Utah organization aims to put quality food on people’s plates — At a fraction of health food stores’ costs

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It is a rainy Saturday morning, and a long-haired man with a flat cap selects some of his favorite items. His long beard waves as he wanders through the warehouse. For the last year, he has frequented this place. He comes here to buy fresh produce.

“I come here because it is like a European market,” said Attila Papp, who is originally from Hungary. “I am from Europe, and I love markets. If it’s possible, I like to buy locally-grown stuff.”

There are countless people like Papp who come to the Community Co-op to take advantage of the healthy, locally sourced products at a notably lower price than other retailers selling similar items.

Papp often comes to the Community Co-op to pick out eggplant, corn and tomatoes.

Glenn Bailey is the executive director at Crossroads Urban Center, Utah’s busiest food pantry. He was the driving force behind starting the co-op.

“I had the idea in the 90s that there ought to be a way where people can get access to low-cost, nutritious food,” Bailey said. “Local food, but also nutritious food, tends to be more expensive. We wanted to do something to help people stretch their food budget without resorting to welfare.”

Bailey noticed many struggling families coming into Crossroads Urban Center. The Community Co-op was subsequently started in 2006 as a way to fill the pressing need.

After nearly going out of business, new owners took over the operation and Katherine Ghiai became the director at the Community Co-op.

“Rather than giving them a handout, he (Bailey) decided to create a program that created a hand up,” Ghiai said. “That program has grown into one where the more people who participate, the lower the cost is, the more food people get.”

Since the co-op began selling food, the operation has continued to grow and evolve and now serves a variety of different customers from equally different circumstances.

“We appeal to all echelons, and that is our focus,” Ghiai said. “Our motto is ‘Together, everyone eats.’ Our vision is to get good, healthy food, on people’s tables for less.”

Co-op customers can buy locally sourced produce, meat and dairy products. Two of the main goals are to healthy, low-cost food and to fuel the local economy by keeping money in Utah.

Although the Community Co-op offers many unique products, Ghiai does not claim to have a monopoly on these types of commodities. She does, however, claim to offer them at a more attainable price.

“It’s the prices that set me apart,” Ghiai said. “You can pick it all up at the farmer’s markets or at the grocery stores. If you go to Whole Foods or Sprouts, you will find the same products. You will just pay more for them.”

While the Community Co-op operates mostly from its Salt Lake City warehouse, it also offers services to those unable to make it to Salt Lake. One of the unique features of the organization is the distribution service. Customers can place orders by the phone, Internet or an order form found in each monthly newsletter. The food is then delivered weekly to one of the 75 pick-up sites located as far north as Ogden and as far south as Payson. This program furthers the Community Co-op’s goal of putting good food on Utah residents’ plates, all at a low cost.

The co-op keeps costs relatively low by using volunteers to aid in the day-to-day operations. By doing this the Community Co-op hopes to continue to grow and accomodate more people in more locations.

Bailey reflected on how his dream came true.

“It is cool,” Bailey said. “Crossroads has started a number of organizations over the years. In this case, I still buy food from the co-op and still get a kick out of it.”

For more information visit https://thecommunitycoop.com/.

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