In the late ’60s and early ’70s, after years of packaged foods, canned soups and TV dinners, the concept of “natural food” began to take hold. The vegetarian diet gained popularity as influential books such as “Diet for a Small Planet,” “Laurel’s Kitchen” and the “Tassajara Bread Book” became the bibles of the kitchen. Nutty brown rice led the procession of grains, beans and fresh (not canned!) vegetables on their way to the dinner tables of the enlightened. Handy but tasteless Wonder Bread disappeared from school lunch boxes to be replaced by dense slices of homemade whole grain bread spread with fresh ground peanut butter and one of many varieties of unfiltered honey or sugar-free jams.
Waves of buying clubs emerged in cities and college towns, enabling members to save money by buying in bulk from nearby suppliers. In 1972, a group of concerned citizens jumped on the cooperative bandwagon, and the Fort Collins Food Co-op was born under the leadership of two couples — George and Nancy Wallace and Dick and Susan Sawrey. The concept caught on quickly among the neighbors as many of the food products available at the co-op were not found in local grocery stores. By fall 1972, the buying club had grown to the point that its members agreed to incorporate and look for a space to rent. In 1974, the Articles of Incorporation document was accepted by the state of Colorado and the new co-op found its first home at 700 W. Mountain Ave. In 1978, the co-op moved to its present location. The co-op struggled mightily until 1982, when the business began to eke out a profit. Now, it has a new name to mark its 46-year timeline.
The Fort Collins Food Co-op is now the Mountain Avenue Market. After several remodels and reorganization over the years, the store is now even more up to date, spacious, and well-lit. The store employs 10-12 paid workers, and one employee who repackages materials for discounts on merchandize.
Anyone may shop at the store, but becoming a member not only supports the business, it offers a number of benefits. The investment costs $160 and can be made in payments from 16 payments at $10 per month to eight quarterly payments of $20, four quarterly payments of $40, or a single payment of $160. A member/ownership is valid for the entire family, including spouses, partners and children all living in the same household. Benefits include 20 percent discounts on special orders, election voting rights, discounts with other co-ops across the country and profit sharing.
Part of the attraction of the store is the availability of bulk items. Shoppers can bring their own containers and buy exactly the quantities they need of a number of food items and other products, such as soaps, toiletries and essential oils. Honey, soy sauce, molasses, several types of flours, beans, rice, nuts, and cereals are some of the bulk products available to shoppers. Bringing one’s own containers cuts down considerably on the waste incurred by disposables and is environmentally sound, one of the core concepts of the cooperative philosophy. Attractive glass containers are available for purchase at the market in a variety of sizes and shapes.
Products not seen in the early days are a small selection of local and organic meat products. Wisdom Farms of Haxtun, Colo., features organic poultry. Chicken is always available and turkeys can be ordered for the holidays (always worth the trouble, by the way). Locally farmed and processed steaks and other cuts of beef, plus chorizo and Italian sausage are also available. There is a selection of organic dog and cat food, both canned and dry. The deli offers sandwiches made fresh every day, along with salads, crackers, and fresh fruits and vegetables from local growers. The daily menu can be found at https://www.fcfood.coop/market/deli/.
Be sure to stop at the Mountain Avenue Market on your next stroll through Old Town. All the yummy, fresh, organic goodness may inspire you to skip the restaurant and opt for a picnic in the park instead.