Nestled on an Eatonville side-street, just off the main thoroughfare of Washington Ave, sits a diminutive but charming icon of healthy living – the Mountain Community Co-op.
Established six years ago by Margaret Franich and a group of Eatonville friends hungry for healthy food, the co-op is open to the public and is operated by its 50 or so volunteers – all dedicated to providing natural and organic foods, and locally-made products, such as soaps, jewelry and knitted clothing.
In terms of foodstuffs, the co-op has a wide variety of produce, meats and dairy products available. Local cattle ranchers, such as Billy Ottaviani, provide grass-fed beef, while certified raw milk comes from an organic dairy in Tenino.
Fresh organic produce is available on a contract basis every-other Saturday, and unsold items can be purchased on the following Monday.
“It goes fast,” said Margaret. “Mondays are getting to be a very busy at the co-op.”
Also, Margaret said that expanding the co-op’s ability to keep produce crisp and fresh throughout the week, such as with walk-in coolers and covered outdoor stands, is a major priority for the cooperative.
“Our goal is to have what people want, like the produce, when they come to shop,” said Margaret, “but it takes money. We have a fundraising garage sale every Labor Day weekend that is very successful, and we were able to buy a Costco tent this year for the produce – so we’re getting there.”
The cooperative clearly sees that it needs to address its limited capacities, and that will take more than just money – or rather, it will take an expanded work force that can support an increase in sales that in turn will generate the monies needed.
“We need to double or triple our sales,” said Co-op Board President Frank Coombs, who comes from a career in food sales in Oregon. “We’ve got to get to the point where we can pay salaries. We need at least a paid, full-time manger, because we’ll need someone like that who can handle the increased size of the business.”
Coombs would also like to see the co-op open a second store in Graham.
“We’re being accepted by the community here in Eatonville, and I’d like to see us expand that sense of community by bringing our services to Graham – that’s my mission,” Coombs said.
The notion of building community is central to the principles of the Mountain Community Co-op, and is best illustrated by its motto adorning the organization’s signs, tee shirts and baseball caps: “Working Together.”
This theme of community also runs deep in the historical arc of how the co-op came into being – and how it found a home in Eatonville.
“The Mountain Community Co-op was born out of a vision I had of building a healthy world community,” said Margaret, “and that vision was developed by my living in an Eskimo village in Alaska for eight years.”
In her village, called “Mountain Village” by the residents, Margaret says she came to realize that the people there lived in a state of interdependence.
“Everybody could pretty much get what they needed from somebody right there in the village,” she said. “It was a different cultural dynamic than the one I knew growing up in Richland, (WA), and the one that most Americans live in, where we are dependent on outside sources for much of what we use.”
Over time, Margaret says she formed an idea of how to bring the lessons she learned in Mountain Village to a village by the Mountain.
“It was like an inner calling, to build community,” she said. “The idea took time to coalesce, and my overall vision is bigger than just a grocery store, but it’s where the idea for the co-op began.”
It also took a guy named Tony to propose marriage and bring Margaret back to Eatonville after her Alaskan adventure.
Nevertheless, Margaret’s vision calls for a large-scale complex of stores, craftspeople and community support services.
In addition, Margaret found Eatonville an ideal place to plant her ideals.
“Eatonville was a perfect place to build community,” she says.
In Eatonville, Margaret found plenty of kindred spirits along with the bounty of the surrounding agricultural lands.
She also sensed that Eatonville was ripe for a cultural change.
“Eatonville was at-risk of being overwhelmed by outside sources, such as large, corporate stores,” Margaret said.
She also knew that knew many people enjoyed the independent nature of Eatonville and would help to strengthen and expand it.
“The co-op is a base,” she says. “I can see us having artisans, such blacksmiths and metal sculptors, and a woodworking shop and furniture builders. We could have a community kitchen, where the hungry could eat, and we could have community canning kitchens where local farmers and gardeners could bring their produce and put up food in large quantities.”
Margaret has personal experiences with these types of communal cooking facilities.
“I remember as a kid going to Yakima with my family and picking asparagus all day in the fields. Then, we’d go to a central canning kitchen and put it up in jars. It was ten cents a jar, back then” she said laughing. “But, we could do that again, here.”
Margaret also sees the potential for the community complex to conduct job training, especially for those who have difficulties finding employment.
“We could have a second-hand store, where people who have disabilities of some kind – who can’t commute to Tacoma or have some other challenge – they could stay right here in town and help refurbish furniture or restore used clothing. It’s all about working together to help each other.”
Some of these ideas of interdependence are already seeping into the current activities of the co-op, as the Truly Scrumptious Bakery in Eatonville, most commonly known by its former name – the Ohop Bakery – now partners with the cooperative to bake organic breads.
“We take our organic flour and use the bakery’s kitchen to make some of our breads, which are then available on our “Produce Saturdays,” announced Margaret.
Another part of Margaret’s grand vision is to have community gardens and education programs that raise awareness of healthy living. In addition, she would like to see every school have a large garden where the students would learn how to raise nutritious food, and then they would cook it in the school’s kitchen and directly reap the benefits of their labor.
In addition, the co-op is sponsoring workshops a few times per month at the Eatonville Library on a variety of health issues, such as seed saving or the recent seminar on vitamin D.
The oft-discussed goal of having a farmer’s market in Eatonville is also on Margaret’s’ list.
“Farmers’ markets are tricky,” she said. “They need a lot of organization. You need to have enough farmers coming on a consistent basis to convince shoppers to come regularly. And you have to insure that enough shoppers will be there to convince the farmers to commit their time and produce.”
Margaret also stressed that farmers’ markets require a lot of infrastructure, such as protection from the elements, bathrooms, parking and eateries. She also indicated that the Eatonville Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Eatonville are at the forefront of establishing a farmer’s market this year or next.
“There are a lot of issues concerning a farmers’ market,” she added. “Public safety, liability, that kind of thing.”
As for those wishing to join the Mountain Community Co-op, Margaret extends an invitation to everyone. Membership requires a one-time $100 payment and a modest number of hours of volunteer labor, some of which can take place at home, such as accounting and correspondence work. As an added incentive, volunteers receive discounts on goods purchased at the co-op.
For more information, contact the co-op at firstname.lastname@example.org or call: (360) 832-2667.
© 2011 Bruce A. Smith
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