National Co-op Month — October — celebrates the central role cooperative food associations play in growing strong, healthy communities. Swarthmore’s own community Co-op is both the third oldest in the nation, and one of the most progressive and successful in working with local farms and producers, offering varied, healthy foods, and serving as a community and social hub.
Maintaining the connection between members, shoppers and good eating involves education on the underlying benefits, especially for newer generations of consumers. The Co-op’s educational programming starts on the shelf with information about the product sources and the benefits of natural and organics over traditional products, allowing shoppers to make informed choices. The Co-op offers cooking classes themed to seasonal produce and vegetables, and lets aspiring chefs experiment with new recipes and cooking techniques.
A community-oriented outcome of its educational effort is the Sunday Suppers program. The program was started by Co-op volunteer members to prepare and deliver fresh, home cooked and ready-to-eat meals to area residents in need. Now managed by Co-op staff, the Sunday Suppers program uses the kitchen facilities in off-peak hours and takes advantage of the seasonal influx of local vegetables and fruits to deliver well-balanced, nutritional meals to homebound seniors. Helen Nadel, one of the program founders, said, “There is powerful community around preparing and sharing great food, and for the volunteers and recipients alike, gratitude flows both ways.”
For practical, hands-on education, the Co-op organizes tours of local farms, taking visitors as far as Lancaster County and as near as local back yards. One recent Saturday afternoon, volunteers took 39 adults and 3 children on a local Chicken & Bees walking tour of Swarthmore. Tour organizer Jacqlyn Diamond explained, “People should experience where real, honest to goodness food comes from. I opened up my own backyard chicken coop to share the excitement of keeping hens and gathering fresh eggs. But the highlights of the tour were the backyard farm capable of sustaining a whole family, and seeing pigs right around the corner!” After visiting one rooster, two backyard chicken coops, one working backyard permaculture farm, two Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, and five humming beehives, the group was treated to a sumptuous spread at the Co-op consisting of…egg dishes of course.
The Swarthmore Co-op will soon celebrate 80 years as a community institution and a respite from large, corporate retailers. The Co-op is owned and governed by more than 2,000 members, who enjoy special discounts, offers, and event passes. “Anyone can shop here,” said interim general manager Dawn Betts. “But our members help ensure that the Co-op can continue to be a locally-focused and trusted source of food, education and unique community events.”
Black Henry Comes A Cropper
Jacqlyn Diamond of Swarthmore is a veteran chicken keeper who organized and hosted a stop on the recent Co-op Chicken Coop Tour. When one of the star tour attractions got ill, she knew quick action was required.
“Our hen Black Henry had a badly swollen crop which was impacted with hay seed. I lavaged [massaged] the crop daily, and my husband spent a lot of time looking for answers online. He finally claimed that he could perform surgery on Black Henry, guided by YouTube videos.”
That didn’t seem to Jacqlyn like the way to handle it, so she consulted with Dr. Cathy Trow at Unity Veterinary Hospital in Wallingford. Unity soon determined that Henry needed surgery.
“We trusted in the expert hands of Unity vets,” Jacqlyn said. “Although she had never performed surgery on hen in her current practice, Dr. Trow was quite transparent in how she gathered information on how to address the impacted crop: YouTube videos!”
The operation was successful. Since well-loved hens can live for 9 years, Black Henry may be around for many more Swarthmore coop tours.