Jewifying our local co-op

I love many things about living in the Pioneer Valley, not the least of which is the number of people who share my values. In most homes I visit in Northampton I can ask “where do put your compost”, rather than “do you compost” (or, “have you ever heard of compost?”); or “what did you grow in your garden”, rather than, “have you ever tried to garden?” It seems like almost everyone has at least thought about having backyard chickens. We are lucky to be surrounded by farmland, and to have a community that actively supports preserving our farms, rather than turning them into stores and homes. And we have a beautiful, green, friendly food co-op.

While there are many Jewish member-owners, and several Jewish board members, the Co-op has not done a great job of reaching out to the Jewish community. While they do seem to try, they’ve made quite a few missteps along they way. There was the time they tried carrying kosher poultry, and stocked their freezer with Rubashkins. When I approached the meat department to explain why Rubashkins was not a good match for the values of our market, the manager told me “all the kosher poultry is the same.”  Then there was the time they hosted the kosher wine tasting. On shabbat. And it took almost a year of comment cards (mine) before they started stocking challah. Which costs 6.99 a loaf.

On the evening before Rosh Hashanah of this year, at the peak of New England apple harvest, I entered the store, hoping to see some display that acknowledged the holiday. Disappointed to find nothing, I emailed the general manager and suggested that many Jewish families would appreciate seeing their holidays reflected among the many, many seasonal displays and sales at the store. She thanked me for my email and asked if they could contact me for suggestions in the future.

Last week, I received the following email:

Hi Amy,


In September you offered to give us some tips on good things to do to
recognize important dates in the Jewish calendar of holidays. Do you
have suggestions to offer related to Hanukkah? 
I’m all ears!


I’m not much of a shopper, and certainly not much of a retail expert. I want to give suggestions that will actually convince them that it’s not only nice, but  good business practice, to reach out to the Jewish community. So, here’s my reply. Anyone have any other suggestions I can send her way?

Hi Betsy-


Thanks for asking! Here are some holidays ideas that would be relevant to
natural foods retail –

There is a tradition to give coins on chanukah and many people give
chocolate coins also called “gelt”. Divine chocolate makes a really nice
fair trade gelt that I would display prominently. (Last year it was in
the store, but hard to find.)

The miracle of chanukah hinges on the idea that the olive oil in the Holy Temple burned for 8 days instead of one. It might be nice
to suggest olive oil as a chanukah gift and make a display of good quality olive oils.
 This is a fair trade olive oil made by an Israeli Palestinian
cooperative that might be very cool to stock:


Lastly, potato (lat
kes), usually served with applesauce and sour cream
 are a traditional food for the holiday. Local potatoes and onions would be an obvious item to highlight. I think the cafe has made latkes in the past.

Hope this helps,


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posted November 14, 2010 at 8:46 pm

I am grateful to you for getting them to stock the challah, for while it’s incredibly expensive, it’s also actually really good — and the loaves are huge, so I don’t mind paying extra for them (maybe not that much extra…).
Also, while I agree that the co-op has made some missteps, at least they didn’t try to push hamantashen on us during Pesach. Like Stop & Shop did. Or put matzo out for Pesach that wasn’t actually kosher for Passover. Just saying.

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posted November 15, 2010 at 7:05 am

let’s try to get them to do something lovely for real for sukkot next year, since the eco-harvest holiday is especially matched for the coop’s values. shavuot harvest too.
and thank you Amy – after just spending two glorious weeks in israel, i’d say the hardest personal part was the lack of composting and limited recycling in a land where it would seem a no-brainer given shortage of resources.

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Jennifer in MamaLand

posted November 15, 2010 at 10:02 am

Good for you. Not specifically co-op related, but I love when small-town groceries try to create a “Jew” section by throwing a whole bunch of Lieber’s gummy bears and chocolate on the shelf with some matzah. Yup, that’s what we Jews eat… candy, and matzah!

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Sarah Buttenwieser

posted November 15, 2010 at 1:19 pm

i’d get that gelt.
jew it up, sure.
& i love the backyard chicken line; it’ll be a go-to description of our town for me from now on!

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