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Honest Weight shares health tips

April 19, 2012

by Alexandra Egorova

A program to encourage healthy eating will take place Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Albany Memorial Hospital. The Honest Weight Food Co-Op is sponsoring the program at the Diabetes Center for people with diabetes and their families.

“We are happy to partner with community organizations like healthcare organizations in an effort to offer their employees and patients information about making good food choices,” said Amy P. Ellis, an outreach coordinator of the Co-Op.

The cooperative provides the community with a wide range of natural foods and products for healthy living. The Co-Op is based on the principles of ecological sustainable ways of living.

The Co-Op, located on Central Avenue, features a produce department that offers a wide selection of organic and locally grown products. The store offers local fresh fruits and vegetables, baking supplies, organic coffee and teas, oils, organic baby and vegetarian food. Cheese lovers can find more than 450 types of cheese from local and international selections. Store employees help the customers choose their favorite products.

Alexandra Egorova

A Co-Op member/ Alexandra Egorova

“I have been a customer of the Co-Op for one year, since I moved to Albany. I like to have this wide assortment of goods, at an affordable price, and the opportunity to buy bulk foods. I like the environment in the store, and the professionalism of the work personnel,” said Virginia Raich, a customer of the Co-Op.

The Co-Op is most proud of its largest selection of bulk goods. Customers can purchase grains, beans, pasta, oils, seeds, nuts, flour, and baking supplies without the commercial packaging. The bulk section offers a wide selection of granola, muesli, organic nuts, and dried fruit from local farms.

“If you look in the bulk section, there are 20 varieties of rice. We have so many products you really cannot get in other stores,” said Nate Horwitz, a membership coordinator of the Co-Op, who has worked here more than 20 years. “I am really appreciative of the Co-Op’s great deals. Personally, I enjoy cooking with certain ingredients.”

Bulk goods are a draw for some customers. For example, MacinTosh apples in the Co-Op cost 0.83 cents per pound. In contrast, the price of Macinosh apples in Price Chopper is $1.69 per pound. Regular oatmeal in the Co-Op costs 99 cents a pound. Price Chopper offers the same product for $3 a pound. Co-Op’s customers can purchase rice from for $1.02 a pound. Every month the Co-Op offers a list of sales and specials. In addition, every Sunday college students can get a 10% discount off their purchases.

A shopper of the Co-Op/ Alexandra Egorova

A shopper of the Co-Op/ Alexandra Egorova

While supplying health goods for the community, the Honest Weight Food Co-Op also provides an opportunity for customers to become a member. Joining the Co-Op has several advantages, such as being an owner of the organization, attending the cooperation meetings, encouraging a culture of health diets in the community, getting a discount for the members’ purchase, and learning about health and nutritious foods. The Co-Op has been in operation for 36 years and now has 760 members.

Anyone can join the Co-Op and become a shareholder. Shareholders get a 2% discount off of their purchases. Also, a shareholder is allowed to work in the store and become a member of the Co-Op. The Honest Weight Co-Op provides members, who work in the Co-Op three hours per week, with the largest discount of 24% off of their purchases. The Co-Op allows those members, who do not have time to work every week the opportunity to work monthly and receive an 8% discount.

“I have been a member for about three years and a working member for about two months. Now, I have a little more time to work here, and this discount is really dramatic for working every week. I really enjoy doing it. I like the people here, and I like to be a part of the store,” said Brigham Taylor, a working member.

Brigham Taylor, a Co-Op's member/Alexandra Egorova

Brigham Taylor, a Co-Op’s member/Alexandra Egorova

“I became a member here in 2002,” said Jennifer Grainer, a member of the Co-Op. “This organization encourages me to participate. Since working here, I am very excited about what we do in the community and what we do for people who do not have accessibility to healthy food options. I am really proud that we help support the local food system and see how hard they work to be able to bring the products to a large audience. It is very exciting for me to be able to share that with more people.”

Regularly, the Co-Op provides educational programs for the members in order to maintain the highest qualification of workers.

“We have regular things going on in the community room. We have a lot of cooking demonstrations. Most of the education is food oriented,” said Horwitz. “Members are able to get qualification in different spheres and switch around their positions. The Co-Op workers are knowledgeable people who are able to speak to customers who are interested in learning more about foods.”

