JACKSON, MI – A customer bought a grapefruit at Community Vibrations in downtown Jackson, despite thinking it cost a little more than expected.
That customer came back to Jackson’s new food co-op the next day and bought eight more.
“They came in the next day and were like ‘This is the best grapefruit that I’ve ever had in my life,’ said Andrea Erikson, Community Vibrations co-founder. “We’ve had some people come in three times already since we’ve been open.”
The food co-op at 229 S. Mechanic St. – the location of the original Consumers Energy building – opened to the public on Sept. 16, with a grand opening celebration coming Oct. 1. The community-owned store is completely run by volunteers and offers local organic products.
The theme “Farms to Forks” encapsulates the process local organic foods take, from nearby farms, to the store, to the dinner table.
The store is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Multiple products sold out the first week – including bacon, cabbage, sausages and brats.
There are nearly 100 owners at the co-op, after 20 to 30 more families stepped up since the store opened. To be an owner, families must pay $30 a year.
Owners who volunteer for a few hours a week can receive up to 20 percent off, while non-volunteering owners still receive a 5 percent discount.
While some owners volunteer to work the store, others will spend time teaching classes at the location. Erikson wants people to learn how to take five ingredients and make a meal in 30 minutes.
The path to downtown Jackson
Community Vibrations, founded by Erikson and her husband Zach Smith, outgrew four locations before moving to downtown Jackson.
They don’t get paid by the co-op. They work a farm in east Jackson and Smith works as a college professor.
“I realized there was a void in me finding food that I wanted to eat in Jackson,” Erikson said. “We didn’t expect it ever to get this big. We literally thought it was just going to be a thing in my garage that we could all access some food. And it just grew very, very quickly.”
After offering services online for the past year, Community Vibrations is transitioning – in hopes of reaching outside the niche community seeking organics. The co-op will accept SNAP and WIC programs.
Their biggest goal is education. Erikson has a master’s degree in clinical social work and wants people to know “you don’t have to be rich to eat well.”
Unlike cities like Ann Arbor and Lansing – which are trending toward offering more organic foods – Erikson said many people in the Jackson area don’t know how to utilize many of their ingredients to cook a meal.
“With the education part, (we want to answer) ‘Why is it important that food doesn’t have chemicals in it?’ ‘What does that do to you long term?'” Erikson said. “‘Why is one orange maybe better than the next?’ ‘How do you cook a carrot?'”
While grocery stores add wax to produce to make it last longer while leaving some food in storage for weeks, items at Community Vibrations only stay on the shelf for about two days. Before going bad, they’ll be repurposed into things like deli salads or sold for $1 a pound.
No food is thrown away. Any expired foods are shipped back to farms for compost or for the livestock. The cows currently feeding on pasture will eventually provide ground beef and various beef chops to the co-op.
“They always say ‘The way to a man’s heart is through their belly,'” Erikson said. “Maybe it’s the same with a community – the way to a community’s heart is through their belly. I think it’ll work.”