We’re asking shoppers to share what they love about their local natural products store. This month, the spotlight shines on one shopper’s experience with co-ops in Illinois, Georgia and Vermont.

“I shop in local co-ops, when and where possible,” says Ashley Arnold, Carbondale, IL native and lifestyle health coach. “Going primarily organic has been supportive in my journey with autoimmune related conditions. Also, I enjoy learning about brands and food suppliers in this niche, especially when it also includes local and regional options.”

Arnold shops at multiple co-ops including Dill Pickle and Green Grocer in Chicago, Neighborhood Co-op in Carbondale, IL, Daily Groceries in Athens, GA, Life Grocery & Cafe in Marietta, GA and City Market/Onion River Co-op in Burlington, VT.

When it comes to shopping, Arnold’s favorite items to buy include items in bulk bins, pantry and shelf product staples such as broths and diced tomatoes, nut milks, kombuchas, organic & fair-trade chocolate bars, cleaning products for the home, and, best of all, Equal Exchange coffee beans.

“The Neighborhood Co-op in Carbondale carries a salmon sourced from Alaska that is really nice to have as well,” she says.

What makes shopping at a co-op enjoyable is the community feeling. “The operations director from the City Market/Onion River Co-op in Burlington attended the same college as I did and met with me while I was in town last,” Arnold says. “He shared that the community is significantly supportive for Vermont grown produce and how it’s clearly reflected in their sales data.”

The co-ops usually have a nice selection of food, skin & personal care, and home care options and Arnold appreciates that if you follow them online, you will pick up on their various sales and promos.

“The stores with the overarching ‘co-op’ branding do have some consistency from one location to the next and state to state, but sometimes the little hidden gems are great to find because they may have something really special.”

As an environmentally conscious shopper, Arnold loves purchasing bulk skin care items that have BYOC (bring your own container) options.

Offering more than just groceries, Arnold gains a great deal from her local co-ops. “I’m able to learn about brands that are fair-trade and/or organic as well as purchase items in those categories on-site versus needing to order them online. Further, I have also attended cooking workshops at the Neighborhood Co-op in Carbondale, which even led to two new friendships."