Matteson, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Tucked away in an industrial park just off Main Street in Matteson, the South Suburban Food Co-op has been offering healthy alternatives for over 34 years. Run by a board of directors and operated mostly by volunteers, the Food Co-op is owned by its several hundred members and exists to provide maximum food value and quality to those members. The Food Co-op offered “green” alternatives in food and household cleaning supplies, long before those products appeared in local chain stores.
Residents of the area may have noticed the co-op’s new stand at the Park Forest Farmer’s Market, open from 7am-12 noon on Saturdays on the north side of the Downtown. Many more products are available in the store located in Units 18-20 of the Stawicki Industrial Park at 21750 Main Street in Matteson. The co-op also has set up stands at Earth Day and Fall Fest at Goodenow Grove and Earth Day in Frankfort.
Fresh vegetables arrive at the co-op on Thursday mornings from the markets in Chicago, picked up early and selected by volunteers. The store is also an outlet for local organic farmers who provide produce, and uses the Midwest Organic Farmers’ Co-op, an arrangement which is new this year.
Walter Demler started the co-op in 1974 with 30 orders for produce and distributed them out of a dry cleaning store in Norwood Square Shopping Center. It has moved twice over the years, and has evolved into a store carrying much more than fresh produce.
Members can purchase fish, organic beef, chicken, eggs, buffalo meat, canned goods, specialty breads, cereals, whole grain, rice and vegetable pastas, and baking supplies.
The co-op caters to those with special dietary needs as well as to those just wishing to eat healthier. There are vegetarian and vegan items of all kinds; fat-free, salt-free, sugar-free canned and packaged goods; fat-free, wheat-free cookies, crackers, cereals, breads, rice past and corn pasta; rice and soy substitutes for dairy products including frozen treats. There are cookies and cereals with fruit juice sweeteners, unsulphured dried fruits, organic or regular nuts, dried beans and rice, frozen convenience foods, in organic, vegetarian and wheat-free selections. Vitamins and supplements have sugar-free, yeast-free and dairy-free options. This is a particularly good source for gluten-free diets. Products can also be special-ordered from the main supplier, United National Foods, Inc., in Iowa.
Aside from cheeses for special diets, there is also a nice selection of regular cheeses which come to the store without any middlemen, meaning they are much fresher than the cheeses in your grocery store. One of the greatest bargains is the selection of spices, herbs, sea salts, bought in bulk and sold in small quantities at an incredible savings over the supermarket prices.
Other products include “green” cleaning and laundry products by companies like Lifetreee, Ecover and Seventh Generation, and chlorine-free paper products like coffee filters, paper towels and baby wipes. There are vitamins and supplements from Pure Essence Labs and Peak, like FemCreme, Transitions, Living Flora, Energy Plus, Yeast Control, and Prostate Control. There are citronella bug repellants, cosmetic supplies made without animal testing, aluminum free deodorants, and a wide selection of scented bar and pump face and hand soaps. The co-op even carries pet supplies.
Manager Dorothy Colson, who just celebrated her 80th birthday, has been with the co-op since 1974, manager since 1975. She now co-manages with Ann DiCicco, as the only paid employees of the co-op. Colson emphasizes the co-op’s motto, “Food for people, not for profit. Our prices are set to break even and stay in business.” Breaking even is a goal the co-op sometimes does not reach. New members are always welcome, and visitors can get a pass to shop and make a purchase one time before joining. The co-op is always working to get new members and to encourage members to “shop the co-op first”so it can remain open.
New regular membership is $50 per year, seniors and students pay $25; renewals are $36 and $18. Members commit to work two hours per month doing jobs like running the cash register, cleaning, stocking and pricing, weighing and bagging dried goods, or offering some other talent or service. There is a playroom, so kids can play while parents shop and volunteer. Non-working members pay an additional $110 per year, but it is hoped that new members will pitch in. Colson and DiCicco have to do anything volunteers don’t sign up for, working many hours past what they are paid for to keep the co-op running.
Information on the South Suburban Food Co-op is at 708-747-2256 or at [email protected] Hours are Monday, Tuesday and Friday, 11-8 p.m., Thursday, 2-8 p.m., and Saturday 9:30-3:30 p.m.
All photographs this page are from Wendy Heise, Wish Photography.