The OB Peoples Food Coop

by on September 29, 2009 · 57 comments

in Economy, Health, Labor, Ocean Beach

Peoples Food sign

First of a two part series:

Waaay back in the mists of the sixties, the OB Peoples Food Coop was born. As best I can tell, its beginnings came in fits and starts. I remember participating in a Coop back in 1971, where we went to the North County to buy produce and eggs from small farmers. We drove back to Ocean Beach in a my 1962 Corvair (It was unsafe at every speed!) full of assorted boxes and sorted them out into individual orders at the STP (Serve The People) storefront, located on the 4900 block of Voltaire St. That storefront didn’t last very long, due to our landlord’s distaste for the vandalism incurred on the property by assorted right wingers. After the plate glass window on the front of the building was smashed a second time, we were gone.

The STP storefront was initiated by a group of us that lived on Saratoga Street. Our goal was to use the facility for organizing alienated young people into a cohesive radical movement. For us, organizing a cooperative food buying group was part of a larger plan that included draft counseling, legal aid, anti-war protests and educating people about the changing world as we saw it.

The food coop struck a chord, not only with other radicals, but with the more apolitical hippies and free-thinkers living in Ocean Beach. It seemed like each week we had more people signing up. When the storefront was closed, the Coop died for a while. And then it was reborn. I wasn’t involved in the rebirth, as by that time my attentions were shifted toward working on the OB Rag, which we’d assumed responsibility for after Frank Gormlie’s rather unfortunate encounter with the San Diego Police Department during an anti-war demonstration at Collier Park.

peoples food storefront 72

Peoples Food Store on Voltaire Street, circa 1972.

The food coop lived on and grew, eventually ending up in a storefront at 4859 Voltaire Street in 1972. I don’t know if any of the original people were still involved at this point; I do know that the concept resonated with the community. The old store front had a lone refrigerator where members picked out their perishables, adding up the cost themselves before handing over payment to the volunteer charged with cashier duty for that day.

In 1973, the coop moved into a more conventional setting, a former pool hall refitted with a mish-mash of fixtures, some donated, some made by members and some that were purchased. Over the next dozen or so years the OB People’s Food Coop functioned as a workers collective supported by member volunteers. By the early 1980’s the collective began experiencing internal strife, including an ongoing struggle about the relationship of the workers and the volunteers at the store. Although the Coop had managed to purchase its location by then, the store was in serious financial trouble.

Some of collective leadership proposed buying the coop and making it into a private, for profit enterprise. Coop members, along with another group of the store’s workers, opposed the idea, and in 1985 the decision was made to form a cooperative enterprise, with ownership split 50-50 between the employees and the membership. Some of those who had favored buying the coop left, eventually starting their own stores. (That’s a very short version of how Jimbo’s Naturally Stores came to be. And I’ve omitted—on purpose—any discussion of the turmoil that went on around the coop during that time. Suffice it to say that people said and did things that they now regret.)

The remaining group hired new management, who built the membership in the cooperative to over 8000 people during their first year, stabilized the finances of the store, and began making plans to build a bigger and better building. Although Coop continued to grow, the tensions between the workers at the store and the members continued to fester. Eventually, the group reorganized itself as a member-owned cooperative.

(I haven’t been able to find anybody who can fill me in on what happened during this process—please feel free to add to the story in the comments section if you have an insight as to what happened here.)

Cooperatives trace their origins to the hard times of the industrial revolution in England.

There, back in 1844, the first consumers’ coop was formed. Twenty-eight flannel weavers registered with the Parliament as the, “Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers.” Previously these workers had been fired and blacklisted by factory owners after they had organized a strike for better wages and failed. So, as a matter of personal survival, they decided that if they could not organize for better wages, at least they might organize as consumers for lower prices. The Pioneers opened their store with a minimal selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles. Within three months, they expanded their selection to include tea and tobacco, and were soon known for providing high quality, unadulterated goods.

Learning from earlier failed attempts, the founders of the Rochdale society developed a series of operating principles which enabled their success and the success of cooperatives to this day. These basic principles still guide cooperatives around the world. All co-ops contain the following elements:

• Co-ops are owned and governed by their primary users (the member-owners).

• Co-ops are democratically governed (one-member, one-vote).

• Co-ops are businesses, not clubs or associations.

• Co-ops adhere to internationally recognized principles.

Together, both with international and local farmers, food coops are a primary force behind creating food chains that stand for conscious and sustainable consumption. The beauty of co-ops and their supply chains is that they are transparent; you can get to know something real about the farmers who are growing your food.

Food coops nationally are growing in popularity and economic impact. A University of Wisconsin study in 2007 estimated that domestic food cooperatives generated close to $2.1 billion in sales revenue and over $252 million in wages and benefits paid.

Getting back to Ocean Beach…. After many years of discussion, planning and saving, the OB People’s Food Coop began a major renovation in 2001. Staying at the same location, they managed to construct a new facility, while keeping the original store open for business. In the end, they ended up closing for two days for the final conversions to take place. As part of the research for this story, I was given an insiders tour of the facility by Obcean Eco-Designer Jim Bell, who took great pride in pointing out the many features of the “new” store.

Peoples Food roof

Roof top at OB Peoples Food.

The new facility is a testimonial to conscious planning:

• The building was constructed using recycled content: steel, engineered lumber, and non-toxic, recycled and sustainable building materials at every opportunity. No old growth wood was used.

• The Co-op reduced the use of materials with open beam ceilings, exposed framing, and minimal flooring designs.

• Day lighting is used extensively and optimal lighting is achieved with the majority of windows facing north, reducing solar heat intake. All windows and skylights are dual glaze low E glass, designed to minimize undesirable heat-gain. Skylights and windows are operable and placed to maximize cross ventilation.

• Another energy efficient design feature is the photovoltaic cells (PVC) on the roof, which provide about 35% of the building’s electrical needs.

