Friday, April 6, 2007

The cult of co-op

I do have a favourite Newtown thing. It has actually changed my life, and probably inspired me to write this blog. No, it's not the double chocolate-honey-malt milkshakes at Hercs. Though I really do like them... It's the organic food co-op, Alfalfa House opposite the Enmore Theatre.

I lived in Enmore for four years before I started shopping there. I had stepped inside a couple of times, but was intimidated by all the signs about jars, weights and food handling. It seemed only to have brown hippie food. I think it still seems this way when you first go in, but I exhort you to rise above this and see the light. Behold!

Now when I go in there I swoon. The food is so glorious I positively get off on fondling the custard apples and and button squash, smelling the lemons and stroking the mustard greens. They only stock fresh food that is in season, produced ethically, and preferably locally. The shop is tiny, but I've been shopping there for a few years now and am still discovering new things on the shelves, like Juniper berries.

And the rules of shopping aren't as intimidating as they sound. Bring your own containers, weigh them empty on the scales, write the weight on the container with the texta provided, scoop stuff into them, and pay by weight without paying for the packaging. It means you can buy just a table spoon of baking soda or miso paste if that's all you need, or go wild and get two litres of apple cider vinegar.

So how has it changed my life? Watching a jam jar woozily fill with yellowbox honey, shoveling billows of cocoa powder into an old Chinese take-away container and delicately placing imperfect eggs in their cartons, my perception of food production and consumption completely changed. I'm now a Co-Op evangelist. I dream of vats.

I spent today at a working bee for the Co-Op, scrubbing these flour buckets (wholemeal, rye, spelt, maize, soft, hard, bleached, unbleached...):

I chatted to other volunteers about the best way to cook quinoa, which shelf was our favourite shelf in the Co-Op (the one with the dried mango!), and whether or not you could use rancid sunflower oil in massage therapy. I felt a very long way away from the IGA.

Visit the Alfalfa House website for a complete product list, info on how to become a member, the co-op principles and the story of how the Co-Op went from a house in Erskineville on rent-strike, to Alpha House to Alfalfa House!


Karen said...

You could make gin!

I think the coop principles are lovely. I bet virtuous food tastes even more delicious.

Justyna said...

What do you get out of being a member? From a practical side of things.

Nosey in Newtown said...

As well as feeling like a self-satisfied member of a do-gooder cult, you get 10% off all your shopping, or more if you do volunteer work. You also get a newsletter, which has recipes, like this month's one: chocolate brownies made with Mesquite pod meal and raw cacao nibs. Virtuous indeed!

beth said...

It's like a Mary Poppins carpet bag of edible delights (plus shampoo, washing powder, heck even sanitary items and toilet paper!)

Plus it's also like Cheers, where everybody knows your name... And Saturdays are 'electro-pop saturday's - whoo! And as nosey points out, it does make you feel like a palpable part of a community - so wonderful!

suzy said...

It's easy to be put off going in, but for those unitiated
- You don't have to be a member to shop there (but why not join?)
- You don't *have* to take your own containers. Some things you can carry away in your hands like a pumpkin or free trade chocolate, or grab a box, or you could buy a paper bag or a jar, or look in the donated containers drawer (may not be sterile, but you may not mind). I wish I was more prepared!

amy said...

i ate some juniper berries that came into the co-op a while back and they tasted like gin, which i found to be totally amazing.i did not get drunk.amy

Zoe said...

I used to live on Philip St, and was a member of the co-op. It can seem a bit alienating but the volunteers are always friendly. And the food is delicious.