Yesterday I took another trip down to the Alternative Food Cooperative in Wakefield to restock on oil, soap, and baking soda. This time I brought my camera along and received permission from Rosemary–the co-op’s manager, to take pictures inside the store. Before the recent opening of Fertile Underground, Alternative was the only food co-op in Rhode Island. Shopping there is a very different experience from the conventional grocery store shopping experience I’ve known most of my life. As I’ve mentioned before, because of the variety of goods available in bulk, this resource has allowed me to take my project to a more thorough level. The co-op’s success is the result of a good business model, excellent management, and invested, conscientious employees. I want to share these images of what alternative food and household supply shopping can look like.
The co-op has the largest dry bulk food section of any store I’ve visited in the Rhode Island/Massachusetts area. Here I can find red quinoa, forbidden rice, and even goji berries. Spices, teas, and medicinal herbs in glass jars line the back wall. Oils, honey, and vinegar are kept canisters next to the spices. There is also a refrigerated bulk foods section. A small produce section offers fresh organic fruits and vegetables from local growers. Hot soup, baked goods, coffee and tea are offered at the front of the store. While I was there, a masseuse was giving massages to customers.
All of the stations in the store are extremely clean and well organized. Any spills around the bulk dispensers are quickly mopped or swept up. Pans and brushes hang on the wall so customers can clean up after themselves too.
The dry bulk foods supply is kept in a walk-in refrigerator located in the kitchen at the back of the store. I’ve always wondered how the foods that I scoop out of the bulk containers are packed and shipped to businesses. Inside the refrigerator, nuts, legumes, grains, and flour are stacked on simple wooden shelves, mostly in paper bags and boxes.
The back deck can be reached by walking through the kitchen. It overlooks the municipal lot where customers can park if there are no spaces on the street. Beyond the lot lie the Saugatucket River and a bike path that runs along it. Rosemary said that riders headed south from the co-op would arrive at the beach in about 15 minutes. In the summer the deck is set up with tables and chairs and the awnings are rolled down to provide shade.
Before shopping I weighed my containers again at the register. Then I filled up my glass jars, bottles, and bulk bags with olive oil, canola oil, quinoa, almonds, baking soda, and castile soap. I should be well stocked for at least another month, but if Alternative Food Co-op was located in Providence, I would do my daily shopping there. Many thanks to the whole co-op gang for chatting with me and for letting me photograph your beautiful shop.