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Utah Co-Op

Grocery Cooperative Welcomes All

By Austen Diamond

The Utah Co-op, located in a Murray warehouse, employs a minimalist approach to signage and promoting its hours—you have to be “in the know.” But in reality, with nearly 5,000 grocery-buying friends on its Facebook page, it’s far from a speakeasy. 

“At least 80 percent of our items were requested by customers, mostly on Facebook, or we interact with them [on Facebook] and ask questions,” says volunteer director Mercedes Zel-Pappas. The co-op offers more than 5,000 items—produce, cheese, dry goods and household items—which are constantly rotating. The selection is impressive. 

The process is simple. If a customer wants, say, coconut milk, Zel-Pappas researches if it’s feasible to procure; if so, she informs the customer of the wholesale price. The co-op price is only a nickel or a quarter more—just enough to cover store overhead, she says. 

Examples of cost savings from the gluten-free section—a priority of late—are Bob’s Red Mill steel-cut oats ($5) and Namaste gluten-free brownie mix ($5). The co-op also sells organic and traditional produce baskets, sized for one or two people. The organic two-person basket sells at $27.50 and would normally retail for more than $100, says Zel-Pappas, adding, “We’re trying to re-educate people on what healthy foods are, and that they don’t have to cost a ton. That’s our top priority.” 

Unlike typical cooperative markets, this volunteer-run one doesn’t charge membership fees. It used to, but that turned away some low-income patrons, Zel-Pappas says, which went against the co-op’s mission. It is for everyone—a place where doctors and Electronic Benefit Transfer users share recipes or wonder together what kohlrabi is. “I want everybody to feel like it is their place, like a community,” she says.

Utah Co-op makes fresh affordable

By Alisa Garcia | Posted April 18, 2012

About the Co-op
  • The Utah Co-op is open to the public and located at 4892 South Commerce Drive in Murray.
  • Market hours are Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are no commitment requirements or fees.
  • Specialty and sale items, new items, expected produce, recipes and nutritional information is posted regularly on the co-op’s Facebook page,

Processed foods often travel long distances to get from the farm to the table and often lack nutritional value and quality. For those interested in sustainable living at an affordable price, the Utah Co-op in Murray can help them get started.

The volunteer-driven food co-op provides an opportunity for people to enjoy locally grown and produced vegetables, fruits and grains that are freshly delivered on every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“Organic food [at the co-op] is fresher when you get it because it doesn’t have far to travel,” said Mercedes Zel-Pappas, Utah Co-op volunteer. “The food is never outdated or damaged and there are no chemicals, so it tastes better.”

Purchasing foods closer to home requires less energy spent on transportation, thus reducing carbon emissions. Supporting local farmers helps to keep food local.

“Farms that were there just a few years ago are now gone,” Zel-Pappas said. “Now it’s all houses…so our farms are disappearing.”

The market is in about six small rooms. The main room supplies a selection of fresh, seasonal produce. Distributed by local organic growers, an assortment of grains and gourmet cheeses are available. Other rooms display international foods themed by country. The store stocks traditional Jewish, Greek and Asian foods that are usually found only at specialty markets. Items typically found at the Downtown Farmers’ Market and Whole Foods are available at discounted prices.

“Through collective purchasing, we order mass quantities of these items at very low prices,” Zel-Pappas said. “The main purpose of a food cooperative is to combine local farmers with their communities and build a sense of community by promoting a volunteer service that brings people together.”

The co-op is community driven, so requests for produce and other items come directly from the community. Gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian items are often available.

Besides offering local organic foods at affordable costs, the co-op provides food, clothing and other donated items to charities locally and abroad. Last year’s Angel Tree program supported 1500 local individuals ranging from small children to the elderly. Utah Co-op also donates regularly to Utahns Against Hunger and Feed the Poor.

For those interested in community gardens, the co-op participates in a neighborhood trade in which local gardeners are invited to bring abundant produce to trade with other growers. The exchange provides an ideal opportunity to redistribute fresh items so that they don’t go to waste.

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      Organic Consumers Association

      Eating Organic Food Shouldn't Be a Luxury

      • She emphasizes healthy food when feeding the hungry 
        By Julia Lyon 
        The Salt Lake Tribune, November 11, 2008 
        Straight to the Source 

      No matter who you are, Mercedes Zel-Pappas thinks you have a right to eat well. As director of "Feed the Poor," a Salt Lake City food bank, she is aiming to provide at least 50 percent organic food to the nonprofits they serve.  "Being healthy really shouldn't be a luxury," she said. 

      When she took the job, the young mother noticed that a lot of the food being donated had a high fat content and wasn't what she would want to serve to her own children. So she sought out alternatives, scoring big with the businesses that supply grocery stores.

      Organic cereals, pastas, juices, apples are among the items Feed the Poor now Mercedes Zel-Pappas, director of Feed The Poor, a local food bank, is encouraging more donations of healthier, organic foods. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune)distributes to the women and children at the YWCA in Salt Lake City, the Salvation Army, the Volunteers of America and other groups. 

      Though she has begun to collaborate with organic farmers and gardeners, she wants to do more. 

      "I feel that a lot of the food being given to the homeless and the needy is substandard," Zel-Pappas said. 

      Founded about 10 years ago by John Papanikolas, a Utah businessman, Feed the Poor was inspired by a trip to Denver, where he saw charities caring for the hungry. Their good work stayed on his mind. 

      "It just wouldn't go away," he said. "I'm a believer in God and a Christian; I felt it was coming from him." 

      Although one of the lesser known food agencies, Feed the Poor continues to grow and nearly tripled the square footage of its Redwood Road warehouse in May. In 2007, the organization gave away over $1 million worth of food.

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      Utah Co Op