culture. New York has more food co-ops than most other states. Even so, the High Falls Food Co-Op is the only community-owned store within 50 miles of its location. Shoppers here have developed a trust of the staff to stock items that reflect their ethos, presenting food and goods that are holistic, sustainable, organic, and small business-produced.

Formed in 1976, The High Falls Co-Op—founded by Ellen Messer and Dick Phillips—moved from building to building, until purchasing the current location at the corner of Rte. 213 and Lucas Road, in High Falls. The co-op was originally all vegetarian for many years, but with the awareness and availability of regional sustainably raised meats, as well as the growing and changing needs of the members and public, local grass-fed, organically raised meats are now regularly stocked.

The changes in the co-op’s offerings reflect changes in the area in the past 30 years, with the last ten years seeing the most: more weekenders, more people moving in from the big cities and from around the country, more farmers offering organic foods, and more awareness of the local food scene and the impact of eating well on our lives and health. The store is still evolving and growing, with a recent upgrade and refurbishments, which will offer the customers more choices and more bulk foods. When asked what they would like to see in the future of the co-op, the management mentioned a grain-mill, so that local grains could be milled and offered, as well as a community center.

When asked about the High Falls Food Co-ops’ impact on the local food scene, Ruth Molloy, co-manager and grocery buyer for the co-op explains, “So much is happening around us, in terms of initiative, that it helps us see how our vision could fit into the larger picture. It’s not just from us anymore. That may have been true 10-15 years ago, but now there is this whole network.” The community owns the store, which buys from local producers (farmers, dairies, bakeries, etc), and then sells those products in the store back to the community, completing a circle and keeping the money and business local.

The shoppers benefit by having most, if not all of their shopping needs in one place, with ethically chosen sustainable goods, at a fair price. The farmers and small businesses benefit by having another great place to sell their goods, and the community benefits by keeping their business and money local and by having a great place to meet each other and shop. That’s how business used to be conducted within small, localized communities. As Ryan Fitzgerald, the floor manager, puts it, “It really feels like, to me, that as we move forward, we’re really becoming more old-fashioned. This is the way things used to be.”

High Falls Food Co-Op is located at 1398 Rte. 213, High Falls. Open every day 9 AM-7 PM, Su until 6 PM. Visit for membership information.

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