Opting for an alternative

Abby Fisher

Shoppers choose organic foods and products

Nancy Winkler of Rootstown picks fresh avocados at the Kent Co-Op. She has been shopping at the Co-Op about once a week since the early ’70s. PHOTO COURTESY OF ABBY FISHER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

It smells like spring in the Kent Natural Foods Co-Op as fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables line every inch of the small market in downtown Kent.

The Co-Op began in the basement of the Unitarian Church in Kent in 1971. Since then, the Co-Op has grown and moved into its own building downtown on East Main Street.

Sheila Rombach has worked at the Co-Op for more than a year and said the market carries organically grown foods and products and tries to buy from local growers.

While anyone can shop at the Co-Op, frequent customers can purchase a lifetime membership which costs $45, but Rombach said that fee is refundable if members move out of the area.

“All of our members receive a 5 percent discount when they shop,” Rombach said.

Specialty items such as shampoos, cosmetics and even socks are available for purchase. Rombach added that anything the Co-Op doesn’t carry can easily be ordered.

“We do a lot of bulk ordering in herbs and oils,” she said. “We also help people find vitamins that aren’t widely available.”

For Rombach, choosing to eat and buy organic foods and products was an easy decision.

“I eat organic because it’s good for the planet, and it helps reduce pollution,” she said. “I also believe organic foods are better for your health.”

Rombach is wary of plants and consumer foods grown with the aid of chemicals.

“There hasn’t been enough testing on plants,” Rombach said. “There are a lot of genetically modified seeds and plants out there.”

Rombach added many pesticides used on plants can cause various skin conditions and problems.

A short list of problems caused by pesticides found by the Environmental Protection Agency includes eye and skin irritation and neurotoxicity, toxic damage to nerve tissues, as consequences for short-term exposure.

The EPA suggests washing fruits and vegetables under running water and peeling such foods to remove pesticide residue.

It takes a lot of work for an organically grown onion to end up at the Co-Op.

“Organic farms must be certified organic,” Rombach said. “It also takes longer for the manufacturer to grow organic products.”

Rombach added that organic farms are typically much more labor-intensive than conventional farms.

The conversion of a farm into an organic farm is a three-year process. Throughout the first two years, the soil builds up the fertility of the land. It is only in the third year that the farm can be certified fully organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This three-year process is partly accountable for the higher prices consumers see in organic foods and products.

“Organic foods are definitely more expensive,” Rombach said. “But the prices will continue to drop as demand increases.”

In the past five years, Rombach said the demand for organic foods has risen.

“Now, we see a lot more farms making the transition to organic,” she said.

On campus, Jim Razzante, associate director with Dining Services, said the university offers a limited amount of organic products.

“Most of the organic stuff can be found in the markets,” Razzante said.

The Cascadian Farm cereals as well as soups and frozen vegan burgers are just some of the foods students can purchase with their board plan.

“The Green Mountain Coffee is also another one,” Razzante said. “Though right now it is only served in Stewart and Prentice Caf‚.”

Razzante added certain items on campus must be in season, as Dining Services doesn’t force-ripen their fruit.

Though Razzante echoed Rombach in saying organic foods are more expensive, he stressed that Dining Services tries to absorb some of the cost and not pass the extra price on to students.

“Organic foods are more expensive because although there is a demand, it’s not huge – and foods have to be certified organic,” Razzante said.

However, since last semester, Razzante said the number of organic foods and products has increased across campus.

For students wishing to buy food at the Co-Op, Rombach encourages them to bring their own shopping bags.

“We do have canvas bags for sale, but a lot of times, people will just bring their extras in and everyone can share,” she said. “It really creates a nice atmosphere.”

Contact features correspondent Abby Fisher at [email protected].