Last year the Moscow Food Co-op celebrated fifty years of providing wholesome groceries and community connection here on the Palouse. Started in 1973 by a group of friends, the cooperative venture was heavily influenced by cultural attitudes of the time, including a desire for healthier foods, disillusionment with corporate agriculture, and a back-to-the-land movement that made north Idaho particularly attractive for newcomers. Founders Rod Davis, Jim Eagan, and Dave and Katie Mosel built the collective around selling simple staples in bulk. Shoppers could pick up spices, lentils, cheese, and few other sundries from the storefront at 112 E. Second Street. In subsequent years, the Co-op grew and changed locations several times.
In honor of it’s golden anniversary, the University of Idaho Library collaborated with the Co-op to create an online collection of newsletters produced by and for its members. Exploring the archive of past communications gives readers a chance to learn about past challenges to the store’s growth and success, as well as the creativity and passion that so many area residents have brought to the cooperative.
The first newsletter was printed in the summer of 1975 as a means of “opening communication among the membership and keeping the community informed about what’s happening with the co-op.” It offered a recap of decisions from the last member meeting, including a change to incandescent lighting out of concern for the healthfulness of fluorescent bulbs, an adoption of gravity fed bulk bins after consultation with the health department, and the purchase of a digital scale to make bulk sales more accurate. Readers were also encouraged to be advocates for bike routes in town and the phone numbers of each member of city council accompanied the article.
Ten years on, a 1984 newsletter provides a glimpse into the expansion of the store. The 10th Year Gala was promoted as a time to come together for celebration, reflection, and future planning. Annual sales were reported to have exceeded $170,000, rebounding from a period of decline brought on by competition in the natural foods market and the lean financial times of the late 1970s. An optimistic note forecasted that “at that rate, at our 20th Anniversary, annual sales would be $278,500.” That prediction was ultimately too conservative. In August of 1994, net sales for just the first six months of the year topped $500,000.
It is not uncommon to hear people measuring the length of their residency in Moscow by where the store was located when they first arrived. Newsletters allow locals to jog their memories about the details surrounding various moves, or provide valuable context for recent transplants to better understand the long and storied history of the Co-op. The November 1998 edition, for example, details a fundraising campaign to support moving to the Third Street Market site. Through a combination of loans, cooperative savings, and member pledges, a larger facility was within reach. Cooperative can-do spirit clearly prevailed, because the January 1990 edition proudly proclaims “Thanks to you…We’ve Moved!”
As it enters its sixth decade of serving natural food enthusiasts and pesto roll lovers, the Co-op looks quite different than it did in those early days. The underlying values that contributed to the creation of the enterprise, however, are still present. To explore the newsletters for yourself, visit www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/moscowcoop/.
Moscow Food Co-Op Newsletter collection, 1992-2005, MG 506. University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives.