I push open the door into the cooperative a few minutes before I’m scheduled to volunteer. I am replacing Brenda, a woman I’ve known my whole life, who is rocking in a handmade bench rocker with her knitting project in hand.
She explains to me today’s available produce, and says it has been a slow afternoon so far. Baskets of carrots, onions, garlic, apples, turnips, and other vegetables and fruits are lined up on tables extending through the large space. Local crafters display their photographs (mine included), yarn, knit socks (Brenda’s), homemade soaps and other pleasantries.
Brenda’s shift ends and I am left alone with silent food and aromatic spritz bottles that advertise Calm or Energy. Grabbing a bottle, I aim and fire Peppermint, a revitalizer, around my workstation. I sit down into a green leather chair that belongs in a library made of mahogany. I prop my feet up on an old elementary-school desk and take out pen and paper. Dust motes suspend their course in stark rays of sunshine that flood through large windows that face the street.
In between customers, I work on a short story. I smell all the soaps. I fondle yarn, squeeze nectarines, refill the carrot basket. This is the best volunteer gig on my resume to date. It seems unnatural that this peaceful place, vibrant with light and the color of harvest, is free for me…
…and that such a variety of local goods and produce are available to my community. Should I don my newsboy cap and stand street-side, calling out these wares? “Come getchya potatoes, folks! Stop in for a jug of local honey! I’ve washed the pumpkins and they shine!”
I’ve volunteered here for about a month, as the co-op slowly and carefully builds towards a grand opening. My part in all this is small – only a few hours a week watching the store and maybe cutting up fruits or washing produce – but it gives me instant gratification (of which I’m a fan).
Just sitting here, I help to create access to local food for my community. Not to disparage local family-owned groceries, my “taking up the banner” for this food co-operative stems from a very basic desire: to promote the possibility of choice among food consumers.
There are about 70,000+ items that are not available here – yet there’s something elusively strong about spending food dollars on Maine garlic and County potatoes. And it’s not as black-and-white as I used to think – the consumer still needs to decide which is more important: non-organic grains grown off a back-road close to town, or organic grains grown farther south.
This laid-back volunteering opportunity has brought me a lot of joy, whether in laying my hands on simple, high-quality things, or discovering kinship in new faces.
I put down my pen when I hear the doorknob turn. Three generations enter the store: grandmother, mother, daughter are on a quest for apples.
They say, “It smells so fresh in here!” They revitalize the air with another peppermint spritz. They buy five pounds of Macintosh, and all smiles, wave to me as they head out towards the rest of their day.
The mother comes back in – “I forgot a pumpkin!”
Take your pick – They’re freshly washed! – Come on back now, ya hear?