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Building a community within a community

Imagine being a part of a local business and having a say in how it's run for a relatively small investment. More than 5,200 of us in Western New York belong to such a democratically run business. We who belong to the Lexington Co-op are considered member owners. At the annual meeting, we come together to choose who will run the co-op for the next year as members of the board of directors.

Before the meeting, we dine on delicious fare prepared by workers in the co-op's kitchen, meet members we might not know and socialize. Later, we hear an inspiring speaker and share ideas about the direction Lexington Co-op might take in the future. That exercise, while sparking ideas, also brought many laughs this past October. We listened to reports and enjoyed ourselves. Infants and school-aged children, young couples and senior citizens, city dwellers and suburbanites filled the room. We adults came together because of our desire to make Western New York a better place.

With so many grocery stores in the region, those who don't belong to the cooperative food market might wonder about membership advantages. Benefits include more than the small discount we receive when doing our food shopping there or taking advantage of the special members' days when we may get additional discounts and/or sample vendors' wares.

Lexington Co-op is one of the 29 food cooperative markets in New York State. Such stores, totaling more than 47,000, exist throughout the United States. I like belonging because for every dollar I spend at the co-op, 52 cents stays in our local economy. By shopping here, I help support local farmers and producers. Local produce is prominent. So we help grow our economy as our member-owned enterprise grows.

It's important to me to be able to buy a food item with confidence that it does not contain any genetically engineered or genetically modified products. I find a supply of organic and natural foods readily available and find handmade soaps that are free of chemicals.

Besides receiving coupon books for market items, members earn dividends when shopping at Lexington Co-op. Some cash theirs in or use them for more shopping when they come to the market. Some donate their dividends to the Western New York Food Bank.

Often I learn something new from the friendly and knowledgeable staff when I shop there. One day when looking for my favorite goat cheese, a worker explained to me it wouldn't be available until after the female goats gave birth and could be milked.

The co-op sponsors classes, such as popular ones about canning. The newsletter contains recipes that I am anxious to try. Lexington Co-op has sponsored film series about food matters.

I like the environmental philosophy of composting the food scraps. The take-out bar uses compostable corn-based forks, knives and spoons. I like that the co-op is earth-friendly, even using electricity from renewable sources.

My younger daughter taught me about the wisdom of shopping at a food cooperative when she was in graduate school. I am glad I heeded her lesson. At first I feared shoppers had to buy in bulk at such a food market. That is not the case. I buy only what I need and can use.

Every effort made to make our region more economically sustainable is worthwhile. That's why I gladly became a part of the cooperative market community, one of the many efforts by citizens to change Western New York for the better. Now every time I shop there, I celebrate Earth Day.

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Sandy McPherson Carrubba, who lives in Kenmore, is a member of Lexington Co-op.

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