Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Co-op?
A member-owned and member-controlled business that operates for the mutual benefit of all members. Examples include your local food co-op, a local housing or child care co-op, Group Health Cooperative, and any credit union. The cooperative form of business is one that brings the owners, controllers, and users of a business together into one group.

Do I have to be a member/owner to shop?
Nope! Everyone is welcome to shop every day. The prices you see on the shelf are what everyone pays, with the exception of a few clearly marked owner specials.

How do I become an owner (member)?
By making a one-time stock purchase of $80. Any cashier or employee can help you get an ownership form and in about five minutes we’ll be welcoming you as our newest owner.

This isn’t an annual or recurring fee, though at some point in the future if our stock price increases, it’s likely we’ll ask all existing owners to pay the difference between $80 and the new cost. This has happened only once in our 40 years.

Can I order a product you don’t carry?
Very likely – at the back of the store is a shelf with special orders, and more importantly special order forms. Fill one out and toss it in the completed forms basket and one of our staff members will be in touch with you within a couple days.

What is Organic?
Organic is a labeling term for food or other agricultural products that have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity in accordance with the USDA organic regulations.

This means that organic operations must maintain or enhance soil and water quality, while also conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used. Only products that have been certified as meeting the USDA’s requirements for organic production and handling may carry the USDA Organic Seal.

Is everything you sell certified Organic?
No, it isn’t. Our buying philosophy is to prefer local and/or Organic whenever possible. Some of our local farmers are not certified Organic, or perhaps on the track to becoming certified. Some products our owners ask us to carry are not certified Organic. Some products would be prohibitively expensive to carry the Organic version.

What is Local?
Local to us means it came from Minnesota or Wisconsin. But it can get complicated…

Are coffee beans roasted nearby local? Well they certainly weren’t grown locally, so we try to be precise –  they were locally-roasted.

Are you affiliated with other co-ops?
Yes! Sort of!

We’re members of NCG (National Co-op Grocers), a business services cooperative for retail food co-ops located throughout the United States. They represent 148 food co-ops operating over 200 stores in 37 states with combined annual sales over $2 billion and over 1.3 million consumer-owners. NCG helps unify natural food co-ops in order to optimize operational and marketing resources, strengthen purchasing power, and ultimately offer more value to natural food co-op owners and shoppers everywhere.

We’re also friends with the other wonderful food co-ops throughout the area, working together with them on the Eat Local Farm Tour in the spirit of the sixth cooperative principle: Cooperation among co-ops.

Bulk foods department? What is that?
Basically, we buy in large quantities so you don’t have to. Spices are a good example – we order one pound of cumin, you bring in a jar (or use one of ours) and fill it with just as much fresh cumin as you need for the next week or month, or for tonight’s recipe. This helps reduce waste, and keeps your spices fresher than buying a larger quantity than you need, and keeping it around for a year.

So are you a co-op, or a grocery store?
Yes! In fact the answer is ‘both': We’re a cooperatively-owned grocery store.

Do you have any job openings? How do I apply?
Click here to visit our employment page, with any available postings and a link to our application.

When I round-up my total to the nearest dollar at the register, where does the money go?
Our local, non-profit recipient changes every 2 months. In our fall elections, along with voting for owners to serve on the Board of Directors, owners vote for the six non-profit community organizations they want us to donate to throughout the year.

What about volunteers, isn’t that a big part of co-ops?
It often was in the past, including here at River Market. If you visited our previous location on Williams Street in the 80’s and 90’s, you experienced members volunteering their time to work at the co-op in exchange for member benefits. This was common in co-ops.

Without going into too much legal detail that is outside my expertise, here’s an overview as I understand it: the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was established in the United States in 1938 and has been amended numerous times since. This established certain protections and guidelines for employees, such as a 40 hour work week, 8 hour work days, minimum wage, overtime pay, prohibiting children from doing dangerous jobs, and many other details.

Also, it established a definition for ‘employees’. It attempted to avoid potential exploitation from businesses calling someone a ‘volunteer’ as a way to dodge paying what that worker was owed. A side result of this was scrutiny of the co-op practice of having volunteers doing work that an employee could be doing.

What if I have another question?
Send it to or call (651) 439-0366, or ask any employee when you’re in the store – we love hearing from our shoppers and owners.