For the past four decades, the Isla Vista Food Cooperative (6575 Seville Rd., islavistafoodcoop.blogspot.com) has been an anchor of fresh and regionally sourced health food for the surrounding community. But that’s just what meets the eye when the sliding doors open, says General Manager Melissa Cohen, who’s worked at the 3,500-square-foot building in the heart of the college town for a dozen years. “The grocery store is the vehicle for the community work we do,” she explained.
From composting workshops to bilingual nutrition education for grade-schoolers, the store focuses on food security — that everybody should have access to healthy food. In that respect, the co-op’s Back to Basics initiative sells household staples priced just above wholesale. (Bargain-shoppers, I challenge you to find better deals on organic peanut butter.)
Membership isn’t required to enjoy the co-op’s bounty, which always includes seasonal fruits and vegetables from Santa Barbara farmers. Everybody can shop there, and anybody can be a member, reminds Cohen, the benefits of which include a discount at the register and the assurance that your membership money stays in Isla Vista, fully refundable whenever you opt out. Volunteers get discounts, too, mostly for stocking shelves and tabling at events.
The little grocery store in Isla Vista can also teach young people how to work in a real world of retail, accounting, and management. Plus, it’s a great place to learn more about what you eat.
“You can be a foodie without knowing a thing about where it comes from,” said Cohen. “We’re helping the next generation to really care about food.”