Food is a necessity for all living creatures. But unlike our wild counterparts, we humans have developed complex appetites that are often based on exorbitant wants rather than pure need.
We've easily created the tools necessary to satisfy our cravings. But often our modern means are not always the most economically sensible or environmentally friendly. So, in honor of Earth Day 2012 on April 22, Neighborhood Notes would like to direct your attention to some suppliers of groceries that put local food first while focusing on sustainability and supporting the local economy.
The following six establishments have become more than just grocers but community resources, and here's what makes each unique.
People's Food Co-op
SE Portland's community-owned People's Food Co-op provides more than locally sourced, healthy foods and a commitment to sustainability and its community. "Because People's is owned by the community and not by an individual," People's website states, "we can genuinely focus first on our customers and the services that we provide for them, not on the profit we make from them." With this mission in mind, People's is a hub for cooperation and collaboration, as evidenced by its full calendar of events. Held on-site in its Community Room, People's plays host to educational and hands-on activities for all ages, from cooking classes and gardening courses to movie screenings and author readings to yoga and tai chi. And outside the store, you can find People's courtyard filled with local vendors every Wednesday for the weekly farmers' market.
People's Food Co-op, 3029 SE 21st Ave., 503.674.2642
Alberta Co-op Grocery
"Good. Local. Food." That's the simple motto of the Alberta Cooperative Grocery, which strives to stock its shelves with local and sustainable goods. From its buyer's club roots, the Alberta Co-op has grown into "a community resource and gathering place" that provides "fresh, high-quality, affordable food" to residents of North and NE Portland. "We emphasize products from local, organic and socially responsible sources, and work to build connections between our customers and their farmers," states its mission. The Alberta Co-op seeks to foster this connection through an annual farm tour (in partnership with People's). This year, the all-day tour will head south to Eugene on June 9 to answer the question: "What does the organic food growing and distribution system look like?" The cost, including travel and meals, is $29 per adult or $15 for youths and low-income community members. Stop by either co-op for more details or to sign up.
Alberta Co-op Grocery, 1500 NE Alberta St., 503.287.4333
Food Front Cooperative Grocery
Celebrating 40 years, Food Front Co-op was started by a group of NW Portland neighbors in 1972. Over the years, growth has forced it to change locations a few times, even opening a second Hillsdale store in 2008. Owned by more than 6,500 neighbors, Food Front treasures "our relationship with local farmers and food producers who provide us with the freshest and finest." Programs like School Aid, started by John Jacobson of Mt. Hood Organics, help connect area farmers with shoppers and the community by donating proceeds from certain apple and pear sales to student gardens at local schools. Food Front also keeps co-op owners informed by publishing the quarterly Front Lines newsletter packed with events, articles and sometimes recipes.
Food Front Cooperative Grocery: Northwest, 2375 NW Thurman St., 503.222.5658; Hillsdale, 6344 SW Capitol Highway, 503.546.6559
Montavilla Food Co-op
Montavilla is the newest addition to this list, simply because it doesn't physically exist yet. The idea for the Montavilla Food Co-op came about in 2009 when neighborhood association members "started to dream about the fate of a vacant building on SE Stark Street." They asked the question: "If we were in charge, what would we want to see there?" Since then, they have ambitiously worked to realize those dreams, including laying the groundwork of the business (with help from other local co-ops) and receiving a SE Uplift grant to expand inclusiveness efforts. Like the other co-ops above, Montavilla shares a similar vision of providing neighbors "with year-round access to fresh, delicious, affordable food and produce" while supporting local farmers and building community. While the co-op does not have a foreseeable opening date yet, Montavilla’s Jennifer Polis has organized a separate food buying club, open to members throughout the city for a small yearly fee. But until the doors do open, support the future of the Montavilla Food Co-op with your donations, volunteer hours or by becoming a member.
Learn more about Montavilla Food Co-op.
Cherry Sprout Produce Market
Born of Hugh Gray's Big City Produce, employees became owners when Amanda Wiles, Brie Bergdahl and Katie Nichols took over the shop in 2007, renamed it Cherry Sprout Produce, and sought to keep bringing their community "the best local produce at the best prices in town." While locally sourced produce is a main focus, the store stocks plenty more. The new owners upped the inventory to include more organic and natural grocery items with the goal of offering something for everyone at every price point. Beyond selling the basics at fair prices, Bergdahl says the grocery is known for its selection of Southern staples from yams by the case to all kinds of greens (collard, mustard, turnip, flat) as well as smoked meats, hot peppers, and all the fixins like cornbread and potato salad. Cherry Spout also features monthly art and music shows where product is pushed aside and bands play live from the bulk section. Formally put, Cherry Sprout's mission statement says: "By shopping at our store you are supporting the local economy, the welfare of small family farms, progressive thought, individuality, the open exchange of ideas, and a uniquely beautiful community." Or more simply, Bergdahl just calls it "a rad neighborhood market."
Cherry Sprout Produce Market, 722 N Sumner St., 503.445.4959
New Seasons Market
Arguably the largest supporter of local food stuffs simply because it's the biggest, New Seasons Market has grown to 12 Portland-area stores in as many years. Back in 2000, the self-proclaimed "friendliest grocery store in town" began with the core mission of creating a store that was "friendly, fun, neighborly, and supportive of sustainable agriculture," and to this day, New Seasons takes "pride in supporting local farms, ranches and other small businesses."
Beyond buying from local food producers, New Seasons' size implies higher profit margins, thus allowing it to support the community in other ways than solely selling the 868,659 pounds of potatoes from 12 local farms it sold in 2010. New Seasons donates 10 percent of its after-tax profits to local nonprofit organizations, and in 2011, those grants totaled over $65,000 focused on "three key areas: feeding the hungry, educating our youth, and improving our environment." New Seasons also aids Loaves & Fishes, Meals On Wheels, and countless youngsters by donating "100 percent of the profits from certain Northwest-grown, organic apples and pears" to local schools. There's plenty more to New Seasons' mission and practices (download the 2012 Sustainability Report), and you can even request a donation for your organization or event.
New Seasons Market: Arbor Lodge, 6400 N Interstate Ave., 503.467.4777; Concordia, 5320 NE 33rd Ave., 503.288.3838; Hawthorne, 4034 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503.236.4800; Sellwood, 1214 SE Tacoma St., 503.230.4949; Seven Corners, 1954 SE Division St., 503.445.2888
Did we forget to mention your favorite, locally owned market? Please tell us where you shop and why you love it!