The Yelm Food Co-op is based in rural Yelm, Washington, the fastest growing town in the fastest growing county in Washington State. Positioned halfway between Olympia and Mt. Rainier, Yelm is home to a diverse and resilient community that includes farmers, gardeners and do-it-yourselfers of all stripes.
Having a store like the Co-op in a place like Yelm is unusual, says General Manager Barnaby Urich Rintz. “It’s impressive that the founding members created the store in an area that has not been accustomed to grocery cooperatives,” he says. “Urban areas or college and university towns are much easier places to start something like this. Even though it’s surrounded by a lot of people, Yelm is relatively small.”
Community support has allowed the store to continue growing every year, and was a key to breaking $1 million in sales in 2014. “It was important to make our members aware of what we were trying to do,” says Manager Debbie Burgan. “Once they understood our goal, they stepped up and did more.”
That support also allowed the Co-op to add the Yelm Farmers Market in 2012, a popular local draw between June and October every year.
As the region continues to expand, the Co-op intends to expand with it, continuing to serve its membership while adding features and including more local vendors. “We’re always looking for more local suppliers,” says Manager Kate Morgan. “We have a couple of very dedicated local suppliers, but you need more parts of the chain. There’s the desire to have educational gardens and at some point to do classes so that people know how to take a raw product and turn it into food instead of ready-to-eat meals. There are a lot of areas where we can grow.”