For 40 years, East Lansing Food Co-op provides locally grown food
In 1976, there was a desire for an alternative place to get more natural, everyday groceries in the East Lansing area.
To satisfy that need, general manager Bruce Grambau said the East Lansing Food Co-op, which celebrated its 40-year anniversary in February, was created.
“We were looking for more of a natural, organic items and they just weren’t readily available back then,” Grambau said.
He said there was a group of local citizens who organized the co-op to have local products readily available.
“It wasn’t quite a buying club, but it was similar to a small-scale group effort to have this co-op started and it has just grown from there,” Grambau said. “Our main emphasis is to have locally grown natural products available to the community.”
Now, Grambau said there are more than half a dozen farmers who sell to the co-op.
“From potatoes to garlic to fresh leaf lettuce, apples and some other fruits,” Grambau said. “It’s all seasonal, obviously, for a lot of those things.”
Grambau said the core customer is of an older demographic, ranging from 40 to 60 year olds.
One customer, Shruti Vaidya, said she shops at the co-op because of the locally grown and organic foods. She said it is important to support the farmers who provide to the co-op.
“My husband and I have been members for over 20 years,” Vaidya said. “We really support other farmers and the local food community here. It is really important to have a co-op in our community.”
Though most customers are older, Grambau said MSU students also use the co-op.
“We do get younger people who are concerned about their health and shopping habits and are interested in the co-op type atmosphere where they are helping to support the community,” Grambau said.
In recent years, Grambau said mainstream has caught up with organically-grown products.
“The industry has changed,” Grambau said. “Organics are much more on the consumer’s plate to be able to shop for.”
Bath resident Phil Throop is an “owner,” or member, and a local farmer.
“I have been coming here since the 80s,” Throop said. “I have been a member for about seven years. I come here because it is community owned. I actually supply greens, berries and vegetables. By being a customer, I am investing in the community. A box store’s profits would go to board members. Here, it is goes back into the communities.”
While larger grocery stores are selling organic products, Grambau said the East Lansing Food Co-op is different.
“Our ‘owners’ live here in the community and we are trying to support our local farmers who live in the community,” Grambau said. “All of our dollars are trying to stay here. That is probably the largest difference between us and the larger companies. They are just buying from wherever they can. Our community-based operation is something we hope the farmers and local farmers try to support.”
East Lansing resident Travis Wilson said more quality is achieved from a place like the East Lansing Food Co-op.
“It is a much more of an old-time experience where there is love in the food rather than someone just trying to make a dollar,” Wilson said.
Grambau said being a “owner” of the East Lansing Food Co-op has its perks.
“Anybody can be an owner,” Grambau said. “You are going to receive 10 percent once a month and you are hopefully supporting local communities. A lot of the owners have been members for years. Because it is our 40th year, we are adding an extra 5 percent discount every shopping trip. There are specials within the store that are for owners only.”
The East Lansing Food Co-op also offers a 10 percent student discount to those with a valid student ID on Sundays.