Source Verified Chocolate

(originally appeared in the Gazette Times, May 2016)

Q: Why does the Co-op only carry source verified cocoa and chocolate products?

A: After a series of investigations revealed that many farms harvest cocoa using child labor or force workers into unsafe, inhumane conditions, First Alternative Co-op's Owners voted to stop carrying cocoa products from manufacturers who cannot guarantee that their cocoa originated from socially-responsible sources. This isn't limited to pure chocolate and cocoa, but also cookies, baking mixes, ice creams, and any other products containing cocoa and chocolate. The variety of chocolate, cocoa, and related products we have available is still incredible, and shoppers needn't worry about any ethical abuses in their manufacture. For a sample of just how good ethically sourced chocolate can be, stop into either store on Saturday, May 2nd, when Co-op staff are competing to see who can make the best chocolate-based dessert. Sample them all, then vote for your favorite!

Copywriting and Editing

First Alternative: Still Fresh After Fifty Years
(originally appeared in the Willamette Living Food & Wine Guide, Fall 2019)  

As the 20th century progressed, American diets changed, and not for the better. Fast food restaurants spread across the land, while in kitchens and at grocery stores, convenience became more important than nutrition. In response, grassroots movements began that emphasized the simple pleasures and nutritional benefits of cooking and eating fresh, whole ingredients.

The movement came to Corvallis in the late 60s. A small group of OSU students, with the help of faculty advisor and associate professor of botany William Denison—father to Tom Denison of Corvallis’ Denison Farms—set out to create a place for the natural foods they couldn’t find at other stores, particularly whole grains and bulk foods. Papers of incorporation for First Alternative Inc., as it was initially called, were filed in March 1970. Meanwhile, volunteers were scouting supplies and looking for a permanent home. It wouldn’t be just a grocery store. As Joanne Myers, one of the founders, said in the November 16, 1970 edition of the Corvallis Gazette Times, First Alternative would be "for people who are seeking an alternative to the society we live in today — an alternative based on cooperation, not competition."

First Alternative opened for business in a small house on NW 4th Street on Monday, November 23, 1970. The store was renovated, staffed, and stocked entirely by volunteers. Funding was piecemeal at first. Some charitable donations helped cover rent. Shoppers were asked to pay for a month’s groceries in advance, if they could. There wasn’t much to buy, either. Distributors weren’t interested in making deliveries to some tiny upstart. Instead, volunteers would hit the road in their own vehicles to purchase goods from around the valley and beyond.

First Alternative caught on quickly. The environment may have been funky, and there might not have been much to buy, but there was a sense of community and an exuberance that couldn’t be contained by that tiny little house. One offshoot of this exuberance was Grass Roots Books, founded in 1971 by Jack Wolcott and Mike Nesson, two of the Co-op's earliest volunteers who decided to take what they'd learned starting an alternatively-focused business and use it to open a bookstore with the same against the grain mentality.

Back at the Co-op, more space was needed, and in early 1972 it was found at a former burger joint on SE 3rd Street. Once again, volunteers set about renovating and expanding the new store, stocking products — still mostly bulk goods — and working the cash registers. Eco Alliance, a local non-profit organization operated by students at OSU opened a recycling center next door. Years later, when the Eco Alliance left, First Alternative took charge of the Recycling Center.

In 1974 managers became the Co‑op's first paid staff. While an all-volunteer staff had fostered connections between store and community, it also meant that on some days no one would show up for work and the store wouldn’t open.

The only produce sold in these early days came from overflowing local gardens, making for a spotty selection, sometimes literally. This changed in 1975 when community members started the Willamette Growers’ Association (WGA), and opened a small produce stand called Growers’ Market outside the store. After several successful years, the WGA switched focus to a new project: the Albany and Corvallis Farmers’ Markets. First Alternative integrated the produce stand into the store, becoming an every day option for fresh, local, organic produce.

Paid staff were added in the 80s to help ease scheduling and improve shoppers' experiences, and further remodels increased First Alternative’s selection and strengthened their position as a trusted, community-owned alternative to big box food chains.

In 1999, with the approval of its Board of Directors and a unanimous vote by members, the Co-op re-incorporated as a true cooperative. A massive expansion completed in 2001 doubled retail space, then in May of 2003 a second location opened at the corner of 29th Street and Grant Avenue, in what had previously been a Dari Mart, making the Co-op an easily accessible option for even more Corvallis residents.