• More energy saving features include a solar thermosyphon system for hot water, low flush toilets, and landscaping that is filled primarily with drought-tolerant plants.

• An energy efficient refrigeration system upgrade included an increase of 25% in refrigeration system condensers. This is a passive addition that reduces energy consumption by reducing the running times of electric motors and the compressors that they power. All walk-in cooler floors are insulated from the earth and include thermal barriers to prevent cold-box slabs from serving as a heat sink for the buildings concrete floor.

• The building embraced the utilization of natural resources as much as possible, and energy efficient strategies minimize the impact on the environment; the building performs at 36% above California Title 24 minimum. The building project won an energy efficient design award from San Diego Gas and Electric’s Savings by Design Program.

• Demolition of the old building was primarily recycled, including concrete and asphalt—all salvageable wood was donated towards housing structures in economically depressed areas of Tijuana.

Today, with over 100 employees (OB’s largest employer), 11,000 members and nearly $12 million in projected sales for 2009, the OB Peoples Food Cooperative is a thriving local institution. Despite the recession, customer counts are growing, with nearly 100 shoppers joining the Coop each month. The organization has been aggressively paying off its construction loans on the property, and it appears to be in good financial shape.

There has been active discussion going back several years about opening an additional location; Coop Marketing Director Amber Forrest McHale, who started out volunteering at the store as a child, says only “As for a second location, we continue to keep our expansion options open.”

So there you have it: the OB Peoples Food Cooperative is alive and going strong, a voice for conscious consumerism that has survived almost four decades as other groups have come and gone. But what does it all mean? Is the coop just another business, living off the progressive good will of Obceans? Why is it vegetarian? What is the true cost of groceries there?

Good questions, all. And we’ll be exploring those questions in next week’s installment of this story. I’ll be comparing prices with other stores, talking about the buying standards that make People’s what it is, and looking the store’s social/political consciousness. Please feel free to add to this story in the comments section, and ask questions that you would like answered. Hopefully, the people who work at and run the Coop will join in this discussion.

See the other articles in this series:
Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar r hoobler September 29, 2009 at 2:44 pm

can’t you people put up some stories about sex or booze or stuff that old farts like me like? peoples food? buncha patchouli smelling freaks if you ask me.


avatar Danny Morales October 2, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Hoobie-R.U. Gay?


avatar bodysurferbob September 29, 2009 at 3:10 pm

r hoobler – a rare moment – you’ve brought up something interesting. there are lots of stories of people, workers, friends and lovers having sex up on people’s roof. c’mon, people now, let’s hear ’em.

excellent piece, btw. really puts peoples history in perspective. true, there are gaps, but i’m hoping that people, current and former workers, board members, customers, members and others will fill in those gaps. really looking forward to the next section.


avatar lane tobias September 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm

as you know, Doug, I’m anxiously looking forward to Part 2. Great job so far!


avatar annagrace September 29, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Great piece Doug. I confess that I am attracted to the theory more than the practice because of the high price of organic fruits and vegetables.

During the course of my travels to other countries, I was struck by the use of government price controls on certain staples–a loaf of French bread in Paris, a kilo of tortillas in Mexico. At the very least, virtually everyone could afford these foods.

What I would like to see is an enterprise that would subsidize part of the cost of some staples- maybe milk, tomatoes in summer, a different fruit or vegetable in every season. Keep those costs comparable to what you’d find in a grocery store and still give the grower fair price. Why not? It’s a food co-op.

If a business is for profit, some of that profit can be used in that manner to meet the basic food needs of residents. This would be a different model than Walmart which wields an iron hand over it’s suppliers.


avatar Seana October 2, 2009 at 10:46 am

We do subsidize staple items- you can pick up a list at the store. These items are kept just above cost. Have you checked out the bulk section? You can feed yourself on a reasonable budget at the Co-op with a little effort. We do carry some high-priced, high-end products that our members request, and some products (organic tomatoes with actual flavor) are just more costly to obtain. The profit margin at the co-op is very low- though we do intend to stay in business so we can serve the needs of the membership.


avatar Frank Gormlie September 29, 2009 at 7:43 pm

A very timely review of an important community institution. The fact that Peoples is OB’s largest employer is very significant in and of itself. It has such a long and delicious history, and many people have passed through all the doors that Peoples has had over the years.

I was part of the co-op that worked out a shed in someone’s back yard, I also volunteered a bunch when it went to a storefront. I was also a member and volunteer of a sibling organic store up in Encinitas, which I helped start while I was a student at UCSD.

I love going in there, and I always see someone I know when I do. Many friends work there now and have worked there.

I just can’t handle all the prices. Breads for under $4 are rare. Organic tomatoes are pricey. More and less expensive varieties ought to be provided.

I remember the big fights, first over coffee, and then over sugar. Big struggles that went on for years. Now, I find it ironic that many products now shout out: “Real sugar”.


avatar Seana October 2, 2009 at 10:30 am

Our margin is very low in both the produce and the perishables department- and we offer a selection of staple items at just above cost. Cheaper tomatoes would mean commercial tomatoes, and most of our membership favors a move away from carrying non-organic/sustaiable products. It is true that you can get a pesticide laden, flavorless tomato or loaf of spongy white bread far cheaper…. you get what you pay for.

Shelves shout out ‘real sugar’ because it is not high fructose corn syrup as you would find in many conventional stores. We could just sell seaweed and grains, but we are a member owned business, and sell what our members request- this allows us to stay in business, supply high quality food choices, and keep people employed.


avatar PSD September 29, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Excellent piece as always, Doug.

