“When we profit, the community profits—in terms of better and increasing wages for workers, fair prices paid to farmers and local vendors, contributions back to the community, and increased access to affordable, wholesome foods.”
— Lucy Georgeff, general manager
When it comes to sustainable and ethically sourced food, it’s become obvious that the hippies were right all along: Eating real, fresh, and local is just better, for your health, for the planet, and for your taste buds, too. This raises the distinct possibility that 1) personal and planetary health are very much connected, and 2) we have an innate sense of this truth that transcends theory. No fancy theories are needed to observe that the local berries, picked at perfection, are sweeter.
At the High Falls Food Co-op, this truth of interdependence rises to the next level as the center of the business model itself. “The co-op business model can be described as ‘the community’s profit,’” says general manager Lucy Georgeff. “We exist to serve the needs of our membership and the larger community, and when we profit, the community profits—in terms of better and increasing wages for workers, fair prices paid to farmers and local vendors, contributions back to the community, and increased access to affordable, wholesome foods.”
Other food co-ops have arisen in recent years, but High Falls has had its own since 1976, making it one of the oldest in the Northeast. The model of a democratically run community- owned grocery store traces its recorded roots to 1844, when the Rochdale Pioneers of England organized collective food buying, and was rediscovered in the US in the 1960s by anti-war and anti-poverty advocates.
“We offer a wide variety of grocery items, including affordable organic brands and locally-produced goods.” —Lucy Georgeff
“High Falls Food Co-op began as a buying club in the 1970s in order to make wholesome, organic foods more affordable to its consumer-owners,” says Lucy. “Over the years, as conventional grocery stores have introduced more local and organic foods into their inventory, food co-ops have responded by developing more strategic business operations—but all the while have remained true to their foundation.”
That foundation is solidly rooted in service to the common good, the local economy, and the membership. Bedrock founding principles, as vital as they’ve been through the ages, include self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equity, equality, and solidarity.
Offerings have expanded deliciously over the years: over 1,200 members and the general public can shop a full range of high-quality grocery items, including bulk, refrigerated, frozen, meats, cheeses, produce, and prepared foods. Local and organic products are prioritized as much as possible, as are cruelty-free and fair trade sourcing. There are monthly sales, members-only specials, and deals on fresh produce that are designed to get the food out the door and into kitchens. There’s also a wellness department that offers supplements, and health and beauty products.
“Our product selection is well-researched by our team of experienced managers, who will also special order products upon request,” says Lucy. “And it’s a warm, friendly shopping experience. We get all sorts: long-time members who have raised their families in the co-op, newer shoppers who may have just moved up from the city, people who just love the prepared foods, and others who regularly fill a grocery cart full of fresh, local produce. We offer a wide variety of grocery items, including affordable organic brands and locally-produced goods.”
The cooperative principles are as nourishing to the staff, members, and community as the food is to the body. “We exist to serve the community,” Lucy says, “and working alongside each other to provide what the community wants and needs is greatly rewarding. We function as a team and have fun working hard together, pitching in, and finding answers to customer questions. We share stories and joke around. We also get to share great food!”
During the pandemic, the Co-op temporarily suspended in-store shopping; curbside pickup is still offered, and Lucy says it’s about 7% of the business right now. Many customers prefer to enter, carefully masked and (at this writing) only five at a time, to spend just a couple of minutes among familiar folks and fabulous flavors. “As an essential business, we are committed to following all the state guidelines, from mask-wearing to social distancing to health screenings and disinfecting, and finding ways to provide our customers with the food they need.”
Beyond what you need, the Co-op wants to give you what you want. “We are launching a shopper survey to better understand what’s working well for us and how we might serve the community better,” says Lucy, “so stay tuned for more information. We’d love to hear from as many customers and members as possible. This will inform our future work.”
All that nourishing goodness, both physical and social, is ideally located right here in High Falls. Hit ‘em up on your way to your next Shawangunks or Catskills adventure; it’s a proud tradition around here—and sooooo tasty.
High Falls Food Co-op
1398 Route 213, High Falls