By Lindsay Courcelle
On a recent spring day, I visited the Rutland Area Food Co-op. This is a common stop for me in Rutland, where I stock up on most of my groceries.
The Rutland Area Food Co-op is tucked away on Wales St. in downtown Rutland. It does not have neon signs or long, straight aisles, like the large supermarkets. Instead, it has friendly, helpful staff and a commitment to a healthy community. The store carries whole foods and organic products ranging from local produce to cleaning supplies to prepared foods. The store is open to everyone, easily accessible from downtown businesses, and open seven days per week.
I’ve grown so comfortable shopping at the Rutland Co-op that it’s hard to remember my first visit there, or what it would be like if I only went to the large supermarkets in town, also staffed with friendly, local folk but lacking the laid-back setting of the Co-op. I sat down with General Manager Leah Csiszar to talk about the Co-op’s evolution and exciting new projects.
The relationships built amongst Co-op staff, community members, local farmers, and specialty food producers are what energizes Csiszar the most. Csiszar said she loves that “when you spend money in this store, you know the faces it’s going to.”
Customers can support local farmers seven days a week by shopping in the Co-op’s produce department. During the growing season and even through the winter, the produce shelves are stacked high with local and organic fruits and vegetables.
Our farm is lucky to be one of the Co-op’s suppliers, along with many other local farms, and for me, bumping into customers when delivering vegetables is a highlight of farming. Justin Leonard, the produce manager, fills the department with colorful displays, artistic labels, and recipe ideas.
For my own shopping, I love the bulk section. The bulk bins are easy to navigate and feature whole foods like grains, flours, nuts, spices, beans, coffee, and more. Buying food through the bulk section provides financial savings and makes organic food affordable even on a modest budget. Some favorite ingredients of mine in this section include Yoder Farm beans, mixed nuts, rice, local flour, and spices. The best part is that you can buy as little or much of something as you like, allowing you to try new foods in your diet.
Besides vegetables and bulk foods, the Rutland Co-op’s shelves are stocked with practically all food items, including potato chips, juice, pasta, cereal, beer, and cookies. Household products, health and beauty aids, and a small section of gifts round out the store’s grocery offerings.
Free recipes are always available at the Co-op, ranging from simple stews to Cabbage Clafoutis. Other educational initiatives are well under way, including theme based store tours teaching customers how to shop for bulk foods or foods to support a gluten free diet. In the future, cooking and food preservation classes will be held for community members.
Another exciting addition is a salad bar, coming this summer. This adds another healthy lunch option in the downtown, along with the Co-op’s sandwiches, soups, and other prepared foods already available.
In the last year, the Co-op has undergone a significant transformation, with new coolers, beautiful wood countertops and shelves, and an expanded bulk section. The store also began using a Point of Sale (POS) register system in 2014, which allows items to be scanned in when they are delivered and scanned at the register as they are purchased. Not only does this increase efficiency in many ways, it also gives the managers data to easily analyze.
For example, Csiszar said that from April 1 through April 22, the store sold seven hundred pounds of fair trade bananas. She also noted that she now definitively knows the peak hours of sales on weekdays. The POS system has meant quicker transactions at the register and easy to read receipts, including the amount spent on local products, printed at the bottom of every receipt.
If you have yet to visit the Rutland Area Food Co-op, perhaps this is the week to venture through the doors, explore the shelves, and chat with the friendly, experienced staff. The Co-op’s Annual Meeting and Celebration will be held June 1, from 5-7 pm on the lawn next to the Co-op, featuring local music, food, and a chance to share in the Co-op’s vision to continue providing the Rutland community with good health and wellness into the future.
Lindsay Courcelle and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens in Shrewsbury, VT. Learn more at http://www.AlchemyGardensVT.com.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.