Natural food stores flourish in the Treasure Valley

Canyon County Co-op: A first look

The Canyon County Co-op in Nampa opened its doors for business on Tuesday, Jan. 19. The co-op is the result of a two-year grassroots effort. Leaders plan to work with local farmers and dairies to stock their shelves.
Up Next
The Canyon County Co-op in Nampa opened its doors for business on Tuesday, Jan. 19. The co-op is the result of a two-year grassroots effort. Leaders plan to work with local farmers and dairies to stock their shelves.

The Boise Co-op’s new store in Meridian and the new Canyon County Co-op speak to a larger trend of natural food stores that’s sweeping the nation.

More people in the U.S. are seeking out organic and naturally produced fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and animal proteins — and just about everything else. It’s gone from a trend to a way of life for many shoppers.

A 2014 Gallup poll found that around 45 percent of Americans actively look for organic items when they shop for groceries. Of course, some folks eat a strict organic diet, while others just dibble dabble by purchasing certain organic items such as milk and produce. But, most notably, shoppers simply want food that’s responsibly raised and grown (often on small family farms), whether it’s organic or not.

Boise Co-op has watched this burgeoning desire for healthier foods build over the years, and it surely explains why it recently opened a second store in Meridian — Idaho’s fastest growing city — at The Village at Meridian.

“Shoppers these days want more organic and locally produced food,” says Mo Valko, Boise Co-op’s marketing manager. “They want to know where their food comes from and the stories behind it.”

With the recent growth spurt of the Treasure Valley, the Boise Co-op had long envisioned opening other stores in the area to accommodate the needs of its members, and shoppers in general. You don’t have to be members to shop there (memberships cost $65), but members are privy to discounts and other perks.

Where to put the store was a major consideration — based on member input — for the nine-person board of directors, who are elected to three-year terms by the members.

“We did market studies to find out the best locations,” Valko said.

Based on these studies, Meridian seemed to be the best spot considering the expected population growth of the West Valley.

2015 was a bittersweet year for Boise Co-op, though. The new Meridian location has surely increased the popularity of the store across the Valley, but the Boise store had a major salmonella outbreak last spring that sickened around 300 people due to cross-contamination in the deli area. Store leaders emphasize that new food-safety measures are now in place.

The Boise Co-op, which has around 23,000 members, boasts a storied history, dating back to the hippy trippy days of 1973 when it was a small buyers’ club at the El-Ada community outreach center. In 1975, the consumer-driven co-op opened its first store in Hyde Park. It moved to Hill Road — just off Harrison Boulevard — in 1984.

In 1996, the Co-op moved into its much larger and current digs on Fort Street in Boise’s North End. The 13,500-square-foot space — a former M&W Market — allowed the store to expand its inventory and become a full-blown natural food store.

Over the years, the flagship store has undergone several design transformations, and it even added a wine shop and pet food store across the parking lot.

Boise Co-op’s Meridian store, which opened late last year, is larger than the Boise store, with 18,000 square feet of retail space. Even though the store configurations are different, shoppers can find the same products down the boutique-designed aisles. Plus, there’s more parking at the Meridian location because of the space available at its suburban location.

“That’s certainly a challenge in the North End,” Valko admits.

The new store showcases a gas-fired pizza oven for all to see next to the deli area. Here, shoppers can score blistered pizzas (sold whole or by the slice), sandwiches, scratch soups, healthy deli salads and globally inspired rice bowls — such as spicy Korean barbecue chicken.

A well-stocked produce section is ornately displayed with a wide variety of organic and other fresh produce that’s grown throughout the region.

The meat and seafood departments are designed with ease in mind. In the back corner of the store, they offer a plethora of local and regional proteins that are ready to grab and go.

“We make fresh sausages and prepared, marinated meats — easy take-home things. And our deli has all kinds of convenient items,” Valko says. “People want healthy food, but they don’t always have time to cook.”

