You say you’ve found an interesting recipe, and the recipe calls for a spice you don’t have in your kitchen, and you don’t want to buy a whole jar of the stuff because the recipe calls for only a teaspoon?
The bulk foods section of the Davis Food Co-op probably has that spice, and sells such items in quantities as small as a tenth of an ounce.
You say you’ve got a recipe that calls for an exotic variety of rice you’ve never heard of? The Davis Food Co-op carries upwards of 28 different varieties, including many that are grown in the Sacramento Valley.
You say you’ve got a relative coming to town who eats a special diet, and you need gluten-free bread, rice-based pasta and other related items? You say you’re looking for organic produce, grown close to home? Local honey?
Bingo, bingo, bingo. You can find them at — yeah, you guessed it — the Davis Food Co-op.
The Co-op is, by now, a large and venerable institution, with a loyal customer base of some 11,000 local households, and a well-stocked store at 620 G St. that is open for business seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
But as they say, mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and the robust Co-op that you see today originated as a modest project back in the early 1970s.
“We started the Davis Food Co-op as the People’s Food Conspiracy in 1972 — in my living room at the corner of Fifth and F streets,” recalls Ann Evans, one of the Co-op’s co-founders. The organization began as what is called a “buying club,” in which a group of like-minded individuals band together to get a lower price on something they all want by buying in bulk, at a discount — like cheese.
“I literally called 40 friends to put in an order and get started,” Evans recalled.
At the time, “we were faced with the very practical problem that there was almost no place in Davis to buy organic foods, or unprocessed foods, such as grains and seeds in bulk,” Evans recalled.
The buying club initially was an all-volunteer venture. As interest in the project grew, and more than 300 households got involved, the group eventually decided to open a store, and then expand that store. The buying club eventually incorporated as a cooperative.
The Davis Food Co-op store that exists today continues to carry a host of local products — local being defined as “within 100 miles,” as marketing and education director Julie Cross explained.
“We work with some 600 local vendors, and we stock over 3,800 local products,” she added — though the number of local products in the store on any given day fluctuates according to the season.
The list of local vendors includes Pepper Peddler Coffee, which roasts fair-trade organic beans in bicycle-powered roasters. The coffee is also delivered by bicycle.
There’s also Yolo Press Olive Oil, a small Winters-based business that releases limited quantities of award-winning oil. “We run out every spring,” Cross said with a sigh.
And then there are the exotic seasonal items in the produce department.
“Fiddlehead ferns, juniper berries … we have a produce buyer who is very adventurous,” Cross said. The Davis Food Co-op is also a sponsor of the Davis Farmers Market, and purchases a goodly amount of produce from growers who have booths there.
The Co-op carries both conventional and organic foods — “our purchasing decisions are very much driven by what our members want to buy,” Cross said. “We do a lot of education on consumer issues and food safety and food choices, but we do not presume to make decisions for members about what they want to buy.”
(In other words, it is possible nowadays to purchase Coca-Cola at the Davis Food Co-op — Coke being an item that the Co-op did not carry during the organization’s early years.)
You don’t have to be a member to shop at the Co-op — but membership is inexpensive ($15), and nonmembers pay a 5 percent surcharge under most circumstances. So it is generally cheaper to become a member if you shop at the Co-op regularly.
Education and outreach are also central to the Co-op mission. There are many cooking classes — the Co-op has a Teaching Kitchen, across the street from the store. Classes this summer include courses on grilling various kinds of food (veggies, meat, etc.), courses devoted to salad dressings and camp food and Indian drinks, cooking with a solar oven, canning food at home, and more.
“We also have an outreach to college students,” Cross said. “We have a regular column in The Davis Enterprise, and we provide valuable assistance for people who are learning how to plan menus.” Cross prepares a handy handout called “Twelve for $40,” which features six dinner menus for two people, providing recipes and a shopping list with ingredients.
“Planning is everything in sticking to a food budget, and we aim to help you with six days’ worth of menus, which should feed two adults dinner six nights a week for around $40,” Cross explained. “These menus assume you already have some cooking skills, and own a basic reference cookbook.”