My Strange Summer Job: Need seaweed or healing tea? Time to co-op!

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Colleen Slattery, Sports Editor

 

Wine isn't the only thing you can find in the co-op; how about some kombucha? –Photo courtesy of Colleen Slattery
Wine isn’t the only thing you can find in the co-op; how about some kombucha?
–Photo courtesy of Colleen Slattery

For those of you who do not know me, I was born and raised on a lonely ridge in western Wisconsin.

When I was about 12 years old, my father decided to cultivate the little plot of land that we lived on and turn it into an organic vegetable farm, and thus, Sweet Ridge Farm was born.

The pre-teen and teen years are particularly prone to being filled with bad company, rebellion and, in the case of girls, far too much makeup and gossip. Luckily for me, I had dirt and weeds and squash to keep me occupied, and was thus saved from many of the dangers of teen drama and angst.

My experience in the fields at home made possible my employment at the local food store, the People’s Food Co-op in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The Slattery family had been buying groceries and selling asparagus there for years, and so when I turned in my application for employment as a shelf-stocker the summer before my sophomore year at the University of Dallas, I was recognized and welcomed into the Co-op family as a “Co-op Baby,” a title given to me because the staff had literally watched me grow up.

My tasks at PFC, as the locals like to call it, were simple. Step one: Unload the shipments of groceries. Step two: Put them on the shelf. The interesting part of the job was working with the other members of the staff and the customers. The PFC is not your ordinary grocery store. I stocked the shelves with items such as seaweed snacks, kombucha (a fermented mushroom drink), pickled beets and about 300 different kinds of tea, each of which were supposed to heal or help some sort of condition of the human body: indigestion, pregnancy, PMS, liver failure, heart attack … all right, those last two were a little bit dramatic, but you get the point. In short, there were quite a few new-agers and hippies around. And this made for a wonderfully fun work environment.

Farm swag. –Photo courtesy of Colleen Slattery
Farm swag.
–Photo courtesy of Colleen Slattery

I had conversations with my boss and fellow employees about everything from Robert Frost to the music of Stravinsky, all while putting pinto beans and dried papaya on the shelves. I was even able to brush up on my French skills with our bulk foods manager, who had studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris for a year. The only other girl on staff was a foreign-exchange student from Russia who declared, “I think Americans work a lot more than Russians do. Here, you work all the hours! In Russia, sometimes we just sit and do nothing!” and encouraged me to dance in the back room whenever no one was looking. Whether I actually did – well, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

All in all, it was a wonderful summer, and I learned a lot – not just how to correctly stock grocery shelves and how to handle a box cutter like no other 20-year-old girl, but also how to relate to all sorts of other human persons, not just those who think the same way I do or even who speak the same language.

I learned that all human beings can relate to and converse with and learn from each other, even in the summertime when the sun shines outside the windows so very temptingly.

 

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