I wish I could shop the co-op more, but lately I’ve been buying most of my produce at the farmers’ market, and if I’ve got more than one or two staples (bread, tp, etc.) it’s just too expensive to justify a trip to People’s. I don’t mind paying a few cents more for veggies that blow away the chain stores, and the extra cost of things where a little goes a long way like coffee is negligible, but when it comes to bread and cheese for my daughter’s lunch the couple bucks here and there to be saved add up in this pay-cut economy. And being omnivorous such as my family is, I usually need some chicken, fish, or hamburger (Hamburger Helper helps our house survive the ‘rent’s due’ paycheck), and since Appletree sucks (sucks dick), I end up buying the stuff I’d rather buy at People’s from Fresh & Easy or one of the other big chain grocers, since I’ve got to go there for the meat anyways…


avatar Molly September 30, 2009 at 9:12 am

I’d have to echo PSD’s observation, that since I’m a meat-eater, I have to go to other stores anyway (Trader Joes, Henrys) for my meat products, and then once there, proceed to do my weekly shop. Time is of the essence, so I rarely have time to go shopping twice a week. I do go to Peoples once in awhile as I’ve been a member for many years.

A few years ago, I was wanting Peoples to become a people-oriented, inexpensive version of Whole Foods – where quality meat is sold. I know now that will never happen. Although I too recall the battles over coffee and sugar as someone else did here in the comments.


avatar lane tobias September 30, 2009 at 8:41 am

if you dont ever eat meat, then people’s provides the best place to get your food. If all youre eating is vegetables, wouldn’t you want the highest quality? The other day I tried Henry’s, since everyone always raves about their produce. Some of it was good – but the organic section was tiny, and once again I found the same thing I see at most chains: produce, packaged in twos, and wrapped in plastic. I go to people’s often enough where nobody bats an eye where i take a green bean, or a grape, or a piece of dill, and pop it in my mouth to see how it tastes. for those of us who are on really tight schedules and cant get out more than once a week to shop, farmers markets arent always available. Peoples, although maybe a little more expensive, is as close to a farmers market as i can get to with my schedule. Plus, you never see anything wrapped in plastic…..

that all being said, if you aren’t entirely committed to organic produce than people’s isnt for you. im interested to see how it actually compares to other supermarkets though, considering that the prices seem to be higher – but how much higher? and why?


avatar mr fresh September 30, 2009 at 9:20 am

There is already subsidized food in the USA. And you’re paying for it. Big agriculture gets billions every year from your tax dollars for subsidies, tax breaks, “marketing” and research. This financial support makes its possible for “Super” markets to sell you white bread, cheap meat and processed foods full of high fructose corn syrup and other chemicals. It seems cheap, you eat it and then you (eventually) get sick. Then Big Pharma steps in and sells you drugs to lower your cholesterol (etc) and makes another few bucks off you.
If you really analyze what going on here you’ll realize that our corporate food “chain” is really just another way of enslaving you.


avatar Ian Duckles September 30, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I have heard lots of people complain about the prices at the Co-op, but I am not really sure where people are getting their pricing information from. Let’s start with Heirloom Tomatoes. At the Farmer’s Market they run $3.99 – $4.99 a pound. At People’s they are $2.99 a pound and are fantastic. Also, in the latest Co-op Newsletter they compared the price of People’s organic produce with the non-organic produce sold at a large chain. The organic produce at People’s was cheaper than the non-organic stuff at the large chain.
In the case of coffee, People’s has absurdly low prices for fair trade organic coffee. They usually have at least one variety on sale for less than $8.99 a pound and the bulk of their offerings (all fair-trade) are under $10 a pound. You can’t buy non-organic non-fair trade coffee at the Starbucks for that price let alone the fair-trade stuff that goes for well over $10 a pound (and in the stores Starbucks’ regular blends go for around $6.99 for 8oz). So, where are people getting the idea that the Co-op is so expensive?


avatar Amber Forest September 30, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Stop by People’s and pick up a copy of the October newsletter from any cash register lane. I did a price comparison last month on organic produce from the Co-op compared to the price of commercial (i.e. pesticide laden) produce at Vons and printed it in the Co-op’s newsletter. The outcome? The organic produce that I compared (common items such as lettuce, carrots, squash etc.) at the Co-op cost less than the commercial produce at Vons.


avatar lane tobias September 30, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Amber, any particular reason you center your attention on a weekly customer of the co-op, spending hundreds of dollars a month with unwavering regularity, as opposed to all the people on here who DO NOT support it because THEY feel its too expensive to shop there in the first place?

I just made a statement that included my devotion to the co-op. Maybe you should direct those comments at the people throwing their support behind other entities. I tried Henry’s, yeah. And I hated it. I said “If you aren’t entirely committed to organic produce, then people’s isnt for you”, after complaining about the quality of organic produce there, because it was clear that their weekly specials were dirt cheap. I’m talking about three pounds of strawberries for a dollar, red peppers for 89 cents a pound. Of course, theyre covered in pesticides, which is why I shop at People’s.

As for the community that a c0-op is supposed to build – the only people I enjoy talking to when I go into the co-op are the employees….ya know, the folks selecting the produce I buy and eat, or the coffee I drink, or the spices I buy and use daily. In general, I don’t actually know anyone else from OB who shops as often or buys as much food at People’s as myself and my girlfriend. I am not the most popular guy, but I know a lot of folks who maybe only pick up an item here and an item there. MY experience with other customers has been subpar. I can’t even begin to count how many times I haven’t been able to park because someone’s ridiculous SUV is taking up two parking spots, or how many times I’ve had to wait behind someone at the deli as they put the folks behind the counter through HELL “let me get a spoonful of that…wait no, put that back, a little bit of the kale…wait, let me try it first…okay, thats not enough, wait thats too much” (RUDE), or how many times I’ve watched customers take something, put it in their cart, and then leave it in a different aisle or up at the front so the cashier has to put it back. The whole idea of community is sort of lost on those folks – especially the excursion and expedition crowd. If they shopped there regularly, and cared about the co-op community, they would know that an SUV doesnt fit into those little spots and would park elsewhere. Not to mention theyre killing the environment. Pulling up to the co-op in an SUV kinda defeats the idea of shopping at a place that is one of the greenest buildings in the area, doesnt it?