First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op will be celebrating 50 years in business in 2020—and looking forward to 50 more—with special sales, parties, and promotions. Throughout the year they will be highlighting partnerships with local businesses with special co-branded commemorative products. Keep an eye on their website, firstalt.coop, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with @firstaltcoop for all the details. Everyone is welcome to shop at the Co-op, and everyone is welcome to become an Owner. There’s never a bad time to join the 10,000 and counting people who are part of the Co-op community and become an investor in a successful, longstanding business dedicated to good food, great people, and a sustainable world.

Sun's Out, Fun’s Out

(originally appeared on the @firstaltcoop Instagram account, April 2017)

Sun's out! Don't let it take you by surprise. Keep protection on hand (and everywhere else that's gonna get lots of sun exposure) with @badgerbalm Sunscreens. We've got a huge selection in both our stores. Stop in, stock up, and then head outdoors.

Gathering Together Farms Tomatoes at the Co-op

(or iginally appeared on the First Alternative Instagram account, August 2017)

Maybe you missed the market, but that doesn't mean you missed the produce. We just picked up more fresh, local, organic heirloom tomatoes from the good folks at @gatheringtogetherfarm who took a break from tearing down their booth to help us load up. Come get 'em at the Co-op! #firstaltcoop

To Your Health: The Beauty of Buying in Bulk

(originally appeared in Gazette Times & Democrat Herald, June 2016)

For many, the phrase “buying in bulk” conjures images of paying less, but also of getting too much—barrels of yogurt, buckets of bran flakes, trunks full of flour. It’s disappointing when you need just a dollop of mayonnaise and what’s on sale is a five-gallon jug. At First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op, you will find a better sort of bulk. Here, buying from our extensive bulk selection means getting only what you need. Maybe that's fifty pounds of organic garbanzo beans, but maybe it's just one-half cup. Either way, we're glad to help. At First Alternative buying in bulk is about health—your health and the health of your home, our planet.

There is also an immediate benefit to buying in bulk and getting just what you need when you need it: saving money. We have just about everything you could need in the Co-op’s bulk section, from spices, grains, and coffee, to condiments, eggs, candies, and cooking oils. You can buy just a couple of bay leaves or a single stick of cinnamon and the cost will be far less than a pre-packaged container of either. If you’re trying a new recipe that calls for a tablespoon of an exotic spice that you’re unsure you’ll ever use again, that’s all you need to buy. This allows you to experiment with your food choices, and keeps your pantry free of things you simply aren’t going to eat.

Long term, buying in bulk cuts down significantly on packaging and food waste. Every container you reuse is one more kept from the landfill (or, very possibly, the ocean). Almost a third of our country's municipal solid waste—around 80 million tons—comes from packaging and containers. It’s not just containers, though. According to the EPA, more than 37 million tons of food were thrown away in 2013 alone. If we all work to create less waste it will mean fewer trucks on the road, less wasted fuel, and fewer pollutants in our air, ground, and water. The Co-op’s produce section offers an almost entirely organic seasonal rotation of fresh, nutritious bulk choices, many of them grown locally. Pay by the pound for apples, oranges, spinach, salad greens, and much more.

Conventional pre-bagged salad mixes are often processed—torn into small pieces, cleaned, and packaged—by machines. This consumes an outsized amount of water and fossil fuels, resources we need to better manage for the long-term health of our planet. The pre-washed greens in these mixes deteriorate rapidly, and the mechanical cutting methods introduce a potential for contamination. Sealing moist greens (and other produce) away in bags then shipping them across the country also provides an environment conducive to bacterial proliferation. With Co-op produce you have the assurance of knowing you're getting a fresh, cared-for product that has been grown right down the road. Maybe you even know the farmer.

Freshness really matters. Our produce sells fast, meaning we're constantly rotating in fresh stock still rich in the nutrients and antioxidants that dissipate over time. Fresh food tastes better, too. For parents trying to instill healthful eating habits in their children this can make all the difference. Our wellness section has a wide variety of bulk body-care products, whatever you may need to maintain healthy hair and skin. If you can't find something that's just right, we have all the ingredients you'll need to make it yourself, like coconut, jojoba, and almond oils, an incredible selection of naturally-scented essential oils, and all sorts of containers and dispensers. We even have a great selection of bulk cleaning products. Why clean your corner of the world only to dirty another with discarded soap containers and detergent boxes? Bring a container from home and refill it again and again.

