Fifteen years ago, a group of people formed the Yelm Food Co-op as a way to get organic and natural foods without having to drive to Olympia. They started in a strip mall and have since moved into a 3,000-square-foot building that has become a hit in the city.
On Wednesday, April 27, the co-op celebrated its anniversary by giving out birthday cake samples.
“We’ve just kept growing over the years,” Yelm Food Co-op’s Florence Vincent said. “Over COVID, we have become very popular and we’re very excited to celebrate 15 years.”
The health-oriented store was first manned by volunteers and now employs 19 staff members. Vincent started four months after the co-op began and has had a rewarding experience through the years.
The store began with just dry goods and no freezer capability, but was able to add additional refrigeration equipment to allow them to grow their selection after sales increased. They moved from the strip mall to be part of the Gordon Garden Complex.
“We fit a lot of products in here,” Vincent said. “We focus on organic. Our food has no GMOs, we have local-grown produce of vegetables, fruit and meat.”
The Yelm Food Co-op even gets some of its meat from regenerative farmers who produce bison and venison meat by working the land they own instead of using factory farms.
Its shelves sport local cheeses and dairy, plant-based cheeses, local coffees, organic cookies and bread from Olympia bakeries, an eclectic wine selection, and a variety of regular and plant-based ice cream. The store also has products from Germany to help bring a little taste of home to Yelm’s German population.
The co-op’s apothecary has a selection of vitamins and minerals you can’t find anywhere else in Yelm, Vincent said. The store also has different kinds of straws and utensils that are more environmentally-friendly as well as makeup products that are healthier to use and nail polish that doesn’t use damaging chemicals.
“We have been very careful in what we choose that goes on our store shelves,” Vincent said.
People can become “members” of the co-op for a lifetime price of $100, or $25 a year for four years. Members have access to discounts when they buy items in bulk.
When COVID-19 hit, the co-op became a key spot for people to shop local. Vincent said people liked the local aspect and the fact their store wasn’t as crowded as others. Sales have averaged $1.5 million annually over the past two years. Sales doubled in volume since the pandemic began, Vincent said.
“COVID amazed us with how people responded,” Vincent said. “Product flew off the shelves. We have people that just love us and we try to be very interactive and friendly as a staff. People will even bring in lists of products for us to order.”
As a buyer, Vincent does the purchasing of products and samples items from brokers and trade shows to decide if it would be a good fit for the store.
The Yelm Food Co-op honors military and EBT customers. The co-op is always looking for new members and volunteers. Volunteers also get a 20% discount for helping out.
“The discount is one of the reasons I started working here,” Vincent said. “It’s a co-op so it is owned by its members.”
She also added that you don’t need to be a member to shop in the store.
To learn more, go online to https://www.yelmfood.coop/.
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