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MOON Co-Op innovates Oxford’s grocery capital

MOON Co-Op isn't like other grocery stores in Oxford. This locally owned store aims to provide zero-waste options to its customers.
MOON Co-Op isn't like other grocery stores in Oxford. This locally owned store aims to provide zero-waste options to its customers.

The air smells like fresh produce and delicious meats when you walk through the doors. As you move toward the vibrant and newly stocked shelves in front of you, you overhear friendly laughter coming from the checkout counter.

Welcome to MOON Co-Op.

This locally-owned and democratically-operated shop in Oxford is one of only three like it in Ohio. It serves naturally sourced products, including everything from cosmetics and household cleaners to foods of all varieties.

What is a co-op?

Photo by Evan Stefanik | The Miami Student
The co-op, which stocks many items in bulk, has been operating for 11 years.

General Manager Elizabeth Weed started here in May 2018 after working at Jungle Jim’s International Market. She loves her job and had been interested in the field long before her hire. 

“Supporting the local food system is very important to me because big box stores and big agriculture are a huge problem,” Weed said. “They’re breaking our food system down and MOON is a daily reminder to hold myself accountable to that.”

MOON stands for Miami Oxford Organic Network and follows a mission to guarantee the community access to zero-waste options. Although anyone may shop here regardless of their status, the co-op has shy of 1,000 members or stockholders who paid a $150 fee with their application.

Weed recently celebrated the co-op’s 11th anniversary with a donation drive and fundraising campaign. Ordering in bulk keeps the business sustainable and the packaging cheap. However, MOON competes with chain stores which set lower prices for nearly identical purchases. 

“Our largest challenge is that most of our vendors’ first priority is farmer’s markets,” Weed said. “They sometimes sell out, but we’re a good partner to them because we help move the excess product that they do have.”

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Meet the shoppers

Rod Blanchard of Abington Meadows sold the property he owned in 2014 in order to manufacture his family’s favorite medicinal syrup recipes. He does it alongside his partner, Susan Peery, who also works for Hidden Pond Farms.

Whenever she delivers for Blanchard, Peery shops at MOON.

“I really believe in co-ops like this,” Peery said. “Go here if you need to get our products or you just want good natural foods.”

Blanchard calls himself an herbalist and uses chemical-free methods. He and Peery research their products with professional scientific offices in Batesville, Indiana, and test them at Purdue University to meet basic health standards.

“We’re not certified organic but there’s a lot of farmers who aren’t,” Blanchard said. “We have to be a state certified kitchen so we can sell to retail stores.”

More than just a store

Photo by Evan Stefanik | The Miami Student
MOON stayed open throughout the pandemic. Beyond selling groceries, the co-op also holds educational and social events.

Bernadette Unger, vice president of MOON’s Board of Directors, has been with the co-op since May 2004 when she first filed the business’ letters of incorporation for the state of Ohio. As a Miami alumnus and city planner for the previous 20 years, she saw this as the perfect volunteer opportunity to supervise important issues in Oxford’s market.

“We've stayed open every single day, even during the pandemic,” Unger said. “That is such a testament to our excellent staff because it was very stressful to be serving the public, and I’ve heard from so many customers that they redoubled their appreciation of the co-op during that time.”

Along with the staff’s efforts, Unger coordinates outreach and social events for MOON’s visitors. To assist with exposure, board members write a weekly column about MOON for Hamilton’s Journal-News and a weekly electronic newsletter called MOONbeams. Unger wants to return to the pre-pandemic tradition of inviting guest lecturers to the co-op.

“It’s education, experience and passion that keep us moving forward,” she said. “If you’ve been buying the same thing for years, it takes a while for your eye to adjust and for you to start being open to healthier alternatives that you might find you like a lot better.”

MOON’s doors greet all, regardless of one’s social or environmental justice background.

“We just want our money to have the purposes of staying in the local economy, helping support people who are stewards of the earth and taking care of the planet,” Unger said.

Small staff, big customer base

Photo by Evan Stefanik | The Miami Student
MOON's small but dedicated staff try to maintain a lively atmosphere in the store. A sign above the frozen foods section reads, "Our mission is to empower the community to live a sustainable lifestyle."

The co-op offers information on how to prepare its items at home. Employees individually curate those in an attempt to create a full-service stop for groceries and more.

Without the payroll or size to fill various departments, each employee trains on every task in the store. It shapes MOON into a high-energy space, especially considering its most prevalent consumer population, students, usually comes in large groups. 

One recurring customer, Charlotte Piszel, a junior geology and sustainability c0-major, goes because she likes the atmosphere of the c0-op. On multiple occasions, its employees have given her free desserts. 

“The quality is better overall,” Piszel said. “It's also just a more pleasant shopping experience because you're not plagued with overwhelming decision paralysis when you have too many things to choose from. It feels more like exploring rather than getting lost in the aisles of Kroger like you’re in a maze.”

Ryan Rosu, junior English literature and philosophy double major and president of Zero Waste Oxford on campus, got elected as the sole student representative on MOON’s Board of Directors earlier this semester. He attends monthly meetings and often advertises the co-op at MegaFair, tying it to his organization.

“I view MOON as a zero waste ideology in action without a profit drive,” Rosu said. “I’m invested in something bigger than being a tourist of Oxford – I’m also a resident who contributes.”

Frequenters like Rosu can become involved with the ongoing project by providing feedback to the cashier, who collects it all in a notebook. According to Weed, this is one of the ways MOON Co-Op devotes itself to transparency for the people of Oxford.

“What you see is what you get,” Weed said. 

stefanec@miamioh.edu

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