Organic, sustainable foods take center stage at new Manitou Springs grocery co-op

May 2, 2014 Updated: May 2, 2014 at 6:17 pm
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Luke Cissell unloads products at the Local First Grocer on Canon Avenue in Manitou Springs Friday, May 2, 2014, in preparation for the store's grand opening Saturday. The new cooperative will emphasis local produce and products.(The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Manitou Springs residents who want to buy an apple, lettuce or package of chicken won't have to drive to Colorado Springs to get it when a new, full-line grocery cooperative with an emphasis on organic, sustainable foods opens at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Local First Grocer, 116 Canon Ave., will be the first grocery retailer in Manitou Springs since Mate Factor closed a limited grocery operation last year, though Tubby's Turn Around has operated as a convenience store in downtown Manitou for more than a decade.

"This will be a real convenience and great service to both the residents of Manitou and guests staying here, particularly those who rely on public transportation since it is only a block off Manitou Avenue," said Leslie Lewis, executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce.

The store is the brainchild of Elise Rothman, a mental health care consultant who began working on Local First Grocer 1 1/2 years ago so Manitou residents wouldn't have to drive to supermarkets in Colorado Springs - part of a bigger plan to reduce the town's carbon emissions 30 percent by 2020.

After meeting a member of The Second Kitchen food-buying cooperative in Boulder, she converted the operation from a for-profit business to a cooperative model after 40 people attended a meeting in November and said they wanted to join.

"One of the people at the meeting said Manitou has been waiting for this," Rothman said. "Since that meeting, we had 70 people at our second meeting and 150 at our third meeting, so there has been a lot of interest."

More than 100 people have joined the cooperative by paying $100 to buy in and another $50 in first-year dues. Local First Grocer also raised nearly $22,000 from 284 donors in a Kickstarter campaign, the online crowdfunding platform, Rothman said. In addition, the cooperative received a $1,000 low-interest loan and $4,000 line of credit through a Denver affiliate of the Slow Money Alliance, which makes investments in small food enterprises across the nation.

The co-op's focus is on organic and sustainable produce, meats and other grocery items produced as locally as possible, Rothman said. Every item in the store will have a label that includes not only the price, but also where it was grown, raised or made, and the carbon emissions needed to grow, raise and transport it to Manitou Springs, she said. A blackboard at the back of the store will rank food by nutritional value.

"Everything in our store will be both ecologically sustainable and ethically sound," Rothman said. "That is a big component of what we are doing. We will have deodorant and soap from Manitou Springs and organic ketchup and pickles from Denver. We want to make organic food affordable."

Rothman said Local First Grocer also plans to operate a farmer's stand on weekends at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church across Canon Avenue, where people will be able to take delivery of milk and food bought through the Cow Shares and Community Supported Agriculture programs.

The shop also will have an educational mission with several displays to teach children and teens about where food comes from. The operation features an area where children 4- to 8-years old can grow their own fruits and vegetables, Rothman said.

The store also will include a board and iPad where cooperative members can post services such as babysitting and household cleaning that they want to exchange for services offered by other members, she said.


Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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