A big part of Boise Co-op’s success has to do with the relationships it has built with local suppliers over the years. Terms such as “grass-fed,” “free-range” and “non-GMO” are not just marketing buzzwords (see glossary at left) for many ranchers and produce farmers in this swath of the Snake River Plain. These words actually mean something.

For example, Brown’s Buffalo Ranch, in nearby Nyssa, Ore., has sold its grass-fed, barley-finished buffalo meat at Boise Co-op for nearly 30 years. The ranch was started in 1972 by the Brown family, who also own Northwest Premium Meats in Nampa. Owners Tim and Garrett Brown, a father-and-son team, have built the brand over the years by expanding into farmers markets and restaurants.

Buffalo meat is healthy because it’s low in fat and doesn’t have much cholesterol, and growth hormones, genetically modified grains and antibiotics aren’t typically used in the industry.

Many consumers are choosing buffalo meat over beef these days in an effort to find a cleaner, healthier red meat option.

“In the last two or three years, we’ve noticed a jump in sales at the Co-op and at restaurants,” says Garrett Brown, who manages the ranch and also handles sales. “Everybody wants healthy, local food.”

Boisean Stephanie Bennett started Steph’s Seriously Good Salsa about five years ago, after noticing that people were desiring locally made products made with food not grown with genetically modified organisms. Plus, she makes damn good salsa. Thus, her business was born. She immediately established an account with Boise Co-op, which seemed like a good fit for her refrigerated fresh salsa.

“The Co-op has been my anchor piece. They’ve been wonderful,” she says. “There’s definitely a niche right now for local and fresh, and the Co-op really taps into that.”

Bennett, who also sells her products at Whole Foods Market, makes her salsa in the Create Common Good kitchen, a Boise-based organization that employs refugees and others from “at-risk” groups.

Rochelle Cunningham, a book author and journalist, has shopped at Boise Co-op for several years, dating back to the days when she lived in the North End. She writes about health and nutrition in the Boise area for, an online network of citizen journalists across the country.

Cunningham doesn’t solely eat organic foods, yet she takes the organic route whenever possible. She encourages her readers to be proactive about the foods they consume by seeking out information.

“If you’re eating organic, it’s important to know what’s going on. I promote (in her articles) asking people who work in produce sections about the specifics. Don’t assume anything — just ask,” Cunningham says. “Boise Co-op is a great place to get honest information about organic foods, and what’s grown around here.”

Don’t be surprised to see more Boise Co-op stores pop up in Southwest Idaho in the coming years.

“We see ourselves growing as the population of the Valley grows,” Valko says.

In January, the much-anticipated Can yon County Co-op debuted in Nampa’s historic Belle District.

The consumer-driven cooperative, housed in the 2,000-square-foot former Lloyd’s Lumber cabinetry shop spot, is diminutive in size compared to Boise Co-op’s stores. But it’s exactly what the citizens of Canyon County have wanted for their burgeoning community.

“Folks had to travel a long way to get to the Boise Co-op,” says Michael Worman, operations manager at Canyon County Co-op. “Lots of people around here voiced their opinions, and they said they wanted a co-op in Nampa.”

Canyon County Co-op is off to a good start with a dynamic membership number that recently reached the 2,000 mark — far surpassing the recommended goal of at least 675 for a store of its size. (Memberships cost $75 initially with a $35 annual fee thereafter.) Like at Boise Co-op, you don’t have to be a member to shop at Canyon County Co-op, yet members get daily store discounts, special event invites and the right to vote on business affairs.

A seven-person board of directors governs decisions based on member input. And the people of this agricultural-based community, like just about everywhere else in the country, want locally produced food.

“Our goal is to provide local food. If we can get organic, that’s great. We are really focusing on gluten-free, too,” Worman explains.

Right now, Worman has established relationships with around 50 local vendors, and that number will surely increase once the growing season starts — especially in the produce department.

Expect to find local dairy and cheese products (from producers such as Cloverleaf Creamery and Wild Country goat cheese), condiments, sauces, baked goods and locally milled flours and polenta, to name a few.

The store also stocks a good selection of local canned craft brews and Snake River Valley wines.

