EATS Program at the CO-OP - by Adrienne Schroeder

February 17, 2014

Posted By: Shaunescy

Let me first say two things…I love the Co-op and I am not rich.   I have been a regular there since I was in college, when there was only one location and it was just a little house.  I have been a vegetarian for 20 years and back then most grocery stores didn’t carry much in the way of healthy vegetarian fare.  After moving here from the east coast I was thrilled there was a grocery store in town that was stocked with the food I liked, had a yummy deli and was filled with my people.   Not necessarily vegetarian people (I actually don’t know many) but people who cared about the food they ate and where it came from.  People who were willing to spend a little more on quality, whole foods because they believed in the health benefits they provide.   But after all these years I have recently discovered a new reason to love our Co-op that I want to share…the EATS program. Over the years as I’ve made a life here, I constantly hear about how expensive the Co-op is.  In fact even friends who rarely, if ever, go there complain about the prices.  But natural, especially organic, food is more expensive EVERYWHERE.  Even at the farmer’s markets.  Even at the huge grocery stores.  You are always going to pay more for high quality, whole foods than for cheap, chemical laden produce and processed foods.   Trouble is, now we know too much about the connections between food and health to ignore it.   Bozeman in particular is a health conscious, family-friendly community and everyone I know wants to make the best food choices they can for themselves and their families but they have to weigh that against their budgets and it’s a dilemma my friends and I often talk about.

We all know that most people in Bozeman don’t make the kind of money they should for what they do and we all deal with it to stay in this beautiful place and be a part of this great community.  The cost of living is high and the wages aren’t great and I know a lot of people who struggle raising a family here.

We own houses, pay for preschools, have medical bills pile up, have to buy 3 or 4 plane tickets if we want to visit family (because almost no one is actually from here)…we all have to make choices on where to cut back.

I don’t think food should be one of those places.  Neither does the Co-op.  The board of directors came up with a way to help bridge the gap for people who may not have a lot of money but still want to eat really good food.  I understand that buying local and organic is a privilege but the Co-op doesn’t want it to only be accessible to those who are privileged.  So they came up with the EATS Program.

EATS stands for Enough Abundance To Share.  I love that. For Co-op members who have Montana Healthy Kids (MHK) insurance for their children, Women, Infants and Children, (WIC), food stamps (SNAP) or Medicaid, they can receive a 15% discount on everything in the store (excluding postage stamps) whenever they shop, for a period of 6 months.  Even on sale items!  Participation in the EATS program can be renewed every 6 months as long as you are still participating in one of the qualifying programs mentioned above.   (And incase you don’t know, the state recently increased the income requirements for who is eligible for Montana Healthy Kids insurance and it is not just for the destitute.  It is also for full-fledged middle class Montanans.)  Fifteen percent is a huge discount.  In fact, it makes the Co-op every bit as affordable, if not more so, than just about any other grocery store in town for natural and organic food.   Believe me, I have shopped everywhere and priced the items my family typically buys.

Yet I feel like there is still a stigma that is sometimes associated with the Co-op and I don’t know why.  And it bothers me.  I love that any day I walk in there, half a dozen employees know my kids’ names.  I love that over the years I have become friends with some of the employees just from chatting with them when I shop and now our children are friends.  I love that they have 4% Day where on the fourth Friday of each month the Co-op donates 4% of their sales to a project or organization they believe in.  And while I curse whoever it was that invented those little kids shopping carts because I inevitably end up hunched over pulling one or two of them that my kids abandoned, along with my own cart, I love that the “treats” my kids are throwing in their carts are free of artificial dyes and colors and crazy ingredients we can’t pronounce.  My little ones feel empowered that they can grab a cart and put a few things in it on their own and know that I’m ok with what they’re choosing.

I love that my daughter who has Celiac has a huge variety of choices when we eat there.

You don’t have to be a member to shop at the Co-op but you do need to be a member in order to enroll in their EATS program.  Membership could not be easier.  It’s a one-time $35 fee and you can even pay in $5 increments until you reach the $35.  (That’s how I bought my membership in college.)  If you choose to go that route, the computer will prompt the cashier for payment every thirty days until your membership is paid for.  If you can’t make a payment that’s fine, you just won’t be eligible for the EATS discount unless you are a member in good standing.

And if you ever move away from Bozeman, the Co-op will buy your membership back from you if you like.  And unlike stores like Costco (which is a place I also shop sometimes, I’m not anti-Costco) where you pay an annual membership fee which is between $50-$100, the $35 membership fee at the Co-op is a lifetime membership.

They run “member specials” sales all the time so you will surely make back that membership many times over in savings.  Members can also apply for working memberships where they volunteer some hours working at the Co-op in exchange for a discount on their groceries, between 10-25% depending on the number of hours they work.

There are lots of additional member benefits and so many other things the Co-op does for our community but I don’t have time to talk about it all here.

I’m most impressed with the EATS program.  It is unique to our Co-op and is truly something I admire about them.  EVERYONE should have the opportunity to eat well and feed their children clean, wholesome food.   The Co-op is actually doing something about it and making it especially accessible to those who need some help to do so.   Which is what this community is all about.   THANK YOU!

So stop in and check out the incredible food and people at the Co-op.  If you are a member and qualify for the EATS program signing up is as simple as filling out a short form at the Customer Service desk at the West Main location and showing them your eligibility cards.  Whether you participate in that program or not, know that when you shop there you are supporting our local community in a big way and getting some of the best food in town.  To learn more about the Co-op, visit their website at .

CO-OP WEST MAIN ?908 W. Main, Bozeman, Montana, 406-587-4039?Mon–Sat 7:30am–9pm, Sun 8am–9pm?Flying C: Mon-Sat 7:30am–7pm, Sun 8am–7pm

CO-OP DOWNTOWN?44 E. Main, Bozeman, Montana, 406-922-2667?Mon–Sat 8:30am–8pm, Sun 8:30am–3pm


 Adrienne is a freelance photographer and has a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Foundation and eCornell.  You can check out her blog at

Photos by

Rab Cummings

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