Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Wheatsville Co-op strives to make local goods accessible for students

Kevin Kim
Wheatsville Co-op on Oct. 5, 2023

On the corner of Guadalupe and 30th streets, surrounded by organic potted plants and pumpkins, stands Wheatsville Co-op. Customers walk in with their reusable bags, searching for this season’s freshest produce. A nostalgic breeze of old Austin drifts through the grocery store, first founded by farmers in 1976.

The store’s name derives from Wheatville, a community of formerly enslaved people established in Austin after the Civil War. What was once Wheatville makes up a small part of West Campus.

With over 24,000 owners, Wheatsville Co-op remains the only retail food cooperative in Texas and serves as the go-to store for students looking for local plant-based food.

Vanessa Orellana, Wheatsville Co-op’s manager, said the store was built by people looking to create an inclusive grocery store for everyone’s unique dietary needs. 

“(Being inclusive) was always part of the foundation early on,” Orellana said. “Appealing to as wide of an audience as possible was important so everyone felt included and welcomed.”

According to the store’s website, customers pay a one-time fee of $70 to become an owner of the store. These owners receive reduced prices and vote on store matters.

While owners get a variety of perks, Orellana said Wheatsville Co-op relies on every customer’s feedback and suggestions to create an array of items for every type of diet.

“Most brands we carry come from when a customer requests a brand,” Orellana said. “Even if you’re not an owner, you can request a product. We have a clipboard at the front (of the store), and we’ll look through it every week or so and consider the items. If you want it, write it down, and we’ll see if we can get it.”

Mandy Castillo, Wheatsville Co-op customer and biology senior, follows a vegan diet. Being from Austin, Castillo first began frequenting Wheatsville Co-op six years ago.

“I immediately noticed they had greens from a small urban farm (Austin) has,” Castillo said. “Then, I walked to the veggies and noticed they stocked true local produce, right from here. (I remember) being like ‘Oh, that’s awesome.”

Public relations junior Aoife Hopkins said eating a mostly plant-based diet helps her feel her best. Wheatsville Co-op’s selection of organic goods supports Hopkins in her wellness journey.

“When you’re buying organic, you’re investing in your health, so I think Wheatsville (products) are a good value,” Hopkins said. “Prices might be a little higher, but buying healthy, local and small does have benefits.”

Orellana said organic foods, like those in Wheatsville, require more time and effort to grow than produce from regular farms. Subsequently, the goods cost more than items found in other stores, leading to concerns about the prices.

“The prices reflect the quality (of goods) for sure,” Orellana said. “There are going to be some pricier items because of the work put into creating them, but especially for staple items, you can always find a more affordable version here that’s not necessarily compromising on quality.”

During a time in which many grocery stores prioritize quantity over quality, Wheatsville Co-op stays true to its original values by providing the community with a reliable, transparent option for local, natural goods.

“Wheatsville having democratic options as a co-op and giving the consumer a say … It just aligns with my values,” Hopkins said. “Sticking to your business values in a world where it’s not (common) to do so is very awesome of (Wheatsville).”

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