A 19-month-old nonprofit organic-foods cooperative named PEACH Safe Food has opened a store on the main floor of one of downtown Spokanes old apartment buildings.
Passersby might never know that the store at 1029 W. First exists, though. Its only entrance is in the alley between First and Second avenues, and the cooperative doesnt advertise.
Inside vibrant purple eggplants, firm yellow bananas, jars of golden grains, and other colorful food items sit atop tables and shelves. Bright track lights shine on the products in an otherwise dark, cavernous room that is expected to fill up with more merchandise and colorful artwork in the coming months.
We want to see a little PEACH Safe Food in every neighborhood, says a woman named BrightSpirit, the executive director of the cooperative. We want to set up a model thats picked up in other cities by other organizations.
While PEACH Safe Foods plans might sound ambitious, the cooperatives confidence is based on a year and a half of nonstop growth. From meager beginningsthe group started with no capital and leased its space free of charge from longtime Spokane business entrepreneurs Jill and Doug SmithPEACH Safe Food has blossomed to 300 member families from 13, BrightSpirit says. Six months ago, the cooperative was grossing $4,000 a month, and in May that had grown to almost $8,000, she says. The organizations produce orders have doubled every month for last five months and three or four people have joined the cooperative each week, BrightSpirit says.
In its 2,400-square-foot store, PEACH Safe Food sells everything from papayas to potatoes, kale to cauliflower, and tomato to tarragon. All its food products are organically grown, meaning theyre free of pesticides, chemicals, and hormones. It also means that theyre more expensive than comparable items found in conventional stores, BrightSpirit says. The cooperative also sells personal and household products, such as tampons, toilet paper, and soaps that are made of natural, nontoxic ingredients, she says.
Local farmers and manufacturers supply most of PEACH Safe Foods merchandise and the cooperative strives to be a zero-waste operation. In other words, just about everything in the store is recycled. That means bags are reused, surplus food is either donated or composted, and theres an exchange table where people can drop off used items, such as books, and take things home that others have donated, BrightSpirit says.
Volunteer Sonya Chamberlain, who manages the store, says, Waste reduction keeps our costs low. In addition, we want to set an example of a facility that operates on zero-waste principles in order to demonstrate the feasibility of these practices for other business.
The store doesnt have paid employees yet. About 20 volunteers man it and, in exchange, get a discount on purchases.
The cooperative grew out of the Spokane-based nonprofit organization PEACH, of which BrightSpirit is the executive director. PEACH, which stands for People for Environmental Action and Childrens Health, evolved three years ago from conversations among a small group of parents here who were concerned about what their kids were eating.
The parents began to educate themselves on the ingredients of many common foods and well-known household products, and they didnt like what they learned, BrightSpirit says. They discovered, for example, that antibacterial soaps contained ingredients with unknown long-term effects on the body, Chamberlain claims.
In areas where research is inconclusive, we would rather stay with something we know, she says, so we carry soaps that dont have unknown substances in them. You could, if you really wanted to, consume them.
The group members began combining their money to buy natural products and organic produce in bulk, then divided the orders amongst themselves when they arrived.
Wed send out e-mailsWeve got 10 pounds of oranges. Somebodys got to take them, BrightSpirit says.
Having worked as an organic farmer for seven years, she had some knowledge of the produce industry. The mother of six and grandmother of one spearheaded the evolution of PEACH Safe Food from a small group of friends to its more formal organization today.
Members pay a minimum of $35 a year to belong, and many rely on PEACH Safe Food for the bulk of their grocery needs, she says. An average-size order costs $40, and most members order one or two times a week, usually selecting items in advance through a Web site the cooperative set up 19 months ago. Others simply pop into the small store to browse, she says. BrightSpirit says members range in age and background, from young earthy types one might expect to find in such a store to older professionals, such as doctors and lawyers.
The emphasis on buying locally is a key component of PEACHs philosophy, she says. They carry an all-natural body balm, for example, that a woman makes in her Brownes Addition home, and they buy most of their produce from Chrysalis Farm at Tolstoy, near Davenport, and Goodwins Four Seasons Farm, on the South Hill. PEACH is hosting a Local Flair Street Fair July 12 in the 1000 block of First Avenue, where local wineries, musicians, artists, and farmers will be able to sell their goods.
After starting its operation in a small office in the former Music City Spokane Inc. building on First Avenue, PEACH Safe Food moved to its larger space in the middle of the Madison Apartment Building at the west end of the same block. Both buildings, as well as six others, are owned by Odd Girls LLC, of which Jill Smith is a partner. The cluster of buildings is called RailSide Center, and Odd Girls recently has begun seeking to transform it into a downtown art, theater, and dining district.
Eventually, PEACH Safe Food hopes to expand its store and design it after the look of New York-style vegetable and flower shops by taking over two apartments on the buildings main floor that front on First Avenue and Madison Street and spilling its products out the doors and onto the sidewalk, BrightSpirit says. Instead of carrying just food, personal, and household products, PEACH Safe Food would become a natural department store in that 7,000-square-foot space, expanding its offerings to include natural-fiber clothes, nontoxic paints, refurbished furniture, and other items, she says.
We need to go through one year of filling this space, though, before we bust into the west space, BrightSpirit says, standing in the cooperatives store.
Once PEACH Safe Food accomplishes that, it hopes to open branch stores in some of Spokanes other neighborhoods, including near Garland Avenue, on the South Hill, and in the Valley. PEACH is developing fact sheets that list the contents of conventional grocery productseverything from cereal bars to Windex. BrightSpirit admits that she occasionally succumbs to less-than-healthy food choices, but believes that as people know more about the sometimes-dangerous ingredients inside products they use and consume, theyll seek out organic, nontoxic options.
I eat cheese. I eat butter. I do have fast food once in awhile, she says. Its about being able to make choices based on education, though.
As shopping for organic and nontoxic products becomes more mainstream, as BrightSpirit expects it will, cooperatives like PEACH Safe Food will grow in popularity and ubiquity, she says.
People are joining (PEACH Safe Food) because they get the concept, she says. We want to make eating organic more accessible to people.
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