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Eat Local: All Season, Local Grocer Expanding

Shopping list clenched tightly in one fist, you snag a cart and brace yourself to enter the supermarket jungle-maze. Treading down each aisle, you’re met by its overwhelming quantity of brands, sizes, flavors, and allergy-specific items that simultaneously multiply your decisions and stress levels.

The modern supermarket is a clear representation of our culture’s abundance and freedom of choice—characteristics that, unfortunately, don’t come without a price. Whether it’s purchasing products with more mysterious nutrition labels than chemicals in a science lab, or not having any idea where those products came from, our health and the local economy are always first to pay the consequences.

Luckily, the community of Eau Claire can rely on one small grocery nestled in the corner of Washington and Farwell to overcome some of the issues associated with traditional supermarkets. Just Local Food Cooperative opened its doors in 2004 after a few visionaries recognized the need for families in the community to have access to locally-sourced nutrition. For nearly 15 years, the 2,000-square-foot market has been dedicated to providing organic, natural, and family-farmed foods and products to its customers—a commitment that continues to shape community consumer habits.

“I like to think we have been able to increase awareness,” said Just Local Food General Manager Maria Bamonti. “I think our culture as a whole is becoming aware of the power we hold with our purchasing decisions.”

From free range meats to ethically-manufactured health and beauty items, the products at Just Local Food live up to its namesake—justly produced and distributed and sourced locally. The latter, according to Bamonti, is especially effective for impacting the value of the city and its economy.

“We are supporting our friends and neighbors,” Bamonti said. “The money stays in the Chippewa Valley as opposed to it being sent to a large corporation far away. When we support one another, we can do more to improve the quality of our community.”

In addition to its wholesome standard of products, Just Local Food is also unique in that it is a community-owned cooperative. Unlike employee-owned co-ops or regular grocery stores, Bamonti explained that this type of co-op allows for a distribution of profit among the owners based on their use of the store instead of the number of shares they hold. This ultimately puts the power in the hands of the members and protects their individual interests—not big corporation pocketbooks.

“As an owner,” Bamonti said, “you’ll be supporting a business that works to make decisions to support the triple bottom line—people, planet, and profit.”

While the number of cooperative owners continues to grow, so will the physical retail space of Just Local as it sheds its outgrown Farwell shell and transitions into a new, larger place of operation. Since announcing its coming expansion this January, Just Local Food has been working diligently to gain support from the community and its members in order to smoothly relocate to its new home sometime this year. Its future residence on 222 Water Street will boast five times the amount of space as its current store, which will allow the co-op to bring in more products, install a juice bar, expand its deli, and provide a space that can be used for community-related functions.

“We hope to increase the amount of local small businesses we can help,” Bamonti explained, “and to give our customers and neighbors an amazing new store with a big deli, community classes, community meeting space, and the ability to meet everyone’s grocery needs.”

Even as the expansion draws nearer and anticipation amplifies, the staff at Just Local Food never loses sight of the cooperative’s core mission and purpose.

“We really want people to be able connect with their food on a different level,” Bamonti said, “and to increase the awareness of the impact food has on our economy, our earth and ourselves.

For more information about Just Local Food Cooperative and its expansion, please visit JLFGrows.com