Co-op offers more than most stores

The Topeka Natural Food Co-op offers a wide selection of locally-grown produce and fresh breads. The co-op has been open since 1975

Tess Wilson / Washburn Review

One of Topeka’s best-kept secrets has been kept too well for too long. The Topeka Natural Food Co-op at 503 SW Washburn Ave. is a veritable cornucopia of locally-grown produce and freshly-baked bread, specialty foods, baking needs and much more.

Since 1975, the co-op has been providing the Topeka community with wholesome, natural foods and an environment that encourages social responsibility, sustainability and general well-being. 2013 will mark the co-op’s ninth year at its Washburn Avenue location. Conveniently located and offering everything from apple pie to zucchini, it is truly a one-stop shop for any Topekan. Its cozy, friendly atmosphere makes it a vital and unique part of the community.

“It’s not like any other store in Topeka,” said Jensen Moore, Washburn sophomore and employee since 2010. “It’s not generic.”

Two features in particular make the co-op unlike most stores in the area. Despite its modest size, the co-op offers a large bulk section, where customers can measure out grains, beans and mixes from convenient bins that take up most of one wall of the store. An impressive array of spices takes up the rest of the wall and customers are encouraged to bring their own spice jars to fill.

The co-op also features a wide selection of foods and supplements that cater to those with dietary concerns or those who simply feel like a making a healthy change.

“It’s a great place for those who are trying to make more healthy decisions, and we have numerous products for those who have restrictions,” said Moore.

Another reason customers are so loyal and passionate about the co-op is a strong emphasis on community involvement. Rachael Savage, marketing administrator and community networking coordinator, strongly believes in maintaining a “Community Education Initiative.” The latest installment of this initiative will be a free class on Oct. 13, taught by local author and activist Marjorie Van Buren. The class, called “Food Labeling and the Content Behind It,” will force consumers to face the facts and fictions behind the labels on their food.

“We’re really encouraging people to take the class, not only because it’s free, but because there are so many misleading labels on foods,” said Savage. “It’s good information for the community to have.”

Classes at the co-op are held monthly, and cover a wide range of topics. Later this month, Co-op member Jessica Reed will be teaching a class that will explore the basics of veganism and, in November, member Barbara Smith will teach a baking class focusing on the making and storing of pre-made mixes. Co-op classes are a good place to learn from other members of the Topeka community.

People are not only encouraged to sign up for these affordable classes, but also to contribute to the community by teaching their own classes. “We’re always happy to have someone teach the community their craft or skill,” said Savage.

The co-op also hosts weekly “Veggie Nights,” during which local farmers bring fresh produce to distribute among grateful customers. Although the event is one that people sign up for in the spring, it will be taking place every Friday until November, and there are often some leftovers for the curious customer.

Conveniently located and community-minded, the Topeka Natural Food Co-op is truly a treasure for the Topeka community. Co-op membership is by no means required, but always encouraged. More information about co-op classes, products and membership is available on their Facebook page or at (785) 235-2309.