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Posted: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 9:00 pm

Finally, a "green" grocery store is coming to downtown Spokane. When Main Market Co-op opens this fall, students can find fresh local food every day, year-round.

The co-op will be located in the Goodyear Tire building at 44 W. Main. Led by project coordinator Jennifer Hall, Main Market Co-op will be open to the public in October.

Students should take advantage of this opportunity, says Fr. Mike Woods, S.J. As a member of Main Market's board of directors, Woods recognizes the similarities between cooperatives and Jesuit values.

"Eating is a moral act," he said. "You're not just supporting a local grocery store."

The co-op will educate members and customers about sustainable farming practices and bring awareness to sustainable farms in the area, Woods said. When food is drawn from local and regional populations, the money stays within the community, he said.

Main Market will educate the community about "our region's ability to feed ourselves," Hall said. Programs like "In the Field," a series of quarterly tours hosted by Main Market, will help raise awareness of sustainable practices in our region. The co-op takes people to the location, whether they grow lettuce, cows, or wine, to learn about where food really comes from.

"The implications about how we spend our food dollars are vast," Hall said. "It's about personal health, but also animal husbandry, sustainable land use, and fair trade."

Main Market's next "In the Field" tour will take place May 30. The group will go to Moscow, Idaho, to see a co-op in action.

When Main Market opens in the fall, the co-op will host a monthly event called "At the Table."

"Once a month, we will host a producer of something we carry in the store. It could be tomatoes, it could be toothpaste," Hall said.

The producers will showcase their item, and be on hand to answer questions, greet members and hand out samples.

Co-op membership is not required to shop at Main Market, but members receive extra benefits. Anyone can become a general member. Discounted fees are available for certified low-income families and students.

"Students should understand that food isn't cheap," Woods said.

He hopes that students will be interested in learning about the cooperative, and said he plans to form groups for students to take advantage of the co-op's benefits and learn more.

"With the co-op, you get more bang for your buck in a good way. When we get the food thing right, we'll pay real prices for real food," he said.

Senior Lucas Sharma says that raising awareness on campus is a good idea, but it's not ideal.

"I think students are looking for a one-stop shop because of the demands of school. It's really not feasible for students who don't have a car," he said.

The planning committee has tried to make Main Market accessible to students with discounted prices, and they have a plan to adapt those student members into full membership, Hall said. "Those memberships aren't just a ticket in the door. They're equity that helps make a store come to life."

If a student decides to stay in the community after graduation, 50 percent of what they've previously paid can be applied to general membership.

"We want that diversity and creative energy that students bring," Hall said.

The co-op benefits the community and its members because it gives stability to a local economy, Woods said.

"The board of directors is in place to make sure members are being heard. So we cooperate," he said.

It's important to emphasize the idea of gathering community around the table, Woods said. "Ecology will be better, the economy will be better, and we'll understand the community better."

The co-op building will be a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified project, Woods said. The building will have a full-production rooftop garden so that produce "will be plucked from the top and sold in the bottom," he said.

The building will be showcased in regular tours once it opens, Hall said. "The facility is being built with conservation concepts in mind and in practice, and not all of those will be readily apparent."

Hall emphasizes that Main Market Co-op will become a community and open the doors to a larger community of producers and consumers. It's important to recognize the farmers and ranchers who practice sustainability, she said.

"Most of them do it out of pure passion. It's a diminishing number of people who can do that. We need to make that a more valued component of our society," she said.

"It's not just a place to get food. It's a veritable social institution," Woods said.

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