Whole Foods Market has been a hit with Treasure Valley shoppers since it debuted on Broadway Avenue in Boise in 2012.

The natural food store chain, based in Austin, Texas, has around 425 stores across the U.S. and Canada. It also operates nine stores in Great Britain.

Whole Foods is not a member-owned store. The Boise location boasts a boutique grocery store design with a profusion of organic and natural foodstuffs, not to mention lots of imported and regional American wines and handcrafted beers.

Store departments include bulk foods, prepared foods, produce, cheese, coffee and tea, meat and poultry and seafood, to name a few. And there’s even a small bakery area with an espresso bar and an upstairs dining room called The River Room, where people can quaff beers and slurp oysters.

People around these parts also were excited when Trader Joe’s opened two years ago in Downtown Boise. The California-based chain of specialty food stores is known for its low prices on organic, natural and gluten-free products.

Even local chains, such as Albertsons and Fred Meyer, have jumped on the organic bandwagon in recent years. And Huckleberry’s Natural Market at Rosauers in Meridian boasts a large selection of organic and local offerings.

James Patrick Kelly, the Idaho Statesman’s restaurant critic, is the author of the travel guidebook “Moon Idaho.” The latest edition hits the shelves in late March. Kelly also teaches journalism at Boise State University.

What does it all mean? A glossary of modern food terms

Cage-free: Eggs harvested from hens that don’t live out their lives in crowded coops. The ladies are free to roam in outside areas.

Free-range: Like cage-free, this term typically relates to poultry. The chickens aren’t packed in pens — like they are at large factory farms. Instead, they spend much of their lives outdoors.

Genetically modified organism: As the name suggests, scientists have altered the genes — to resist pests, pesticides and freezing — found in much of the food grown at large corporate farms. More and more people are asking for non-GMO foods.

Gluten-free: Gluten, the elastic protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other gluten grains, can cause digestive discomfort for those who are sensitive to it, and can be downright dangerous for folks with celiac disease. Gluten-free products obviously don’t contain gluten, and they can be purchased just about everywhere these days.

Grain-finished: This term relates to animals (beef cattle and buffalo) that spend their lives eating grass but are fed grain in the final weeks before harvesting. Barley is commonly used these days because much of the corn supply in the U.S. has been altered by GMOs.

Grass-fed: As the name suggests, animals spend most of the time in pastures munching on grasses, forage and hay.

Local: This terms gets used a lot for marketing purposes. But it really means that foodstuffs are raised or grown within a 100-mile radius — give or take a few miles.

Natural: This term also gets thrown around often in marketing (sometimes deceptively), yet it simply means that antibiotics, growth hormones and GMOs aren’t used in the production of food. There’s no certification for natural foods by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Organic: Organic practices guarantee that produce and meat gets grown or raised without antibiotics, growth hormones, irradiation, pesticides, fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. Foods considered to be organic are tightly regulated and certified by the USDA. Organic farms undergo constant monitoring to ensure exacting standards.

Sustainable agriculture: The USDA doesn’t set guidelines for sustainable farming practices, yet it recommends that farmers come up with a system to reduce the negative, long-term effects on the land by implementing responsible environmental practices.

Vegan: Veganism goes one step beyond garden-variety vegetarianism. Vegans eat a diet that’s 100 percent animal free, and this means no honey as well.

Where to find these stores

Boise Co-op

888 W. Fort St., Boise


2350 N. Eagle Road, Village at Meridian



Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Canyon County Co-op

1415 1st St. S., Nampa


Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Huckleberry’s Natural Market at Rosauers

2986 N. Eagle Road, Meridian


Hours: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

Trader Joe’s

300 S. Capitol Blvd., Boise


Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Whole Foods Market

401 S. Broadway Ave., Boise


Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Chicken Coconut Curry with Squash Soup

(No wheat or dairy in this recipe)