As for cost analysis and comparison, I would rather leave that to a party that is not involved intrinsically with the co-op. Like Doug, who wrote that he is planning on doing just that. And I hardly ever read print publications anymore, except MAYBE CityBeat and the Reader on the can, because if I don’t take a copy, its going to end up littering our streets…..I can’t remember the last time I read the co-op newsletter. Print publications are bad for the environment, and dated. I find it strange that People’s Newsletter is still printed on paper – regardless of the ink or type of paper used – considering the organizational commitment to the environment. As many of us neo-journalist-blogger types like to say, “Print is so 1985”.

Sorry but it had to be said.


avatar Sam September 30, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Whoa Lane – what’s with the thunder? Prices are fair and reasonable at the co-op. You can read their newspaper online if you want and my friends and I love that they offer samples in the deli upstairs. Sure, I ride my skateboard to peeps, but are you suggesting that they tell the SUVers that they can’t shop? The first principal of cooperatives is that they are open to everyone. Not just you. Take a pill and chill bro. Better yet, come down to the beach and take that aggression into the ocean. You’ll feel better for it. Right now your negativity is outshining your smarts. Peoples rocks! I know many of the staff in the deli and they love their jobs. I’ve yet to hear them say that customers (other than a once a day sourpuss now and then) give them hell. Community by the way is for everyone, not just the groovy types who actually understand community. Plus all that delicious organic food will help them think better and in time, ditch the SUV.


avatar Molly September 30, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Sam, my brother, you chill. Lane’s talking a good and valid point, here. I have personally walked into Peoples and picked up an organic tomato, weighed it, and figured out this one tomato was gonna be over $3. I also have trouble finding a loaf of bread under $5! (Although I love the bagels and as the place that bakes them closes early, People’s bagel bins are very convenient.)

The people who shop at Peoples don’t necessarily live in the community, so are not that community-minded. People come from all over San Diego – even from the desert and the mountains – to shop there.

I way I relate to Peoples is this: I consider the store – and all its workers, managers, customers as part of a big (huge) family. When there’s a problem within the family, the family tries to fix it.

I guess what we’re saying here – with Peoples prices – there’s a problem within the family.


avatar Seana October 2, 2009 at 11:07 am

To assume that all people have regular access to the internet is a pretty elitist attitude…… and ‘neo-journalist-bloggers’ have relied upon the print industry they denigrate to pay the salaries of actual journalists who give them something to spout off about. As the jobs of these traditional journalists disappear, we may find the discussion devolving.

I’m sorry you don’t enjoy interactions with the membership- many people invest a great deal of time and money in the Co-op. I appreciate them greatly, even when they need a second sample. You may only see them buy a few items during your once a week visit, but they may come in daily- sometimes several times a day. In any case, I would not measure their dedication or their importance to the Co-op solely on how much they spend.

I would venture that a fair number of the larger vehicles you see in the lot belong to members coming a far distance who need the vehicles due to their jobs, family size, or the place they live. They drive them to the Co-op because, like you, they need to be able to haul their often substantial load of groceries home.

Would you have the Co-op discriminate? If so, who gets to select the criteria? My family does not own or operate a motor vehicle- should I propose we close the lot altogether and plow it under for a garden? That suits MY needs… but with age, I have learned to consider the circumstances and the needs of others.


avatar lane tobias October 2, 2009 at 4:20 pm

I don’t think the comments section on this blog is going to suddenly create an environment of libelous accusations. To assume that the people who read these comments will suddenly change their perception of a deep seated entity like People’s because one or two blog readers have some complaints about it is a reach.

In regard to not taking others circumstances into consideration, I went so far as to apologize, in a public forum, for what I thought were possibly overreaching and unnecessary comments. That was by no means an obligation. I felt bad about it, and apologized.

It is far from elitist to assume that everyone has access to the internet. Maybe some people choose to use it sparingly, and they have their own reasons for that. Nonetheless, my point had nothing to do with internet access or “neo-journalists” per se, but rather my own concern about what I opine to be a hypocracy in the co-op’s environmental ideals.

“Real” journalists can be loosely defined, because the print industry is a dying entity and ever evolving. Print publications are downsizing and focusing more on online readership because it is how the industry has evolved and how contemporary readers, for the most part, prefer to get their news – not because bloggers criticize journalists. Blogging is just an extension of the technological landscape expanding and the term has no bearing at all on the quality of the reporting. I can pick out numerous articles right here on the OB Rag that are of much higher quality and have a much higher moral and ethical standard than those published in some of today;s most “trusted” news sources. Blogging just so happens to have evolved into the most efficient and convenient way for alternative media to present their angle. In the past, that was done through underground papers and loosely organized radical movements. As an example, you have some writers right here on the OB Rag who once produced this very same publication in print. It has evolved into a blog – dispursing pretty much the same set of values and ideas, reaching more people than ever before, and as a *bonus*, it is less harmful to the environment.

As far as I can tell, every person who commented here, regardless of their stance, presented their ideas in coherent and lucid forms. Additionally, everyone seems to have at least a few other people supporting their ideas. In no way do I see anything here that should be considered baseless or “neandertal fog”, as mentioned below. If one person stands in the middle of the street talking to what appears to be an invisible person, than people might walk by and say “hey, that guy/gal MUST be crazy” (or on acid). But if one or two or three more people start doing the same thing, then passersby might start paying attention, and maybe one person (a “neo-journalist” perhaps?) will explore it further to see if there is, in fact, an invisible person there.

