Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

New Kid in the Store

Hello, my name is TexasDeb and I am a control freak. [cue crowd] "Helloooo Deb!"

This need to exert control means I am fairly uncomfortable the first time I try something. Anything, even things I know I want to do or have been assured are fun or that I will love and will make me feel better about the world and my place in it.

This discomfort, if I am not careful, potentially prevents me from engaging in new activities, even the ones I have decided for myself that I want to do. This discomfort of "not knowing everything there is to know" often finds me procrastinating, listing in my head all sorts of faux reasons not to get started doing something new.

Joining a CSA group was one of those "put it off for various reasons" kinds of things. As it turned out, my subscription to this past season of Tecolote Farms baskets has been a highlight in what has been a pretty great year so far. It was the encouragement of my daughter that got me off the dime and on my computer to find out that the farm's waiting list had shortened after a sabbatical so we could hop right on and get started eating organically grown local produce nearly immediately.

In terms of my next plunge into "Scary New", the compelling shove to get me past procrastinating was a comment from Katie Pitre in an addendum to our last farm newsletter for the season. She stated: "Your veggies came in a bag from Wheatsville, our very favorite local grocery store. Wheatsville is located at 32nd and Guadalupe and is currently undergoing a major improvement project. You'll recognize it by its construction equipment in the parking lot. So, it may not be the easiest place to get in and out of RIGHT NOW, but it is a joy to shop there. In and Out, friendly service, lots of local products, delicious deli items, great cheeses (and cheese prices), gifts, body care products, you name it. They buy produce wholesale from us and have such a small mark-up that they're often selling for less than we do at the farmers' markets! Crazy coop attitude that you're in it for the benefit of your members and not to have a huge financial gain! Anyway, we love them and hope you'll stop in when you're in that neighborhood. I highly recommend the vegan peanut butter-chocolate cups in the middle of the back wall below all the take-out sandwiches and deli items. Yummmmy. Thanks, Katie"

That was the final push I required. I knew once I invested in public declaration combined with financial commitment, I would more quickly move from intention to adherence. So I blogged, I went online and signed a Buy Fresh/Buy Local pledge, and with a weird combination of delight and the teensiest sense of alarm, I piled my shopping bags into my car yesterday and headed to join the Wheatsville Coop. Barring some unforeseen barrier, a membership at Wheatsville was slated to become the linchpin in my determination to continue to spend as much a week of our grocery money each week on local products as possible, and to try see that the products I could not source locally were organic whenever possible and responsibly, sustainably grown and/or humanely treated (in the case of meats and seafood).Despite the construction I easily found a parking space, grabbed my bag and walked in. I asked the first employee I spotted who I needed to see about signing up. I was directed to a cash register, where after a very short wait behind another shopper I was ably assisted and quickly supplied by James S. with a short form to fill out, a quick primer on member numbers and checkout routines, and before I knew it I was released out into the store, ready to make my first local shopping run.

Wheatsville is a sweet place, although a little intimidating to the unpracticed eye in terms of the scope of products offered. I believe that will prove to be a good challenge, offering the enticement of many visits to come filled with surprise discoveries.

Having the good fortune to be gender equipped with organs allowing me to ask for assistance, I am sure I'll be quickly helped to find whatever I don't spot on my own. The adventure of trying new products will be a good balance to the banality of weekly supply runs and overcome some of the frustrations of sticking with seasonal shopping.

Another plus for Wheatsville in terms of my quest for "local" - they display information along with their prices about how far certain foods had to travel to get to their shelves. It doesn't get much easier than that, and I had to fight an unfortunate tendency to move immediately past a sense of self satisfaction dangerously veering towards smugness at how good a person I'd suddenly become as proven by my shopping there.

Those negative heel wearing, crystal toting, condescending shoppers or staffers I'd feared? I'd met the enemy and short the crystal toting and tie-dye "she" was only a projection of my own self, in jeopardy of spraining a wrist as I simultaneously filled a bag with one hand while busily patting myself on the back in approval with the other. Full disclosure: I confess, despite my anxious predictions, Wheatsville did not feel overly crunchy or "more organic than thou" at all. How was it? Delightful, really. Very laid back. It just felt like a really great neighborhood store.

So could I spend my allotted $10 on local products and find what I needed?

No worries. Counting the local beer I bought, I found chevre, a baguette, and pitas from right here in Central Texas, to total $15.73 of "bought local" on my very first trip.

I can also promise you the markup on that goat cheese and the pitas was less than what I've found in certain other routinely patronized and lionized markets in our area offering the same products at higher prices despite being larger and ostensibly better able to provide savings due to the power of bulk buying. I was triply delighted to discover that Wheatsville offers a good variety of responsibly raised and humanely treated chicken, beef and pork products. At last a place I can find all my "turf" options protein wise, without having to compromise my principles or break the bank.

A last hat trick of delights- at Wheatsville, I get a refund for using my own large shopping bags along with a chance to bring in, weigh, and use my own containers for bulk items. And finally, at the top of each receipt there is a thoughtful quote to feed my mind while my shopping feeds my body and salves my conscience.

I didn't hit the deli yesterday because I have a restaurant run for dinner tonight to celebrate my birthday and I have the remnants of my last fully loaded Tecolote basket to eat our way through. I figured I'd save those treats for another day. But I will now stroll into Wheatsville week to week with building confidence, ready to layer in expanding experiences and familiarity as I dive further into the many benefits this Coop has to offer.

I am kicking myself (gently - I don't want to break anything) for waiting so long to get started shopping at Wheatsville. In these days of rising prices it simply makes sense economically to shop where the members own the store and the profit margin and stocking patterns all reflect what is best for the consumer rather than growing a bottom line. Past that, it also makes sense to support a locally owned enterprise supporting other locally owned producers, so that more of my dollars spent stay in the local economy rather than flowing out to some national or international corporation based elsewhere and responsible to people I will never meet.

Let's say you agree and you want to shop locally - what can you do? If you live in Central Texas, consider joining and shopping at Wheatsville Coop yourself. It only costs $15 to join as a member. I went ahead and joined as a vested member with an additional capital contribution because I know that will reinforce my decision to shop there and because it makes sense to me to spend my money to improve and support my local economy and community. Every expenditure we make is a moral contract. How and where I allocate our family's income says a lot about who we are and what we believe in.

If you live elsewhere then check out FoodRoutes and other sources to determine if there is a coop available near you. Look for Farmer's Markets and CSA outfits close to you and support them every chance you get. A study offered by the Austin Independent Business Alliance a few years back determined that when you shop with a locally owned business, up to 45 dollars of every hundred dollars you spend stays where you live, as opposed to 13 dollars out of a hundred dollars when you shop at a national chain.In a tightening economy, that thirty-two dollar difference between what stays and what leaves local coffers becomes even more significant.

I think the quote on my Wheatsville receipt yesterday was prescient: "Fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom." - Bertrand Russell. I may not have completely conquered my fear yesterday, but I took a step in the right direction. I may not be able to claim "wisdom" just yet, but I am certain, with a little help from Wheatsville, I will be shopping smarter in the weeks to come.

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