Courtesy of Boise Co-op

Makes about 7 cups

1 small yellow onion, chopped

3 tablespoons safflower oil or olive oil

2 13-ounce cans coconut milk

1½ cups cooked rotisserie chicken, chopped

1½ cups squash (summer squash or butternut), chopped

1½ tablespoons yellow curry powder

1½ cup spinach or kale, washed and chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Sauté yellow onions in oil and salt over medium heat until soft. Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add in chicken, squash and curry powder and bring to a simmer. Cook for approximately 10 minutes, or until squash is tender (will take longer if you are using butternut or another winter squash). Remove from heat and fold in kale or spinach. Allow greens to wilt. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Mushroom Banh Mi Sandwiches

Courtesy of Boise Co-op

This is a great sandwich to make for a lunch or dinner party. While it involves a few steps to prepare, the results are definitely worth it.

Makes 4 sandwiches

Mushroom mixture:

6 ounces fresh crimini mushrooms

1 tablespoon safflower oil or olive oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce

1 tablespoon water

A pinch of chili flakes

1 small clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon minced or grated fresh ginger

Toss all ingredients together, cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to sit another 15 minutes before removing foil. Slice cooked mushrooms and combine with juice from pan. Refrigerate.

Pickled vegetables:

Note: If you do not want to prepare your own, feel free to substitute kimchi or pickled daikon.

1 cup seasonal vegetables, thinly sliced or cut into matchsticks on mandoline (carrots, radish, turnips, Chinese cabbage will work)

 1/8 cup red onion, sliced

 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

 1/2 bay leaf

A pinch of mustard seed

A pinch of salt

Bring pickling liquid to a boil. Pour hot pickling liquid over vegetables. Put a weight to hold them down in pickling liquid. Allow to marinate for at least 1 hour.

Cilantro salsa verde:

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

 1/2 jalapeño, chopped

1 teaspoon coriander seed, toasted and ground

 1/2 cup grapeseed oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

A pinch of salt

Coarsely chop cilantro, onions and jalapeno. Combine all ingredients and process in food processor mixed with three parts mayonnaise to one-part cilantro verde, freeze remaining cilantro verde for later.

Assembling the sandwiches:

Thinly slice a jalapeño and a quarter of a cucumber. Toast and cut baguette into four pieces, leaving a hinge, spread cilantro mayo on bottom, then top with cucumber, mushrooms, pickled vegetables and jalapeño.

Seeded Whole Grain Beer Knots

Courtesy of Whole Foods Market

Makes 12 rolls


1 12 -ounce bottle brown ale, at room temperature

 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

3 cups all-purpose flour


 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

 1/4 cup warm water (between 105-110 degrees)

1 cup whole spelt flour

2 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

 1/2 cup cool water

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt (for seed mixture)

To make sponge, in a medium bowl, combine beer and yeast and stir a few times. Let stand until yeast has dissolved, 3 to 4 minutes. Mix in all-purpose flour by hand or with a wooden spoon until evenly incorporated. Cover loosely and let sit at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours.

To make dough, transfer sponge to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add yeast, warm water, spelt flour, whole wheat flour and salt. Begin mixing on low speed. When dough starts to come together, add cool water to make a dough of medium consistency (not dry but not too wet). Continue to mix on the lowest or second-lowest speed until a smooth dough forms, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Return to the bowl, cover loosely and let sit in a warm spot until dough is almost doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal rectangles. Roll a piece into a 12 inch-rope and tie into a knot. Repeat with remaining dough pieces.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. To make topping, combine poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, fennel seeds and salt in a wide pie plate. Quickly dip the top of each roll into a small bowl of water, and then press the roll gently into seed mixture. Place 6 rolls on each prepared baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm spot until rolls are almost doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, position one rack on the bottom and 1 rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Place a metal baking pan on the lower rack to use for creating steam.

When rolls are ready to bake, carefully pour about  1/2 cup water into the hot pan in the oven and immediately close the door. Wait about 2 minutes for the steam to settle, then quickly place 1 baking sheet on the middle rack (you can bake both pans if your oven is large enough). Lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake until rolls are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Transfer rolls to a wire rack and cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.