The Co-Op is a democratic organization where members can vote on a number of issues. Product selection is significant for the Co-Op. Members debate about what products should be provided for the community. With changes in the natural food industry, many varied opinions of members and customers addressed the issue that the Co-Op does not carry white sugar and goods sweetened with sugar. However, despite the no-sugar policy of the Co-Op, molasses, maple syrup, honey, and other sweeteners have always been available in the store.

The Co-Op regularly organizes a variety of social activities, lectures about health and wellness, tasting dinners, and cooking classes.

“We do a lot of social events, about 100 in a year,” said Horwitz. “For example, we have a membership dinner every year; this is a big dinner with several hundred people. We provide taste dinners where customers can try the food. We also have a free monthly film series. These films are about progressive political, economic, and environmental interests. We also offer films about food, but not always. This information is on our web site, everybody can see where we are going this week.”

For instance, the next free monthly movie Semper FI will be shown on May 17 in The Linda Performing Art Studio. Also, information about upcoming movies is available through the link

Teaching children about natural products is another service offered. The Special Events committee organizes school lessons that help kids learn more about the food culture.

“We go to many neighborhood schools and libraries and talk with kids about health foods,” said Grainer. “Sometimes children do not even know the basic information about healthy foods. We introduce food and teach kids how to recognize the products. We teach them what it means to grow vegetables and fruits. Children make sculptures from vegetables and fruits, and they love it. Kids eat their sculptures after that, which they find exciting.”

The Co-Op makes financial contributions to community groups on a regular basis. Typically, these campaigns relate to the health food and supplement industry. Every year the Co-Op donates 5% of its earnings to different non-profit community groups.

“The Co-op’s donation and presentations about natural food conception have played a significant part in our 365 Wellness school program,” said Wanda Carter, a kindergarten teacher at New Scotland Elementary School. ”The children got books and had an opportunity to ask questions and share what they know about eating healthy.”

“We feel that it is part of an obligation to the community to give the donations,” said Horwitz. “We provide hundreds of small donations to schools, kindergartens, and church groups every year. The donations are small, but they are important for these groups.”

Walking in the store, it is easy to hear how the customers communicate with each other and with sellers. The store’s environment is like a family where everybody is a member. The customers enjoy the positive time of shopping; they ask questions and leave feedback, in order to bring new ideas or make changes to the Co-Op’s operations. For instance, the proposal board in the store is full of customers’ responses.

“We have great customers,” said Horwitz. “They are a very knowledgeable and educated group. We get feedback from different channels. Many times customers write their suggestions and put it in the suggestion box. People send emails and leave their comments on the Facebook page.”

The suggestion board / Alexandra Egorova

The suggestion board / Alexandra Egorova

Now, 80 employees work in the Co-Op; most of them have been working for many years. They are proud, love the work they are doing, and the impact that they are making in the community.

Ron Royen described his personal experience as a member of the Co-Op: “I have been working as a cashier at the Co-Op for the past five years. I enjoy meeting and providing fast and friendly service to our customers. I find working as a cashier both energizing and rewarding, in that almost always I come away from my work day feeling better than I did at the beginning of my work day.”

“We have several staff members who have been here over 20 years and quite a few more who have been here over 10 years,” said Horwitz. “We have a very unusually low turnover of staff, especially for the retail business. I think that the main reason is that we attract a certain kind of person here, people who are interested in this kind of business model, and the kind of things we do. And when they find it, they do not want to go elsewhere.”

“I have been working here since 1990. This is my full time job. I am working 36 hours per week. I like to sell natural foods. In terms of retail selling, this is the best thing to do,” said Bob Linn, a bulk manager.

“I see the Co-Op as an important aspect of the community integrating the opportunity for both a satisfying shopping experience and a meeting/gathering place for folks to communicate and enjoy each other. I think that there is much greater awareness of what the benefits are of eating organically raised food products,” added Royne.

Founded in 1976, the Honest Weight Food Co-Op is located in a space of 6,000 square feet at 484 Central Ave between Partridge Street and Manning Boulevard. However, the Co-Op needs to increase its space and has a plan to move to a new location. The new store will be about five times larger than the existing.

“Our goal is to move to a new larger store before the end of this year,” said Horwitz. “It will be a much larger store. The parking will be better at the new location. Also, in a larger inside space we will have the opportunity to do more nice things like cooking classes and tasting demonstrations of products for our customers. We are always looking for ways to satisfy the wishes of our customers.” -30-



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