La Montanita Coop in My Life

logo designed by head storekeeper Joe Hernandez

by Cirrelda Snider-Bryan

Being a member of La Montanita is not new – in fact it is old – twenty-seven years. My sister got me to join first food co-op, Ochá, before that. 31 years of food coop membership in Albuquerque! It is ‘old-hat’ to me – a comfortable and beloved old hat.

As in: jars for bulk flour, grains, herbs, spices, maple syrup are the way I still buy and store food. Though I don’t buy all the things I used to buy in bulk (tofu, laundry detergent, honey, oil), I could, ’cause (except for tofu) the co-op still carries them all that way. Neat to see people continue to buy in bulk and skip the throw-away package.

As in: knowing people just from shopping there. How I run into folks in lots of places who were members back then, too, run into them in the schools and in line at the credit union. We chat and remember the working member jobs we would do. Third grader I taught became Valley cashier when that store opened.

As in: ‘Fair Wage’ and ‘Food Shed’ are reasons I don’t complain about prices. Board and Staff continue to build efforts to be fair, open, pro-active. They model “best practice.”

Co-op ‘of endearing mountain’ — heap of hope for the future our daughter inherits.


9 Responses to “La Montanita Coop in My Life”

  1. October 7, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Thanks for remembering – I remember too. A small space near Girard. “Hippes” doing the right thing. Still doing it now.

    • October 11, 2011 at 8:42 pm

      I do remember Girard store – the wooden floor – the little hallways of all the offices …
      I bet you shopped at Ocha, too, right? Did you remember Jalal Green, our manager #3?

  2. October 23, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    The first food coop that I belonged to was in about 1973. It was a good way for our communal household to buy bulk food and high quality food for low cost. We helped to break the various food items down when the shipment arrived and this type of participation kept our costs low.

    In our area now food coops are much more professional and very expensive. Most food is high quality but twice the price of a local market. I understand the need for fair wages but the problem I’m having is that we have cut off poor people from good food because of the pricing. Hardly the intent when these coops in our area began. It is an interesting dilemma, one that no one anticipated. They amount to food clubs for wealthy, alternative folks now. A sad situation indeed. What is your thinking on this?

    • October 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm

      Hi Bill,

      Well, I do know what you are talking about. Thanks for asking. Neat to hear your history, I can relate to that time a few decades back with buying clubs and simpler set ups.

      Coops had to get more professional because competition and faster turnover of checks at the bank caused the coop I worked for in the early 80’s to go belly up. We were lucky we had a second coop in town that was near the university and it has continued to grow. Coops still don’t have the volume like chain stores (including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s who are the main competition in the market niche) because they are locally owned and thus smaller … though some coops and coop warehouses do band together to purchase. Which means – less volume – that some prices are more expensive. It is funny though that some prices are not.

      I buy 60-70% of my groceries from La Montanita. I am not wealthy (our bank account does get used up every month, but both my spouse and I do have jobs – a lucky fact). But I have grown accustomed to the good food that used to only be available from the coop. Also, our coop supports the local farmers and producers way more than other stores. We have a very active membership here in Albuquerque – we hear that 79% of sales are made to members. Member ship is $15 a year, too.

      New Mexico does have a very different economy than New England. When we visit my sister in law in western Mass, there is a coop and I can see that it does attract more well-to-do folks.

      For me, where I spend my money is political act. I am a member of Costco and not Sam’s Club because I like the percentage that Costco puts to wages. I used to shop at Target because they supported Planned Parenthood, but now I try not to go there because they gave so much money to anti-gay campaign. I like to shop at K-Mart and Sears now instead. I also want to avoid Sportsmans warehouse because they support the shooting of wolves. You know – I am one of those! And when I can support local small business and not a chain or big box it makes me feel like I am doing the right thing.

      I also do not like to drive out of my way to a store, and fortunately, one of the coops is on the way between my work and home.

      La Montanita’s board and staff try to run a fair, tight ship. I like the fact that they work hard at using management strategies that are fair. A lot of places do not.

      And our coop gives patronage refunds every year according to how much you spend. And they do volume discounts 4 times a year which I take advantage of to buy olive oil and a sack of rice and flour and laundry detergent and dog food. I don’t buy everything there – I buy butter, maple syrup, chocolate chips and canned tomatoes at Costco. And when I see 10 for a dollar canned beans I buy em up at Albertson’s, where they donate a percentage to our daughter’s school.

      I respect how each person gets into a groove and enjoys their own shopping rituals and the shops they come to be accustomed to. I just happen to have gotten accustomed to having a very well-run coop.

      Thanks for coming over here, Bill.

    • December 2, 2011 at 9:46 pm

      Bill – I found the neatest group of Food Cooperatives just now! Here is the link!

  3. October 25, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Cirrelda, I have not been to a food coop. At first I thought your post was about a farmers’ market, but then as I read I realized it was different and what appeals to me is buying in bulk and avoiding the packaging costs and advertisement. You have so many years of experience with this and it works so well for you. I must check in Abilene for a food coop. I know the principle of a coop, but never been in one. I will try and find one. Thanks.

    • October 25, 2011 at 11:25 pm

      I hope you can find one. When visiting Des Moines, Iowa last week, I stopped in a brand new coop there – a big sign with all the signatures of the founding members was up front. Supposedly it was Des Moines’s first coop. I think in the 1950’s there was a previous wave of them – I have this vague memory of one in Tulsa when I was tiny. But like Bill above, the best time was in the 70s and 80s when folks banded together to order from coop warehouses to split up cases and 50 pound sacks …

      This link takes you to the story of the inspiring Rochdale Pioneers http://www.ica.coop/coop/history.html
      and this one to the cooperative principles http://www.ica.coop/coop/principles.html
      True coops follow these principles. Any group can do it.

      This link takes you to our food coop

      Adios, compadre.

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