Your first time?

Buying bulk grains and spices can be intimidating the first time.   Local blogger Candace Nelson published a humorous and informative take on her first time experience shopping at the Co-op and buying in bulk. The following is reprinted from her blog, Candace Lately:

…The Co-op offers natural, organic, fair trade, local products on a scale I’ve never seen before. They offer bulk items, cards, and an incredibly knowledgeable staff. When I first walked in, I was a little overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure where to go, but I awkwardly walked around until I gained my bearings. There are only three aisles here. The first one seemed like some basic healthy foods – lots of beige and green packaging. I picked up a jar of tikka masala sauce and some rice crackers. I hadn’t had either, so this was already looking promising. As I turned the corner, I noticed the fresh fruits and veggies along the wall. Pricier than what I’m used to, but probably for good reason.

Then I saw the second aisle. Jars, containers, and dispensers full of anything you could imagine. I walked up and down the aisle in awe. There were spices, grains, dried fruits, granola, and tons more.

According to their website, “We have a huge selection of grains, flours, beans & legumes, nuts & seeds, dried fruits, granolas, herbs & spices, medicinal herbs, baking needs, sprouting seeds, fair trade coffees, herbal & regular teas, oils, honey & maple syrup & other liquid sweeteners, miso, castile soaps, shampoos, laundry & dish detergents, and more.” That’s a lot! Thankfully, there were other shoppers in there, so I watched closely to see how one obtains all these delicacies.

On the right endcap of the first aisle, there’s a little stand that has little baggies, with twist ties, and some containers, too. There are also some scoops to use for the containers that don’t have ones. Each of these things has a small price. I used small baggies, which I believe are 8 cents, and then you used the twist tie and write the number of whatever you get on it. So, I returned to the aisle, bag in hand, to select small treasures. I hadn’t even heard of most of the items, but that made it even more fun. I selected some dried apple rings and dried bananas…

The third aisle had some refrigerated items, where I opted for a container of hummus. I’m usually not a fan of hummus, but I wanted to give this avocado a shot. Glad I did, by the way. There were a ton of other things I want to try, like their noodles and the huge tubs of peanut butter.

As for local foods, they have eggs, chicken, turkey, bison and beef, which are pasture-raised with no added hormones or antibiotics. They have goat’s milk cheeses, tofu, honey, jams, jellies, breads, sauces, condiments and more.

When you go to pay, there is a scale on the counter to weigh all those items that you helped yourself to. At the counter was also a small display for the Venerable Bean, which I hope to blog about later on. But the Venerable Bean is an all-vegan baking company in town, which has cakes, scones, etc.; special orders and gluten-free items are available.

I think my total came to around $20, which isn’t bad for some fresh products that I know where they came from. They use donated bags, so don’t be surprised to get a Kroger or Dollar General bag. And, you can become a member. You don’t have to be to shop there, but if you are, you get a 15% discount on special bulk orders, 5% off all in-store purchase on Wednesdays, ownership in the Co-op, and are able to order through their organic produce supplier. It’s $30 annually, and students are $20…

There’s a certain sense of community here; it’s more like a lifestyle. You can get healthy, local, hard-to-find items. And you get people who care about what they’re doing and care about helping you.

If you haven’t checked it out, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Give it a shot. It might be intimidating, but people are willing to help you figure it out. And I’ve done the dirty work for you, already.

In her five years in Morgantown, Candace has written about many other local restaurants and food-related subjects. Check out her blog, Candace Lately, which covers “local food culture from a college students’s perspective”.