The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Volunteering at the Food Co-op

January 28th, 2014 · 1 Comment · Posted in rural life


Visit the Cambridge Food Co-op on a Thursday morning and you’re likely to find me either in the back bagging spelt flour (or something similar) or out front at the cash register harassing the customers.

We knew Cambridge was special when we discovered the co-op. It’s not a big place–a modest store front next to the railroad tracks flying a quilted flag announcing “open” and a chalkboard sign out front listing the day’s specials. But inside–well, you’d be hard-pressed to find a little store with so much amazing product. Forget Birkenstocks, wilted lettuce and barrels of whole wheat flour. This co-op has a decided upscale tilt. Need pomegranate molasses? Rose water? How about Thai curry paste?

There are about a million varieties of whole grain cereals, locally made granola and coffee from a roaster not far away in Hebron. The co-op doesn’t serve food, but it does offer at least two different locally made soups with free oyster crackers. My current favorites are the New England clam chowder, the beef stew and the chicken stew. But you can get split pea or curried carrot on occasion. There’s also a superfluity of high-end snacks and chocolates. How about gluten-free chocolate chip cookies? I can’t resist the mile-long chocolate biscotti. Coffee-regular and decaf–is offered self-serve from thermoses.

And while corporate outfits like Whole Foods are eliminating features like bulk spices to boost the bottom line, the Cambridge Food Co-op has a huge bulk spice selection. And loose teas. And bulk pastas, flours, quinoa, wild rice–you name it. You can find essential oils, holistic cough remedies or even an “ear candle” to remove the wax from your ears. That’s something I’d never even heard of before I volunteered to work there.

Oh, and did I mention one of the area’s best cheese selections? There’s also fresh dairy from the local Battenkill Valley Creamery.

The co-op relies on volunteers to help keep the store stocked and ring out customer purchases. A $20 annual membership gets you a 2 percent discount on all purchases. If you volunteer to work at least one day a month, you get a 15 percent discount. I was recently elevated to “super worker” status with a 22 percent discount by volunteering at least once a week.

But there are some volunteers who seem to be there almost on a daily basis. Steve, for instance, comes in every Thursday to help check in and price product deliveries. Pam also comes in on Thursdays to process the seafood orders. Tony regularly helps inventory and manage items on the shelves and in summer provides fresh produce from his garden.

It’s true, we get a choice of fish, mussels and other seafood items to order fresh from Boston each week. As a member, you can also special order bulk items, or just come in and fill your jug with local honey or maple syrup. The produce section’s been looking awfully good lately, with big bunches or Tuscan kale and Swiss chard, red leaf lettuce, bouquets of parsley and cilantro and specialty items such as celery root and orange beets.

Recently I helped with the annual inventory by counting all the items in the freezer cabinets. So many different pie shells, dairy-free ice cream bars, prepared samosas, organic burritos and grass-fed chuck roasts you’ve never seen. But why were the fudge brownies hidden in a box behind the chicken breasts?

We have some customers who come just for a small bag of trail mix. Or maybe they make a lunch out of kale chips and a bottle of ginger beer.

All roads seem to cross at the co-op. Working there is the best way to meet people and exchange stories. Usually, the four-hour shifts breeze by. It does help not having a day job, though.

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  • The Dean

    I am so glad you found the fudge brownies behind the chicken breasts!! A guy who stays up all night feeding the wood stove to keep from freezing to death deserves a treet!!!