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My Journey to Health and Wellness began at a Co-Op

A woman finds health and her life's work when she discovers her local food co-op.

by Amanda Alford

In 2001 I took a BIG leap. I quit my job, packed my things, drove from Chicago to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and moved in with my boyfriend of eight months.  One day I overheard a conversation where his father asked incredulously, “Well, she’s cooking for you ain’t she?  Not making you eat out all the time?!”  Uh oh.  Suddenly the pressure was on.  Time to learn to cook.  I had no clue that a directive like that could change my life’s direction and broadly redefine food and nourishment for me.  

There were new grocery stores to explore.  In the Northeast everything exists on a condensed scale and the grocery stores were no exception.  They were small and cramped and had names like Bread and Circus (an early version of Whole Foods), Trader Joe’s, and an interesting place called the Harvest Co-Op two blocks from my apartment.  

I must have walked by the Co-Op a dozen times before I got the courage to go in.  I observed the people going in and out and they seemed to be representative of Central Square in Cambridge (the most diverse place I had ever lived!).  Co-Op?  What did that mean, exactly?  Was it like a convenience store with some fresh/prepared food?  In the front was a lively coffee bar and the walls were covered with flyers and announcements for the neighborhood.  I lingered in the café for a bit trying to get a handle on the concept. 

After a few weeks I went in, never expecting what I would find.  The fresh produce was overflowing; the meat counters were tiny.  There were sections for Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Vegan, and Vegetarian and the bulk bins offered much more than Brach’s candy!  I had just crossed the threshold into a new way of thinking about food. 

Soon the Co-Op became a regular stop on my weekly shopping trips.  I started to spend time reading labels of the products and learning all kinds of new things.  I loved the education and the activism around sustainable and local and free trade.  Every aisle offered the chance to eat wholesome, nourishing food without feeling like I was compromising anything for it.  The health and beauty section had none of the usual products.  Paper products made of recycled paper?  Pure laundry soap?  And all these healthy people had a big aisle of chocolate and sweets, too!  I had never thought that eating healthy could in any way accommodate a sweet tooth.  

By 2004, I returned to Chicago as a confident, discriminate, and accomplished cook.  I had eliminated Trans Fats and High Fructose Corn Syrup from my cupboards and added in a diverse selection of spices, flours, oils, and other condiments.  The Chicago grocery scene was now very disappointing, and, even with the addition of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, I felt a big loss without the Co-Op.  I was sad I had nowhere to shop where I felt connected to the issues that I had embraced.  

The Co-Op had provided interaction with the community, and educated me on so many pressing issues with the environment, world trade, GMOs, chemicals and additives in food.  My view of eating, cooking, cleaning, the power of my dollar, and the importance of shopping locally had been transformed. 

I am thrilled to now be in a Chicago neighborhood that is ready to adopt this economic model while building community through healthy eating.  I credit the influence of Harvest Co-Op with starting my journey that would soon become my life’s work as a holistic health coach.  Bravo Sugar Beet!  You are sure to make an indelible impact on Oak Park and surrounding areas.    

Amanda Alford, owner of The Nourishment Connection, is a certified holistic health counselor and a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.  Amanda provides one-on-one counseling, group programs, and workshops. She is working with The Sugar Beet Co-op to develop programming about nutrition and local foods. To learn more about her unique approach to diet and lifestyle, look her up at www.thenourishmentconnection.com and also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AmandaAhealthcounselor.  


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