Some words and ideas are perceived to be outdated, even if they happen to be more relevant and important today than they ever were. Take, for example, the food co-op. When I hear the term, my mind is flooded with thoughts of a roomful of tie-dyed hippies smelling of patchouli. I vividly remember the co-op my brother-in-law worked at decades ago in Brooklyn and the first time he brought us some produce. It was all-natural, and had never been exposed to pesticides. And it was infested with insects, prompting my wife to throw it out. It wasn’t a great first impression. And it certainly wasn’t a fair depiction of what a food co-op is, or can be.
In an age when more and more diners are educating themselves on the origins of their food and how it’s raised and harvested, the idea of neighbors banding together to secure quality products at reasonable prices makes more sense than ever. And that’s exactly what the Las Vegas Food Co-Op (VegasFoodCoop.com) is all about.
This particular co-op is owned and operated by Gene and Carolyn Rockwell, and was founded in 2010 by their daughter, Rebecca DuBovik. “She moved [to Henderson], and saw that you couldn’t find real food,” Carolyn says. “You had to be wealthy to find anything decent. And she wasn’t. She was a mother with four kids. So she started a co-op with 30 friends. And it exploded.” When DuBovik moved to Sacramento [in 2012] because of her husband’s career, Carolyn and her husband suddenly realized they would no longer have a source for the level of meat to which they’d become accustomed. So they bought the business.
The way the co-op works is fairly simple. Customers place their orders online for everything from beef, lamb, pork and chicken to honey and vegetables; there is no minimum or membership fee. Orders are bundled and submitted to individual farmers, who harvest the entire order and then personally deliver it to a Las Vegas “drop site.” If customers can’t make it to the drop, the Rockwells will hold it for them.
What makes their products so enticing is that the family knows each and every farmer that provides them with product. They know how the animals live and how they’re slaughtered. “The best way to know your food is to know the farmer,” Carolyn says. “To know the source, where it comes from and their view on the animals or the honey or whatever they produce.”
Ask Carolyn about the beef the Las Vegas Food Co-Op offers, and you’d think she had raised the cows herself, given how much of their life story she offers. The calves comes from Utah, and live their entire lives on a pasture eating nutritionally fortified grass. The animals aren’t treated with antibiotics or other drugs. And only seven cattle are slaughtered in any given day, with a USDA inspector onsite to ensure the sanitary conditions. “It’s handled very cleanly and very conservatively by a family who appreciates the animal and the life it sacrifices—so it’s treated with respect its entire life.”
Amazingly, the prices aren’t all that high, although you need to buy more than a meal’s worth at any given time. Just a 1/12th share of a cow—which includes assorted steaks, ground beef, short ribs and other cuts—weighs in at about 32 pounds, and is priced at $225. The pricing of the lamb is a bit more complicated, since it’s based on the animal’s pre-slaughter weight and includes a butchering fee. Available in fall, grassfed lamb, which typically sells for $11-$13 per pound, will cost you $7 per pound plus slaughter and butcher fees. That’s a hell of a lot better than what you’ll find at Whole Foods.
So, like me, you may want to put aside what you think you know about co-ops. Apparently, they’re not just for hippies anymore.
Beyond Fruit of the Month Clubs
We all know that when you’re looking for a quick snack, fruit is a lot better for you than most other options. Unfortunately, it’s not always readily available, especially at the workplace. So Kelley and Randy Bristol have created Fresh Fruit 2 You (FreshFruit2You.com), a Las Vegas-based delivery service that makes weekly, semiweekly or monthly deliveries of assorted seasonal fruit to your home or office.
Businesses are currently their prime target. “I spent a number of years in the corporate world,” Randy says. “And I noticed that anytime somebody brought fruit into the office, it was always eaten. But the problem was, if somebody didn’t bring it in, we didn’t have it.”
Currently, the rotating assortments are hand-selected by his team from local distributors. But they’re working to establish relationships with California farms, particularly organic farmers. “We’re having a bit of a struggle trying to find a steady supplier of organic fruits,” Randy says. But he points out the business is only a few months old, and seems confident they’ll find a solution. – A.M.