Again, I’m looking forward to part 2, as I’m sure Doug will be tackling many of the questions and concerns that have been raised here. As for what effect all these varied comments will have on the article, I can assume that the beliefs conveyed across the board were already on his radar before he even posted part 1.


avatar Robert Burns October 2, 2009 at 5:27 pm

That’s cool. We disagree, i.e., neither of us rules, on whether anything is baseless here.


avatar Sam October 3, 2009 at 7:22 am

For the record Lane, you seemed to have apologized to me; not the bloggers, and certainly not Amber who you were addressing. And as for this comment of yours: “Blogging just so happens to have evolved into the most efficient and convenient way for alternative media to present their angle.” you seem to missing Seana’s point that not everyone has access to the Internet. What’s convenient about that? That question is rhetorical.


avatar doug porter September 30, 2009 at 5:24 pm

i WILL be publishing Amber’s comparison shopping results in the next installment of this story, along with my own comparisons. i must say in advance that comparing stores based on price alone is not gonna tell the whole story here.
if you want the cheapest, go to a walmart supercenter; they even have some organic products. AND you get their whole history of paying employees less, ruining the social fabric of rural America and environmental neglect at no extra charge.


avatar lane tobias September 30, 2009 at 6:59 pm

sam i apologize for the thunder, it was a reaction based on what I felt was a needless attempt at riling me up…it is not the first time I’ve encountered it, and its troubling because I am such a devoted shopper. So the temper definitely got the better of me; I was really upset about the parking thing because its happened to me the last two times I’ve gone to peoples…no joke. And as for the newsletter, well, maybe I didnt need to take it that far – but sometimes angry young people, we’re just right, and we know it, and we come off smart ass about it.

I too sample the deli, but not to the point where I’m not hungry by the time I’m done. Again though, even though I may question the price – I still shop there for every food item I eat each week. That should say something in itself.


avatar Dave Gilbert October 1, 2009 at 8:22 am

Lane, you have nothing to apologize for. You made perfect sense on something you felt strongly about. The irony of the SUVs at Peoples isn’t lost on me either. I’ve only shopped there once and while they are closer to me and I feel they have better produce & dairy than say Appletree, I don’t end up shopping there and I really don’t know why. Maybe it’s almost getting mowed down by some of their shoppers as I merely try to walk down the sidewalk that’s in front of their parking lot.


avatar Sam October 1, 2009 at 10:03 am

“it was a reaction based on what I felt was a needless attempt at riling me up…it is not the first time I’ve encountered it . . . ”

I don’t see anywhere in Amber’s comment about cost comparison anything resembling an attempt to rile you, or anybody else. It appears, as Genie says, she was just responding to comments regarding pricing, and I don’t a whole lot about co-ops, but I do think that they are their to support the community, not build it per say. But again, I don’t know.
What I do know is that it’s a great day to walk along the cliffs. Hope ya’ll get the chance to make it down there . . . mahalo!


avatar genie September 30, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Thanks for your work, and dedication for all these years Amber. And your response to the question Lane put of how prices compare. He asked, you answered….. Nuff said.


avatar Seana October 2, 2009 at 11:18 am

And thank you, Amber, for taking on the task of price comparisons. The Co-op needs this information to better serve its membership on a continuous basis- not just when it is the focus of the media.


avatar uppity crow September 30, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Hey Lane, maybe you could walk, or ride a bike to People’s, car pool, or figure your shopping needs so you would only have to go once or twice a week to cut down on pollution, to compensate for all the SUV’s.


avatar lane tobias September 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Well uppity crow, I only go once a week, which is why I use my car, because I’m usually walking out with 5 or 6 bags of groceries. If I had more time in my week, I would gladly walk and just pick up items a few at a time…but alas, my schedule does not allow for that. Considering I share one car between two working, commuting people, it makes it a little difficult to NOT car pool…..


avatar PSD September 30, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Hey now! Why the SUV hate? Christina had to drive my truck for a couple days last week when I went out of town and needed the car and told me she encountered nothing but hateful d-bags every day on the street…maybe I’m too aloof to notice it, but since her car broke down I’ve been driving my insanely oversized beast around. I hate it and am scraping for money to get the little Neon running again – the Excursion is only supposed to be used for camping and helping friends move. But when it was my daily driver I ran a weekly route to my favorite Chinese food holes-in-the-wall and was involved in a group that turned their waste oil into bio-diesel to power the mo-fo with a 70/30 blend of waste oil:purchased fuel. Anyways, sorry to offend, as soon as we can afford it the SUV will once again become a driveway queen. Until then, I’m sorry the parking spaces at People’s are too small to open your door if a truck is parked in the next space over, but I do always keep it between the stall lines.

Sorry to sound like a downer, but comparing $9/lb. fair trade coffee to Starbucks doesn’t seem like apples-to-apples to me – I can get non-fair-trade coffee of similar quality from the chain stores for $6/lb. Because we don’t use a lot of it in my house I can afford to and most often do choose ther more expensive variety, but let’s be real – social consciousness often carries a steep price, one many people can’t justify right now.


avatar Lee October 1, 2009 at 8:30 am

Just gotta chime in here and say that i buy bread at People’s all the time. It’s organic (no poison), made with sprouted grains (that means enzymes and health!), has no refined white sugar or other crap that i don’t want. And this bread costs me $3.75 a loaf. Unless it’s on sale. And there is always some kind of bread on sale. Just like there is always some kind of coffee on sale. Maybe i sound like a preacher but as someone who has been a member of the co-op for many years, i realize that i am an owner of this business as well. And as an owner i want my co-op supported not bashed. Nobody says that you have to shop at People’s. If you want to go elsewhere, then go. i don’t make much money, but i do like to eat healthy. When i had to go on food stamps they gave me a 10% discount on what i bought. They do this whether you are a member or not . . . i think. I love this place and your a humbug if you don’t too. Just kidding.


avatar jon October 1, 2009 at 10:49 am

I’ve lived in OB for a long time, and in San Diego my entire life. However, I’m actually a newbie when it comes to People’s. So I hope my take on things shows a fresh, new-comer’s perspective.

Let me start by saying I think Doug’s article is well done (no not like a hamburger) and I wish I had read something like this years ago because I probably would have started going to People’s a lot sooner. After reading all the comments, I don’t get the sense that anyone is “bashing” or “dissing” on People’s. I think there’s an overwhelming sense of love for the place. As devoted members of something as special as the co-op, I think we might be too quick to quick to dismiss any constructive criticism as an assault on our beloved instituition and label the critic as our enemy.

That being said, the reason I have only recently begun shopping at People’s is because it always seemed like an elite club that I did not understand or was not welcome to be a part of because I eat meat, and worse, curly fries from Jack in the Box! eeek! I always felt like there was some sort of alarm that would sound when I walked through the door at People’s! “Carnivore alert!” I, of course, realize that sort of paranoid thinking is ridiculous, and my fiance has been a long time member, so I’ve started to frequent People’s more often. It seems as though every time I go in, I discover something that I’ve never tried before. I enjoy the selection of fresh organic vegetables, cheeses and bulk items such as trail mix, quinoa, legumes, etc… Lot’s of interesting foods that you won’t find at most grocers. Everything’s vegetarian, but so what? There’s a great meat selection at the Olive Tree market if I really want a burger or a steak. (Oooh! And for those here that do enjoy animal…there is a fantastic new butcher shop that just opened in La Jolla called homegrown meats. Everything is local, organic, grass-fed. The farm is near Palomar Mountain and the quality is out of this world!

Back to the subject at hand…I still occasionally get the sense that there is an elitist element at work when I walk the aisles at People’s. A bit of, “I’m more organic than you” vibe. But quite honestly, that sort of mentality exists in any social microcosm (think surfers or bikers…) and the overall attitude I have experienced at People’s, once letting go of my own ego has been friendly and accepting. Hopefully through Doug’s article and the comments, critique and praise alike, more people will be turned on to the good things People’s has to offer.


avatar Robert Burns October 1, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Hi. I moved here in 1976 and have found the store to be a pillar in my life. I’ve dated several ladies who have worked there and lived for years with one. I”ve had many friends and postive experiences there over the years. This is as close to a Rainbow Family type business as you will find. One of my daughters is looking for work there, both daughters now being vegetarians. I was active in the efforts to fight profitization of the food store, fight off efforts to sell meat there, and to turn it into a cooperative corporation. I spent a costly 5 months ill in a rural area of Imperial Valley immersed in insectides, herbicides, and fertilizers and thus have little appreciation for the complaints of “high price” of organic food. BTW, the food store was an informal buying club before becoming a nonprofit corporation owned by 3 individuals before becoming a cooperative corportation owned by its members and employees.


avatar Robert Burns October 1, 2009 at 12:01 pm

PS: Thanks for this article and opportunity to comment.


avatar Editor October 2, 2009 at 11:21 am

This post and its wonderful comments are exactly what this blog is all about. Thank you Seana, lane, annagrace, bodysurferbob, PSD, Molly, Mr Fresh, Ian, Amber, Sam, Dave G, Genie, Lee, Jon, and Robert B.


avatar Seana October 2, 2009 at 11:34 am

I get why no one would want to be the subject of this journalism- it just opens them up to endless trash talk, much of it uninformed and baseless. It creates a forum where anyone can say anything- which may sound appealing a first. But in the long run, it tends to reinforce misconceptions and misguided complaints. It is disappointing. It seems most people aren’t interested in hearing information and the ideas of others. They just want to get in their own 2 cents. I admit, I fall victim to the same tendency….. It is appealing to spout off in this forum…. but I wonder what it does to the actual journalism.


avatar jon October 2, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Endless trash talk?? Methinks thou dost protest too much Seana. It appears to me the majority of the comments, not to mention the entire story, have been supportive of People’s. Certainly in a public forum such as this you’re going to have a few negative folks who want to complain for the sake of complaining or are just plain crazy (read: hoobler), but don’t be so quick to label everything talked about here as uninformed and baseless. Have you ever read the comment section of the Union Tribune on signonsandiego? Would People’s have had a problem if the UT wanted to write a story about the history of the co-op? I can only imagine what those bloggers on the UT site would have said about you! eek. I personally think the positives of this type of community forum outweigh the negatives.

What really puzzles me is that the story Doug wrote seems very matter-of-fact and even paints the co-op in a positive light, talking about the way the building is so energy efficient and really ahead of it’s time etc… There isn’t a single comment or piece of this story that would stop me from going shopping at People’s. Quite the contrary. Now I know more about the history and am excited to try more things there. Yet there seems to be this weird automatic defensive stance taken by People’s, like the OBRag was out to expose some ugly truth. I just don’t get it. I thought it was a nice story that would get more people interested in what you guys do and the great products you supply to the community. Why not embrace that? Because one or two people said something negative about the store in the comment section? c’mon…. toughen up a little…


avatar Sam October 3, 2009 at 7:39 am

For me, it’s Lane’s attitude that sparked my pen (keyboard) not the issue of the co-op itself. The article is informative and i look forward to part 2. but on the comments, the talk is supportive of the store in one paragraph and then in another (same comment) it’s paranoia that store isn’t meeting the needs and the prices are too high. It’s almost as if some of the bloggers are schizophrenic (i do not mean to be rude by saying that). Frank says yeah, and then boo, and the same with Molly and the Same with you Jon even though now you don’t think it’s as elitist as you once did. and the grand prize goes to Lane. Sorry dude, but we’re putting ourselves out here and we get what we get. we cant expect to dish it out without comments (including me). Peoples is a grocery store, not utopia. be grateful (if you want) that it’s here. i don’t see any other food co-ops (and by the way Frank, it’s co-op, not coop, as in a place a chicken lives) in s.d. maybe the people who aren;t happy with peeps could start another? and then we could all blog about the new one.

i checked the UT archives and they’ve actually featured the co-op in at least three front page articles that i can find. 2 in the business section, 1 in food. p.s. plenty of workers at the co-op eat flesh of one sort or another, they’re human, you’re human, i’m human. the best any of us can do is to do our best. be compassionate, take action, use our voices, remember we are all related and all that jazz. thanks for the space OB Rag.


avatar jon October 3, 2009 at 7:56 am

Just to address my own schizophrenia… ;) The point I guess I was trying to make was that from an outsiders perspective, I viewed the co-op in a certain light. However, once I was introduced to it by friends and became more aware of all that it had to offer, I had a major change of heart and mind. Call it schizophrenia, call it flip-flopping call it enlightenment? The point is that other folks out there like me who may not understand all that goes on at Peoples might feel the same way I did. Hopefully through articles like the one Doug wrote, they will be encouraged to try something new and healthy and fun! In fact, I think I will go there today to get some delicious organic grass-fed cheddar and organic tomatoes to go on my locally raised organic grass-fed ground chuck to make burgers! That’s a mouthful in more ways than one….:)


avatar john October 3, 2009 at 1:31 am

It’s called free speech, and how many times in years past have we read some mainstream media garbage in the institutions like the U-T but were lacking a way to express our outrage?
I’m not sure what the complaint is, some readers replied with some concerns that may be “uninformed” and you seemed to address them with informed answers. This form of journalistic outlet is growing in leaps and bounds, if you haven’t noticed the old curmudgeons like the U-T are quickly falling by the wayside and blogs and similar grassroots driven media often break the scandals the corporations would like to keep quiet.
Those who represent businesses will do well by learning to adapt and use the forums to promote customer loyalty, and don’t worry too much about the random troll because if uninformed trash talk is his sole language it’s a sure bet nobody listens to them anyway.
This statement: “It seems most people aren’t interested in hearing information and the ideas of others. ” actually might convey the feelings of customers in a number of large retail establishments on a number of issues, you should consider that a forum where they go to express their concerns is an opportunity for your business, not a liability.


avatar jon October 3, 2009 at 7:44 am

Right on John. Couldn’t agree more.


avatar Robert Burns October 2, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Jon, I agree with you except I think that Seana speaks for herself not for the co-op. I understand Seana’ feelings in dealing with blog comments some of which I found more fitting for Neandertal fog.


avatar jon October 2, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Thanks for pointing that out Robert.

One of the reasons I’ve been drawn to the OB Rag blog, besides the fact I love ocean beach, is because the majority of comments here are well thought out and not full of hate, spite and vitriol. Sure we have some loose cannons from time to time and people (including myself) have been known to lose their cool, but most of the other blogs out there can really bring you down with the nonsense that’s perpetuated! And I hope Seana doesn’t think I was coming down on her or People’s at all. Just chattin’.


avatar Robert Burns October 2, 2009 at 7:05 pm

BodySurferBob. I’ll tell ya’ over a wee dram about mine. But a couple I know used to regularly make love on the beach here in broad daylight in the 1980’s with some umbrella-like dress worn by the woman all that there was to block the view. The guy was really into advanced martial arts and so may have been able to avoid much suspicious movement. PS: This Bob bodysurfs, too.


avatar Genie October 2, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Yesterday I went to People’s……………I made my usual stop right in the front section, to check out what new cool “gadgets, etc” were there. I encountered a posting from Peoples’s, an explanation about any items that may have been from China, and the concern about the exploitation of Workers, and an assurance to shoppers that anything that was imported from China had been researched and only were there because they had met the guidelines of Fair Trade and workers rights. I thought to myself, now that is a big reason I shop at People’s, they do my research for me, and I can feel good about anything I buy there.
A while back when I was considering getting a water filter system, I became so frustrated trying to figure out which was best, in all ways. So, I called People’s and asked them, “What kind of water do you guys use there?” They turned me on to a local Co., and explained to me the filter system. Alot of what they do is make sure, as best they can, to do what is right! And they do the research for it. So, thanks Peoples’s for that work you do behind the scenes, that unseen extra step you take!


avatar jon October 3, 2009 at 8:06 am

That’s REALLY cool Genie, thanks for pointing that out. I’ll bet Doug can elaborate on this in his part 2 story.


avatar john October 3, 2009 at 8:55 pm

While they’re worried about rights for the Chinese the Chinese are still stealing every patent and manufacturing process and copyrighted material that 100 years of the American industrial revolution worked hard to invent. Championing for the rights of third world sweatshop workers has always been a noble thing but it’s going to be less and less appealing as the economic decline worsens and the third worlders become us, and we realize their dominance comes not so much from hard work but theft of inventions and abuse of the environment to criminal proportions. It might soften the blow if their manufacturers respected any part of the patent or copyright laws but they hold them in contempt.
Still I respect what you imply the Co-op is doing, but perhaps their concerns should shift from “do the workers who made this product earn enough and work in a safe environment” to “did the factory who made this blatantly release harmful emissions in the air, chemicals in the water, and steal the idea from its original inventor?”


avatar Larry OB October 3, 2009 at 5:20 pm

The O.B. People’s Organic Food Co-op Mission, Vision, and Values were approved by consensus at the Board of Directors meeting on May 15, 1996, as amended.

I copied that from their website. Was that done to solidify the vegetarian mission once and for all? What did previous mission and value statements have to say? Will the meat debate return? Are there “better meat than wheat” folks grumbling in the background?

One thing that used to bother me before the SUV era, was all the big ass luxury cars filling the paking lot on Thursdays. Rich folks from Point Loma that would come down on senior day so they could buy at member prices without having to become members and pay dues. I couldn’t take the vibe on Thursdays.


avatar Robert Burns October 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Did Larry’s post just arise out of the blue? I find it his only post. I wonder what he copied and why a 1996 anything is mentioned over anything to do with the cooperative formed about a decade later. I have never heard the term “better meat than wheat”. I will restrain from making further comment.


avatar john October 3, 2009 at 6:23 pm

For a number of reasons I’m going to say I don’t promote this view as my own, (I ride a bicycle as often as possible, and this study revolves around a meat diet that the Brits are fond of) but still I think it’s an interesting view to consider regarding the SUV crowd:

“Walking to the shops ‘damages planet more than going by car’”

