ELFCO is a healthy living grocery store much like Foods for Living and The Better Health Store, but the space is more limited. Like the larger stores, ELFCO offers a full line of grocery items, from dairy, produce, dry goods and frozen foods to nutritional supplements and vitamins, cleaning supplies, bathroom sundries, gifts and more, nearly all organic, natural or free trade.
ELFCO even contains a few surprises. The produce section is as complete as the larger stores, with a sizable collection of common fruits, berries and vegetables. ELFCO also carries products from Zingerman’s, a foodie-endorsed Ann Arbor-based deli. Bread, bagels and other baked goods, cheeses from the Zingerman’s Creamery and a few other items are found throughout the store.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of ELFCO is its commitment to the community. In the produce section, food origins are clearly marked, with many from Michigan. At a deeper level, ELFCO, a co-operative, would not exist without a committed base of over 4,000 owners; anyone can become an owner for $60. And, although anyone is welcome to shop at ELFCO, owners enjoy special privileges and opportunities to special-order hardto-find items.
Along with its commitment to community, ELFCO offers pamphlets on food allergies, organic foods, sweeteners, functional foods and more. It also displays posters explaining the process of fair trade and organic farming practices. The co-op even operates a mini library.
Apple Schram Orchard, a local farm near Charlotte, has natural, grass-fed, anti-biotic and steroid-free meats stocked in an ELFCO freezer, including nitrate free bacon ($11.49 a pound), bratwurst ($10.89 a pound) and pork chops ($9.29 a pound) Like Foods for Living, restaurant items from Woody’s Oasis are stocked in the deli, next to homemade salsa from El Azteco.
Like the larger stores, ELFCO offers plenty of bulk: peanut butter ($2.39 a pound), Michigan honey ($2.99 a pound), extra virgin olive oil ($5.99 a pound) and a dozen dispensers of soap, shampoo and conditioner ($3.99-5.19 a pound)
The City Market has shuttered the Depression-era building it occupied for decades and has migrated to its new digs a few feet closer to the Grand River. Somewhat — the move is a work-in-progress and many stalls are waiting to be organized and occupied. Some longtime tenats are up and running.
Bob’s Produce, with the always brusque yet somehow affable Bob Falsetta waiting to sell you apples, bananas, onions or such, is fully operational. And so is The Grain Market, where you can buy all the ingredients you need to bake your own gourmet bread, including an array of appliances and tools to make the job easier. But Seif Foods and Hill’s Home Cured Cheese are missing in action, replaced by signs promising they are coming soon.
Unlike the other three stores reviewed, City Market is a collection of vendors without a unified mission. So if it’s organic you want, you’ll have to ask, but local production is predominant.
Bella Harvest, of Dimondale, gives local farmers an outlet for their products. Bella offers organic and natural produce, meats, honey, jams and other items in-season, but in the dead of winter the selection includes foods produced through conventional farming. Like ELFCO, Bella carries natural meats from Apple Schram; however, the same nitrate-free bacon ($7 a pound), brats ($6.50 a pound) and pork chops ($7 a pound) are all priced much cheaper.
Alice’s Kitchen extends the selection of meats beyond what the three other grocery stores stock. Lamb, goat, pork products and even one-quarter and half-cows can be purchased through Alice’s. All the meat is grass-fed in Grand Ledge.
The City Market also gives local artisans a place to thrive. At Bob’s Wife’s Soaps, naturally fragranced soaps may look like bars of fudge but they clean much better. And at Riverside Studios, a husband-and-wife team from Dimondale create and sell jewelry, glass art and other handmade items.
The City Market and ELFCO might not have the space of other grocery stores, but they certainly make the most of it. For the food essentials, both will suffice. But at ELFCO, food, clothing, home supplies — even stuffed animals — are waiting for conscientious consumers.
In Part One of this series last week, Joe Torok profiled The Better Health Store and Foods For Living. Better Health offers a full-service deli where customers can place orders, while Foods For Living has self-serve deli cases with pre-packaged foods.