By Megan Gillette
It’s hard enough working, feeding a family, and trying one’s best to find food that is healthy, well-balanced, and organic or sustainably farmed. I didn’t used to be so compulsive about food, but when feeding a little creature and being their sole source of nutrition, these things really started to matter to me. In a time of constant recalls and contamination of super-farmed vegetables, meat-factories, mega-hatcheries and even baby-formula, I want some reassurance that what I feed my family hasn’t been pumped full of antibiotics and squished through unclean equipment.
In 2008 the Common Ground Food Co-op opened at its current Lincoln Square location. We signed up as owners on the payment plan as we figured anyone needing Farmer’s Market access year-round would do. It took us a while to understand how it would fit into our lives. It really saved us last winter when we would go late mornings and the boys would run around the deserted interior eating area in the mall while we enjoyed lunch. Sometimes other kids would join in, many times the mall-walkers would smile as their laughter filled the space.
Shopping there with the family is a favorite pastime. The boys always pick out yogurt-covered pretzels, sesame candy, or fairly-traded exotic animal finger puppets. They fight over who gets more baked tofu — it’s that delicious. They can always be counted on to devour one of the breakfast or bean, cheese and brown rice burritos. Ever-changing quiche flavors are a favorite with everyone — the locally farmed eggs have a flavor so full I can’t even buy brown eggs at a supermarket without thinking they taste watery.
I always have a tough time deciding between the soup and the salads. My favorite salads are the tuna-citrus and the citrus tofu. They are both light, savory and refreshing. But I’m a warm-weather cruncher. This time of year, I can’t get enough of the soups. I love that you can taste them before committing. The other day, they were all so good, I couldn’t decide. I layered them according to consistency and ate my way through the medley of changing flavors. The split pea is always a comfort. My current favorite is the Indonesian Spinach. I tried it on a whim one day and was delighted by the refreshing lemony coconut milk broth and chunks of tender-to-the-bite butternut squash with ribbons of freshly-simmered spinach. The beet and red cabbage laden Borscht is in my bowl whenever it’s available. The African Sweet Potato Peanut Stew is sometimes hard to live without.
No lunch is complete without one of the freshly-baked rockin’ rolls. If you ask nicely at the deli counter they’ll give you a dipping portion of their organic olive oil. When I tried this for the first time a few years ago I couldn’t believe the flavor! It is full and fruity with a slight greenish tint. It’s since replaced the olive oil from California I was ordering for my own kitchen. Any of the house-made hummus varieties are hard not to eat in one sitting. Presently, most meals are finished with a pumpkin raisin walnut cookie—so moist and subtle spices reminiscent of the season. Soups, salads and sides change daily so my tastes are never bored as I could happily eat here daily. All food served is made from the fresh, local and/or organic ingredients in the store. Someone has done the research and the legwork of bringing you a meal you can trust.
Although this friendly and social little store has fit nicely into our town’s existence, wait—there’s more! It’s tripling in size!! The new space will feature a hugely expanded deli and in-store dining. They are bringing back a bakery which will feature their own fresh breads. There will be a beer and wine section that will feature organic, regional or cooperatively produced varieties. There will be more groceries, produce, CHEESE, and even a fresh, local meat counter. There will also be a classroom for cooking, farming and various other related classes.
It is puzzling to many how this little grocery has been so successful it was named one of the Chamber of Commerce Small Businesses of the Year Award for 2008 with nearly 100-percent growth for the last three years. Common Ground has become a business model and success story for cooperatives around the country. They invest heavily in the community, not the just bottom line. As a result, the community invests heavily in them. They raised over $650,000 in owner loans for the expansion. We don’t need “Occupy Chambana” if we put our money where our heart is.
Verdict: Feast and Family! We love it for quick and easy lunch dates or with the hungry little people.
Megan Gillette is a mother of two active little boys — FIT kids (Foodies in Training). In her “spare time” she is a senior graphic and web designer at Wolfram, a real-estate broker with TeamKay at Keller Williams, and a real-estate maven for the family holding company. Megan is in constant pursuit of perfect food, exciting dining experiences, and farm-to-fork meals with her husband and personal sous chef, Kurt.