Market Offers Sustainable Food Choices for Families

As the parent of a young child, Allyn Richardson says she considers food one of her most important purchases.  She appreciates the wholesome choices at Three Rivers Market in East Tennessee.  "With the selection available at the new location, we have no reason to shop anywhere else (other than farmer direct). They offer just about everything we need, and at a better price than we would get from shopping around."  Richardson's family not only shops the store, but invests in it, "And, as fair share members, we get a discount and have received rebate checks that paid for the shares many times over."

New Shopper Jessie Houston
and son

I met mom Jessie Houston on a weekday morning when we were both visiting Three Rivers Market with our preschoolers.  "I like it," she exclaimed, as her son clutched the box of cereal he had chosen.  This was her first visit, and while she was impressed with the overall store, Houston wasn't quite ready to grab a cart and fill her weekly shopping list.  More accustomed to conventional grocery store deals, Houston was candid about her first impression, "It has kind of higher prices than I'm used to paying."  Knoxville's Community Food Co-op has much value to offer shoppers like Houston.  But it's not always as obvious as some shelf prices at the mega-discount grocery stores.
Outreach and Marketing Director Katie Ries
Three Rivers Market

I posed this common parenting quandary to Outreach and Marketing Director Katie Ries.  We want to provide the best food possible, especially for our children, yet we don't know where our budgets can stretch.  Ries doesn't dispute that organic, fair trade or otherwise sustainably produced foods can cost more than conventional foods.  She suggests starting wherever your family is comfortable.   "We want everyone to eat well and healthily from a food system that is sustainable," explains Ries.  She suggests trying just certain organic fruits and vegetables that are more prone to carry pesticide loads when grown conventionally.  Or trying some of the local meats.  Or sampling the wide range of grains and nuts from the bulk foods section.  Ries says cooking a few basic meals and using seasonal, local foods even part of the time can benefit your family and your community. 
Members Eileen Kogen, Jerry Bone,
with Tovah Greenwood

I met  Eileen Kogen and Jerry Bone at the checkout line where they were catching up on conversation with employee Tovah Greenwood.  Kogen was buying items in bulk and is proud to be a Three Rivers co-op member, "We believe in the quality and purity of the ingredients and the mission of its cause."  Kogen says she'd rather pay a little more to have better quality food at home than spend even more eating out.

Anyone can shop at the Three Rivers Market.  But membership gives access to volume discounts and other special deals.  Members who've purchased enough shares, indicating ownership, can even receive rebates from store profits.  The store also accepts coupons.  On our visit, I purchased a jar of coconut oil that actually cost a little less than the same thing at another healthy grocery store. 

Even with the new store location expanding each department by about 30%, you won't find all of the conventional grocery store brands.  There's an intentional reason.  Quality standards and a commitment to local food mean you'll get the best possible price on a product that might be grown by your neighbor.  It's the long-range approach that's kept the co-op in business for nearly 30 years.

In one shopping trip, you can find beef raised at a nearby ranch, ice cream from a local dairy, whole-grain breads baked in town, and local vegetables in season.  Reis details, "Every dollar that you can spend on your local economy wherever you are kind of has a ripple effect and that's what we want to see.  I think that we help strengthen the market for sustainably produced produce and meat and ultimately what we want to see is that this is the norm and prices become more reasonable for everyone."

Richardson explains that responsible grocery shopping means more to her than just sticking to a budget.  "Sure we look for the best price, stock up when things are on sale, and buy in bulk as much as possible. But, mainly we consider food one of our most important purchases. You get what you pay for. Buying cheap food means corners were cut somewhere. We don't want to support agribusiness or factory farms. We support naturally grown local as much as possible, but will choose organic over conventional local because of our strong belief that supporting a local pollution source is not better. For us, teaching our kids these values is as important as good food."

An attractive, colorful labeling system helps shoppers navigate the aisles of the new store.  The definitions of "local" break down like this:
East Tennessee: 
Within 100 miles of Three Rivers Market and in Tennessee   
Within 275 miles of Three Rivers Market and/or in Tennessee
Within the Southern Appalachian Bioregion

Three Rivers Market Display explaining Local Shelf Tags

Why buy from bulk bins?
In college or otherwise too busy to cook?  What a healthy market has for your busy lifestyle!

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