Now that you know why to buy bulk, let's cover how: At First Alternative Co-op we make bulk shopping easy. Wherever bulk products are offered, you will find ready-to-use containers, either new or donated by customers. If you have clean, reusable containers with matched lids that you’re not using, drop them off in our collection bins. We sanitize them and put them out for other customers. This sort of direct reuse is even better than municipal recycling. In addition to the wealth of free containers, we have specialty ones available for purchase, things like honey bears, glass syrup bottles, and colorful spice jars. Find the containers that are right for you, or bring your favorites from home.

First, you’ll need to get a tare weight. That's the weight of the container in which you will be putting your purchase. We don't want you paying for that! Place the empty container on one of our many scales, making note of the weight. Write the weight on the container or on a piece of tape attached to it (don’t worry, we provide the tape and the pens). This weight will be subtracted at the register. Now put however much of the product you need in the container. It doesn’t have to be empty, either. If you have a container that’s half-full of cooking oil but still need more just take the tare weight and fill it the rest of the way. You'll only get charged for what you added.

Of course to ring up your purchase we'll need to know what it is. Every bulk item is assigned a short number that we call a PLU. The PLUs are clearly displayed on all bulk products, along with the product name and price. Just write the PLU next to the tare weight on your container and our cashiers will know exactly what to do. That’s all there is to it. With by-the-pound produce, the PLU number isn’t really necessary. Our cashiers are experts in identifying produce, and many things, like potatoes or corn, don’t necessarily need bags or containers. Of course, if you do want to record the PLUs of your produce it doesn’t hurt, and may speed things along at the register.

Bulk purchasing is powerful. It provides consumers with more options and healthier foods at lower prices. It helps communities reduce their waste and cut costs. It's an important step in pulling the earth—our only home—away from the brink of environmental catastrophe. Not just for our health, but for the health of the world, and the future, let’s all buy in bulk.

Hair Today Hair Tomorrow

(originally appeared in the First Alternative Thymes, September 2016)

Feel good about looking good, with John Masters Organics hair care products, new to the Co-op. For over 20 years, John Masters has been creating luxury beauty products that recognize and strive to preserve the beauty of our planet while they make you look your best. Sustainably produced with certified organic ingredients and never tested on animals, these products are top of the line. And they’ll be on sale all through September at the Co-op. It’s the perfect opportunity to try them out for yourself.

OSU Master Gardeners Now Accepting Applications

(originally appeared on the First Alternative Facebook page, September 2017)

Join a network of horticultural enthusiasts and give back to your community through gardening. Applications are being accepted for the 2018 Linn-Benton Master Gardener program until December 1st. The 2018 classes will run every Thursday from Jan. 25th - Mar. 22nd from 8:30am-4pm. Visit their website for all the details!

The Co-op and Sustainability Coalition at Fall Fest

(originally appeared on the First Alternative Facebook page, September 2017)

It's beginning to look (and feel) a lot like fall around these parts, which means the annual Corvallis Fall Fest is right around the corner! Join the Co-op at this 45th anniversary edition of one of the community's biggest get-togethers. We'll be on Monroe Ave., serving non-dairy frozen desserts with the help of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition. This may be the last time we can (comfortably) eat ice cream outdoors this year. Let's do it!

Grab & Go

(originally appeared on the First Alternative Twitter account, April 2018)

It's a Grab & Go sort of day, so why not stop into @firstaltcoop on your way home tonight and pick one of our heat-and-eat entrees or sides?

Winter Wine Soirée Source Verified Chocolate First Alternative: Still Fresh After Fifty Years Gathering Together Farms Tomatoes at the Co-op Sun's Out Fun's Out To Your Health: The Beauty of Buying Bulk Hair Today Hair Tomorrow First Alternative and the Sustainability Coalition at Fall Fest OSU Master Gardeners Accepting Applications Grab & Go A Cooperative Christmas Poem

Click any of the titles below to jump to the writing sample

PRESS RELEASE: First Alternative Co-op Winter Wine Soirée 2019

Contact: Adam Payson, Communications Specialist

Email: adam@firstalt.coop

Phone: 541.753-3115 x321

Corvallis, Ore (February 2019) - First Alternative Co-op wants to invite Corvallis residents to a night on the town at their annual Winter Wine Soirée, taking place Friday, February 15 from 5:30-10pm at the Vue Corvallis.

This is an opportunity to enjoy Oregon wines from a dozen local wine makers, fresh-made hors d’oeuvres, cheeses, chocolate, and the best view in Corvallis. A ticket buys entrance to the event, a commemorative tasting glass, and 4 tasting tickets, with more available for purchase at the event.

The Co-op understands that a healthy community begins with healthy people. That's why we are proud to donate five dollars from every ticket sold to the Samaritan Health Services Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehab Fund. This program provides people with the support to recover from heart and pulmonary events, as well as the knowledge and culture to improve their overall lifestyle. This year, all proceeds from a new benefit silent auction featuring unique bottles from local wine makers will also be donated to the Pulmonary Rehab Fund.

Wine makers in attendance will include Foris Vineyards, Airlie Winery, Cardwell Hill, Fractal Cellars, Territorial Vineyards and more. Join us in raising a glass to the recovered, recovering, and all of those helping them along the way at the Winter Wine Soirée.

Ticket price is $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Capacity is limited so purchase tickets today, available at both Co-op locations and online at firstalt.coop.

A Cooperative Christmas Poem

(originally appeared in the First Alternative Thymes, December 2015)

T’was an eve' in December and all through the store,

our stockers were stocking the merry sales floor.

Fair trade woolens were displayed with great care,

knowing that smart shoppers soon would be there.

As bundled-up children pushed tiny carts,

visions of the dinner warmed parents’ hearts.

In Produce and Grocery, in Deli and Bulk,

the store was all ready for the all the festive folk.

When out in the parking lot there arose such a clatter,

we ran down the aisles to see what was the matter.

Toward Customer Service we flew in great haste,

to look out the window where special orders are placed.

The moon on the lot and the new fallen snow,

gave the luster of midday to an incredible show.

A conveyance of which we’d never seen the likes;

a candy cane Tesla drawn by eight reindeer on bikes!

With a little old driver, so lively and vocal,

we know in a moment it must be our beloved St. Local.

More rapid than the Willamette, her bikers they came,

as she whistled, shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Kale, now Chard, now Ginger and Green Beans!

On Spinach! On Radish! On Celery and Beet Greens!

To the roof of the building, the top of the Co-op!

I’ll make a grand entrance, then I'll go for a shop!”

As dry leaves before the the valley winds fly,

meeting an obstacle and mounting the sky.

So up to the store-top the reindeer they sped,

with St. Local and her cool electro-pedal sled.

And then, in a twinkling, we heard on the roof,

the unmounting of bikes and the stamping of hoof.

We drew our heads with shock right around,

as down a chimney St. Local came with a bound.

She was dressed all in tie-dye from her head to her foot;

and her clothes they were covered in bits of beet root.

A fur-lined tote bag hung empty at her side,

as she looked at our products, beaming with pride.

Her eyes how they twinkled, her dimples how merry!

Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like an organic cherry!

Her droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

her braided lower-back length ponytail white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe held tight in her teeth,

told politely “no smoking on Co-op property,” she returned it to its sheath.

She had a kindly sort of face and was really quite fit,

to the healthful, active life, she quite clearly did commit.

With the humble care you'd expect of a St. Local,

she made a Giving Tree donation, just saying “Some folk'll.”

I say, “Whatever you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to ask it.

Here you go, my coworker's brought you a basket.”

She said "thanks" and went straight to the shopping,

getting all sorts of fresh, local, organic goods 'fore stopping.

At the checkout, after revealing she was a Co-op Owner,

St. Local ran up the Wellness aisle, saying "I forgot toner!"

After checkout, reusable bags and boxes packed up,

she grabbed her Beans for Bags tokens from the register cup.

then, donations made, back up the chimney she flew

leaving us to wonder, "we have a chimney, who knew?"

She sprang to her sleigh, her team ready and hopping,

they took to the air to continue their local holiday shopping.

But we heard her exclaim 'ere she flew from our sight,

"It's the cooperative spirit that helps us take flight!"

From Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, from Hanukkah to Yule,

from Kwanzaa to Saturnalia and St. Lucia Day too,

Whatever you celebrate, whoever you are, whatever you do

at First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op, we welcome you!