Living the Co-op Life in Idaho

By Mary McInnis*

Visiting Idaho in the spring, I found the lights on at the Moscow Food Co-op after a sketchy ride over the mountain on a borrowed bike. At the hot bar, I loaded up a plate with lentil this and quinoa that – so many vegetarian options that even in ravenous post-ride mode I couldn’t try them all. But I would be back.
And now I live here. I mean, not at the Co-op. Or do I?

On most days, I touch down at the satellite location of the Co-op on the campus of the University of Idaho. It’s a block from my grad student office, and has all the necessities – coffee from local roasters, chipotle Idaho potato salad, Trollhouse cookies (heartier than Tollhouse!), and Ethan. Ethan is the kind of person who will only elevate your day. And when you walk off fully absorbed in the steam coming off the Americano he just barista’d up for you, he’ll ask, no judgment, if it’s okay that he press that last button to close down your pay screen. Coffee anticipation always gets the better of me – and no one at the Co-op, not even the person waiting to pay, thinks any worse of me. Our pride in this thing we actually own together helps us feel togetherness. Before heading back to my office with my haul, I grab a fork – a legit metal fork I can borrow and return through the Co-op’s sustainability program to reduce waste – and walk out fully in step with my values.

One Sunday afternoon, I attend the Co-op’s “Healthy Eating on a Budget” workshop on plant-based protein recipes. An overqualified dietitian/chef distributes a handout with recipes and nutritional info, walks us through a PowerPoint presentation, and serves us prepared recipe samples like “Chickpea Flour Omelet” – all things you could make for only 25 cents to 75 cents per serving. I’m all in and buying ingredients for “No Bake Nut Butter Oat Bars” before you can say “Why are we dropping three bucks a pop on store-bought energy bars?!?”

I like to hole up at the Co-op downtown for more than food. I hang out in the sunny dining area grading papers, drinking coffee from a real mug, and listening to the sounds of community. “Co-op Kids” for preschoolers is sometimes meeting behind me, the littles engaged in healthy living activities, the parents getting some connection time.

The wall nearby holds striking pen-and-ink renderings of the Palouse hills by this month’s local artist, all for sale. In the checkout line with a few grocery items that shouldn’t fit in my overstuffed backpack but always do, the staff is warm even when bike commuting weather isn’t. Backpack jam-packed, I managed to save a bag so I get a token to drop into the bin for the local charity of my choice. All of this fuels me – yes, the food, but also every small thing that reminds me of my values and my community. My co-op is the place that connects it all.

*Mary is a Co-op member-owner who recently moved from the Cedar Valley to Moscow, Idaho.

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