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Looking Out for the Little Guy at Good Foods Co-op

Front-end clerk Greg Huber helps two guests check out through at the front of the store on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, at Good Foods Co-op in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Carter Skaggs.

Since its inception in 1972, Good Foods Co-op has extended an opportunity for Lexington citizens to support and sample products from over 250,000 Kentucky-based farmers and producers, according to their website.

As the only cooperative grocery in Central Kentucky, Good Foods Co-op provides shoppers with locally sourced natural, organic and non-GMO products.

According to National Co-op Grocers, cooperatives are member-owned, member-governed businesses that operate for the benefit of their members based upon common principles agreed upon by the cooperative community.

Good Foods Co-op Marketing Manager Merrick Johnson poses for a portrait on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, at Good Foods Co-op in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Carter Skaggs.

Marketing Manager of Good Foods Co-op, Merrick Johnson, said the business offers a diverse display of products similar to popular grocery store chains, yet differs through emphasis of its local food system.

“Kroger defines local as products grown in the next state. We define local as roughly an hour or two maximum. We support everyone, from farmers, to coffee roasters, to people who make hats and soaps,” Johnson said.

To provide equitable access to healthy, minimally processed food, Johnson said the Co-op encourages all to shop at the store, as access to such products is a fundamental right.

“For me, it [the Co-op’s mission] is access to healthy food for all. I grew up in a low-income household but my parents always put a lot of emphasis on healthy, organic food,” grocery store manager Darcia Williams said. “I like to emphasize that the Co-op is working towards getting our prices down so that lower-income families can shop here, as well as higher-income families.”

According to the USDA, organic products typically cost more than their non-organic counterparts because of the difference in cost that comes with bringing organic products to shelves. There are stricter rules to qualify products as organic that farmers and ranchers must follow that make producing foods organically more expensive. It is also costly for food handlers and processors to separate organic and non-organic ingredients, and retailers must allow for separate shelf space for organic foods to prevent commingling of both organic or non-organic unpackaged products.

Nevertheless, many consumers are willing to pay more for organic options, as the sector has been on the rise for the past two decades.

Williams said her family has long shopped at the Co-op for these kinds of organic items. This led her to develop a relationship with the cooperative well before she began working at the store in 2007.

“Back in 1980, my mom shopped at the Co-op when she was pregnant with me. She had been a shopper for many, many years. She lives in Cynthiana, Kentucky, and would drive up here just to shop at the Co-op,” Williams said.

Darcia Williams, grocery manager at Good Foods Co-op, poses for a portrait on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, at Good Foods Co-op in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Carter Skaggs.

Before joining the Good Foods Co-op staff, Williams had worked as a Chipotle manager for several years.

“It became stressful. I was newly married, wanting to focus on starting a family, and I was looking for a change in lifestyle and what I was doing for a living,” she said.

When she heard the Co-op was hiring during a routine grocery run, she said it was the perfect opportunity.

“I saw they were hiring, and I was like, ‘I’d love to work there.’ I was already knowledgeable about the products since I shopped there. I was the meat department manager for five years,” Williams said.

According to the Good Foods Co-op website, seven University of Kentucky alumni formed the Co-op in 1972 on the precept of “the customer is the company.”

In its infancy, the Lexington-based cooperative was organized as a buying club, where members met at each other’s homes to prepare bulk shipments of locally sourced organic and unadulterated whole foods.

The club quickly gained traction in the Lexington area and outgrew its workspaces. To accommodate their expansion the business moved to the third floor of the YWCA on North Mill Street.

The business found its official home in the early 2000s on Southland Drive and became a true cooperative. For the first time in its history, members could become partial owners of the store through the purchase of shares.

The organic and locally sourced produce section of Good Foods Co-op in the front of the store is bright and colorful on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, at Good Foods Co-op in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Carter Skaggs.

“We are owned by our owners. We don’t have a small board of executives or this secret board of shadowy figures that oversees everything,” Johnson said. “We are owned by your friends, family and neighbors.”

Johnson said Good Foods Co-op celebrated the signing of its first owner in 2003, and boasts over 9,700 today. Owners have voting rights in the cooperative, a chance to serve on the board of directors and more.

“I became an owner in 2007, shortly after I started. I have access to all the great food and

supplements I eat here every single day, I don’t get sick of it,” Williams said.

When reflecting on what she enjoys the most about being involved with the Co-op, Williams said, “We care about our people and our shoppers. Businesses like this invest in our community and the money stays in our community. Having the little guy around is still super important.”


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