From the current issue of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:
FOOD CO-OPS WERE BORN IN HARD TIMES. They flourished during the Industrial Revolution, when workers lost their jobs to machines, as well as during the Great Depression and oil crisis of the ‘70s. The cooperatives also have led to a boom in organic foods, now the fastest growing sector of the grocery business.
Northern California has been home to some of the most famous co-ops, in Berkeley and Palo Alto, for example. One of the stalwarts is right in our backyard—the BriarPatch Co-op Community Market in Grass Valley.
This year The Patch is celebrating its 35th anniversary. It is experiencing profound growth as well, recording an 18% increase in sales from last year and a 9% growth in ownership.
“We have evolved from a members-only volunteer buying club to a true community hub and market,” says general manager Chris Maher. “Our focus is around organic and local foods.”
Last year, produce sales included 184 fruits, vegetables and flowers produced locally.
The Patch also has organic dairy products, organic and natural meats and poultry, an extensive selection of bulk foods and a full- service deli. Its mission statement: “Selling healthful, earth-friendly, affordable products.”
“Though we now have lots more products and shoppers, many of the same faces are still here: Shopping, working and volunteering,” says Maher.
BriarPatch is now in its fifth location, a 13,000-sq.-ft. store with certified “green” design. Its beginning included a storefront on Washington Street in Grass Valley and a store on Joerschke Drive in the Brunswick Basin.
The Patch has grown from 16 workers during the Joerschke “era” to 150 local workers. Its community fund has awarded $16,000 to local groups.
Thanks to its success, BriarPatch management also is being called upon for its expertise in helping to start a new co-op in Placerville and to expand one in Reno.
“Those who founded our co-op in 1976, and those of us who had the privilege of working in our previous store buildings, could have never imagined what BriarPatch has evolved to become,” says one longtime worker.
290 Sierra College Dr., Suite A, Grass Valley
Original BriarPatch store in 1976
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