Ron Pryhoroki of Milton-Freewater takes a volunteer shift at the Daily Market Cooperative, 508 E. Main St., founded by Whitman College students and community members.
Bunches of cold red beets lie beside fresh carrots and kale in the fridge, while colorful bins of apples take a position of rosy prominence on the front table. One shelf is laden with the delicious weight of pumpkins and squashes; another offers a rich row of fresh honey. Elsewhere are all manner of groceries: pasta and rice, milk and meat, yogurt and granola, canned food, couscous and corn chips, coffee and chocolate, spices and soups.
Walking into the Daily Market Cooperative, one hardly notices the pair behind the counter. Inconspicuous but indispensable, they are what really nourishes this place. The Daily Market, Walla Walla’s only food cooperative, is staffed and managed entirely by volunteers. Despite having no paid staff, the co-op is open Tuesday through Friday afternoons every week.
Founded by Whitman students and community members, the co-op received a start-up grant of $35,000 from the Associated Students of Whitman College in 2004. After additional fundraising, the co-op opened in 2006 as a buying club that only supported bulk orders. Later that year, volunteers had raised enough money to realize their original dream – “to have a store in which anybody who chose to get involved could participate in the decision making in what kinds of products it would carry – organic, fair trade, local foods, natural foods,” said Matt Eppelsheimer ’05, the original co-op board president.
Walla Walla may be a small town, but these are no small choices, contend the co-op’s supporters.
“I believe being more conscientious about our food choices is one of the most important things we can do to support our own health, environmental regeneration, local economies, and social justice,” said Lina Menard ’05, Whitman’s community service coordinator. Menard, former chair of the co-op’s outreach committee and former board member, both volunteers and shops at the co-op.
And it need not be a financial sacrifice to shop here, said Darby le Clair, a co-op board member and the in-store and local vendor buyer. “There is a stigma that co-ops are more expensive than regular grocery stores,” le Clair said. “That isn’t always true.”
“In fact, we’re already beating everyone on price, on average, on local and organic foods.” Eppelshiemer said. And the new bulk food section, which will be added in late November, will also give the co-op an edge. “It will all be certified organic and much cheaper than other certified organic bulk. Our goal is to make this kind of eating more affordable,” he said.
To make inexpensive local cooking more accessible to customers, the co-op has launched a new program called “Two Dinners a Week.” Each week, customers can pick up free recipes for two complete meals entirely based on local ingredients available there. The November menu features meals centered around winter produce, including a curried squash and apple soup and a hearty root bake which recommends a combination of rutabagas, betters, carrots, parsnips, and winter squash.
For Menard and Eppelsheimer, the co-op has been more than a means to build a menu: it’s been a way to build community. These two Whitman alumni were heavily involved with the original co-op group as Whitman seniors, but developed such a powerful commitment to the store that they stayed on in Walla Walla far beyond their four years at Whitman.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the co-op,” said Eppelsheimer, who continues to serve as treasurer and board member nearly five years after receiving the grant. Eppelsheimer, who after graduation was initially skeptical about living in Walla Walla, now not only finds it a great place to live but has become deeply invested in the town’s welfare.
“For me, it’s all about the local economy. It makes sense for us to be supporting our small farms because it all comes back to all of us when we do that. It will make Walla Walla a more resilient place and less dependent on faraway places,” he said.
Menard, who lists the co-op as one of her “top five reasons” for staying here after graduation, never thought opportunity lacked in this vibrant, close-knit town. In Walla Walla, “I'd have the ability, even as a recent college graduate, to be involved with community projects that I would probably need a great deal more experience to be involved with in a bigger city like Seattle,” she said.
Hannah Daly ’11, a volunteer, is also struck by the opportunities at the co-op. Few other places in Walla Walla offer as many local products – such as Welcome Table Farm produce, especially in the winter. At the co-op, “you can still get these local products even when the farmer’s market is closed,” she said.
Daly is also drawn to the opportunity of creating a personal bond through food. She remembers meeting Susan Hostika, the woman behind Octopus Honey. “It’s just really great to see a face connected with a product,” she said.
Both Daly and Menard voice a desire that the market might become a meeting place, a “community center of sorts where we can run into other foodie friends,” Menard said. To accomplish this goal, the co-op is committed to moving into a larger space within a year. “Ideally we'd like to be at 1,500 square feet, have a full product line and regular store hours,” said Walla Walla resident Emily Dietzman, a local farmer and vendor who is also the co-op’s current board president.
In the meantime, Daly hopes other students will get involved in the small but energetic entity on Main Street – whether by shopping, volunteering, or attending one of the monthly potlucks to “break bread with people who are passionate about the co-op,”
“Some students wonder how they can get involved outside Whitman, and I think this is a great link between the campus and the community, Daly said.”
The co-op, located in a single room in the house at 508 E Main St., is open from noon-7 p.m. Tuesday; 1-6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; and 1-5p.m. Friday. For more information, and to access the pre-order catalog, visit the co-op online at http://www.dailymarket.coop/index.html, or call 509-529-7348.
— Eleanor Ellis ’13