It does provide an example of how, especially in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, common sense beliefs can easily become common misconceptions. Such as hydropower being a clean alternative. They recently found anything but that to be the case if a new dam is built, especially in warmer climates. (flooding acreage kills so much organic matter that in decay turns to methane gas which was previously thought to disappear within a year, but as it turns out lies deep under the surface for decades and when it hits the generator turbines expands and is released into the atmosphere- making hydro more damaging than even coal power for global warming gas emissions)
These misconceptions are common when pursuing environmental legislation with a knee-jerk reactionary attitude, often driven by emotion, and I’m sure some of the practices the People’s Co-op adhere to contain similar contradictions, that like the scam called hybrid vehicles being perpetuated upon a myopic public. More engineered to take advantage of green buyers desire to appear green, not actually have a tangible benefit to the planet when placed under deep scrutiny. As it’s rarely intentional I hesitate to attack them for it but also won’t be looked down upon for it either.
Most of the environmental regulations people fought so hard for in the past decades in America in the end had a detrimental effect on planet earth. (this does NOT mean I am anti-green in any way) Many industrial manufacturing processes in particular who were gross polluters in say, the 60’s when public outrage began, well reasonable regulation would clean up their emissions by the ’80s and 90% of what was once unrestricted was by then contained and we could see if it wasn’t. It was cost effective to control that 90%. However the hard core environmental crowd demands that 99% contained was required, and the cost of restricting the last 9% exceeds the cost of the 90% and makes production in the US a no win situation, so the factory closes and moves to China- where it can go back to full, 100% polluting the environment, and we can’t do a thing about it. Moreover, Americans lose jobs, and the resulting industrialization of China’s people has accelerated their carbon footprint on the planet, because people who used to live in huts and farm now live in cities and work in factories.
So think through those environmental policies that give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside and make sure they aren’t causing more damage than good in the end. Your neighbor who drives a ’65 Chevelle might be more green than you if he keeps that hot rod in tune because in the 44 years since it was made he didn’t buy and scrap 6 or 8 new cars.


avatar Frank Gormlie October 4, 2009 at 8:51 am

John, here’s what your article continues to say: “The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes.”

Once again, John, you get out of your black caddy (what year is it?) and turn things around – blaming environmentalists for global warming. It was like you blamed Bill Clinton for the war in Iraq.

I’m glad you staying with us – it is just a challenge when you leave such long, long comments. Obviously, no one wanted to take you up on your rehash of the Iraq war, however, many of us agree with you on your attitude toward the alcohol ban.
Don’t blame China for everything dude. They hold a lot of our bank notes.

In fact, let’s celebrate with them the overturn of feudalism in China 60 years ago. Celebrating with them, with the legacy of Mao – the George Washington of China – does not translate into support for the current government that runs the most populous nation on earth. Their suppression of their own people ala Tienanmen Square and what they’ve done with Tibet greatly distances them from the early goals of the revolution.


avatar john October 5, 2009 at 6:14 am

You’ve got my point all wrong, as I said that wasn’t my position to defend. What I was saying is that positions taken on green issues that aren’t well thought through or taken hastily only looking at the narrow scope of the action itself, often end up causing as much or more harm as they intended to address. I’m not blaming environmentalists, I’m blaming extremist environmentalists who went beyond reasonable restrictions, and I think you can understand that a factory that was monitored and restricted here that ended up moving to China where it is not, when all is said and done, was a counterproductive action..
(if we need to get a bit personal I’d say once again by simplifying a complex issue into a sentance or two of course you willl get it wrong!- and go back and see my reply on clinton and the war, that wasn’t stated or implied- though it is interesting that at the time it began Bill openly stated that he agreed with the decision Bush made.)
BTW I have a spendy full titanium hybrid bike, with all XTR components, Boone’s ti rings, etc etc built one piece at a time from ebay deals over a year. I’d be stupid not to ride it. In fact I’ve driven just 2000 miles in 3 years!


avatar Robert Burns October 5, 2009 at 9:15 am

I see where you’re coming from. But, there are an host of capitalist pseudo reasons for offshoring our industry and most of them are pre-dominantly not environmental ones. How much environmentalism is there anyway in a country where The Great Hope becomes President and presides over a cash for new clunkers program?


avatar Larry OB October 3, 2009 at 6:41 pm

I copied it from the OB Peoples web site…that part that lays out their mission and vision. I was just curious what revisions might have been made over the years. Was it originally just about cheap and healthy food for the people? Just Historical curiosity on my part.

Don’t get wrong. I like Peoples, and I have a relatively low (4 digit) membership number to guage my loyalty. One of the things I like best about Peeps is just randomly trying something different. Someone did their due diligence to get that product on the shelf, and that makes it worth a gamble. It’s how I get turned on to great products like Mary’s (Gone) Crackers
Some folks would be put off by the price, and miss out on the great flavor and nutrition in those crackers. Food for Life sprouted corn tortillas are another product I like from Peeps. Flavor and nutrition are more important to me than saving a few bucks on my food bill. Eating certain foods in moderation is a better way save money.


avatar Robert Burns October 3, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Whoa, sorry Larry, this hangover led me to screw up the dates in my mind. I’d expect the 1996 statement to be current. I’ve got the old articles of incorporation and bylaws somewhere but memory tells me (between headaches) that the nutritional mission has always been pretty much the same on paper but the store was facing efforts to become more like Whole Foods before it became a co-op. Who knows what the future holds for anyone. I hope this helps.


avatar doug porter October 5, 2009 at 9:51 am

Monday AM: i’m now hard at work writing part two of the series. I’d like to thank ALL of you who contributed to the dialog here; it was of immeasurable help in focusing me on the issues that needed to be addressed in discussing the politics and the true costs of food. I hope to have the piece up by Tuesday (10/6). Stay tuned.


avatar Dave Gilbert October 5, 2009 at 10:47 am

Looking forward to it Doug!


Leave a Comment

Before clicking Submit, please complete this simple statement to help us weed out the bots... Thank you! *

Older Article:

Newer Article: