Check out one of the first co-ops to open in the country, and the first in Rhode Island!

The Alternative Food Cooperative began in 1970 as a grassroots organization with about a dozen families in the Kingston area participating. Its primary purpose was to provide high quality natural food to its members at affordable prices. In 1970, there were no natural food stores in Rhode Island and Co-op members took turns driving to the now defunct Erewhon Natural Food Distributors in Boston for their food. They loaded their cars or trucks with grains, beans, nuts and other foods that the members may have requested. The food was distributed on a weekly basis, usually at the home of the member doing the purchasing that week.

After a year, the Co-op expanded to the community, moving its working operation to the basement of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on Lower College Road in Kingston. A scale, paper and pencil and adding machine were the Co-op’s only store equipment. At this time the Co-op was operated for members only and all work was volunteer. As URI faculty and student participation increased, the Co-op was able to acquire space in the basement of Roosevelt Hall at the University of Rhode Island. We fixed up our basement quarters there, expanding and growing, offering a wider selection of foods and other related items. We remained in Roosevelt Hall for over 20 years.

Our move (on Labor Day!) in 1994 to Kingstown Road in West Kingston was the latest step in our evolution. We are still the original grass roots organization at our core, but we have grown into a larger natural foods market serving the whole community and offering ever-expanding variety of foods. We sell organic fresh fruits and vegetables, tofu, tempeh and other vegetarian products, a wide selection of grocery items, milk eggs, bread, antibiotic-free/nitrite-free meats, vitamins and supplements, health and beauty products, imported and domestic cheeses, nutritious snacks, foods for special diets and allergies, bulk grains, nuts beans, pastas, ice cream and other frozen desserts, herbal and homeopathic remedies, books, gifts, bulk herbs and spices, teas and coffees.

We moved to the current location on Main Street, Wakefield in January of 2000. With generous donations of labor and supplies, the storefront was rewired, the checkout counter built, the floor installed, storage shelving constructed and the store repainted. Member loans and gifts along with some bank financing made our move here, with all the improvements and equipment needed, possible. Finally moving day arrived, and it was an all volunteer effort. The back of the station wagon days were indeed over.

The Alternative Food Co-op is a co-operative and its members are working together toward a common objective. Our purpose is to provide high quality natural foods at affordable prices to members and to the general public. We are a member-owned and member-controlled organization seeking to offer our community an alternative to mass-produced foods of limited nutritional value. The Alternative Food Co-op’s philosophy is “Food for People-Not for Profit.”

 Photo and text courtesy of Alternative Food Co-op