Indie Austin: Wheatsville Food Co-op

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Lots of local businesses have admirable intentions, but few impact the community on as deep and wide a scale as Wheatsville Food Co-Op. Wheatsville Brand Manager Raquel Dadomo puts the crux of the matter right up front when she says, “We strive to be a part of the solution. The people who own this business (referring to the 21,000+ co-op members) have a say in how it operates. Wheatsville is a responsibly run business that supports the community. Lots of good things happen when you give people what they want. It benefits everyone.”

Among Wheatsville’s top priorities is the drive to create opportunity for more local, organic, sustainable food. Dadomo says, “When the co-op grows, our orders get bigger, which helps support our local vendors and growers. The more demand we build, the more we help define the direction of food production. We tell our shoppers how many miles to market our local products have travelled so that the consumer can make an informed decision.”

The idea of supporting locally made goods is proving to be wildly successful. The co-op expanded to a second location on South Lamar in 2013, and “The South Austin community fully embraced us right out of the gate,” Dadomo says. The co-op routinely stocks over 2,000 locally produced items and sells an average of 80 percent organic produce each week. “Due to the demand that we’ve nurtured, we now buy produce from over 25 Texas growers, and that number keeps increasing. We support the root of building fiscal economic wealth in this community by supporting local businesses. We make that a very high priority,” she says.

Another priority is ensuring that Wheatsville is also a great place to work, which fits with the co-op model of community support. Entry level staffers start at $13.22; having livable wages and benefits in place, creates happy employees. The feel-good atmosphere created by satisfied workers humming along, doing what they do in the stores each day, creates an undeniable attraction. People just love shopping there. Both locations tend to be community hubs, places where people go to buy food, sure, but members and non-members alike just get a lot out of being there. Dadomo says, “We really are in the business of creating more happy people.”

Sustainability, a critical aspect of the Wheatsville model, drives every aspect of the business. “Even looking at something as small as the bag and box recycling effort we make is important. People appreciate that, and it has much wider implications that affect the whole community,” Dadomo says. On a larger scale, we serve as a sort of incubator for local producers. One aspect of supporting local is nurturing businesses such as Siete Foods. Several years ago they came to us with a bag of homemade grain-free tortillas and an idea for a product. They started their business when we decided to take a chance on them. From hand-rolling each tortilla for our shelves, they’ve now grown to national distribution, more products, and lots of happy customers.

Simply put, supporting Wheatsville mea

ns supporting the community. All the good the co-op and its members and producers do creates profits that go right back into the local economy and nonprofit organizations. The co-op’s generous support of such groups as SAFE, People’s Community Clinic, Austin Pets Alive! and on and on is impressive.

Austin is a great place to live for all kinds of reasons. The fact that it just happens to be the home of Wheatsville Food Co-Op, the only community-owned grocery co-op in Texas, definitely tops that long list.

Everyone is welcome to shop at Wheatsville! No membership required. Shop Wheatsville at 3101 Guadalupe St, 512-478-2667 or 4001 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-814-2888, You can also shop online at the co-op through Instacart.