Cooperatives have been around for centuries to serve as a means for people to work together in a business context in a democratic context in order to serve some common need for all their members. They've been common in agricultural areas, as a means for farmers to combine their resources to get better prices at market, and are still quite common in that area.
This is not the kind of Co-op I'm talking about today, but it's a similar idea. Many areas have begun forming Grocery Co-ops for people who are interested in buying local, organic, and sustainable. For us, in the Pullman-Moscow area, we've got the Moscow Food Co-Op, which is now in it's 35th year of operation. In Bozeman, we had a coop that had opened around 2002, but I like the Moscow one far more.
Co-ops serve an interesting community place. Yes, they're specialty grocers who carry a lot of organic foodstuffs, but more than that, they often serve as sort of gateways into the community. Moscow's Food Co-Op offers live music, gourmet food, community-driven cooking lessons, and access to local producers.
Admittedly, I don't buy into the "Organic" keyword they way many people do. I prefer food produced in a more natural way, with less chemistry. Non-hormone pumped beef, raw milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. I love it, but unfortunately, the laws regarding 'certified organic' have changed in recent years such that many growers who grow in what most people would consider to be an 'organic' method, can't get certified because the paperwork, fees, and other expenses are too high. Organic has been legally taken by large farms who can more easily afford the extra certification, which has also led to the added expense of 'organic' food. Talk to your growers, read food labels, and don't just believe in the hype surrounding the words. Organic has become a marketing term, and organic food isn't necessarily good for you. Hell, tobacco is organic, it's grown without pesticides, and often without chemical fertilizers, but it's still not good for you.
But I digress. Co-ops are great, and definitely worth checking out. We buy most of our bread at our Co-op, and some of our snack-type food since it tends not to have high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and various other chemicals we'd like to avoid. We're planning to start getting more involved in the community activities, as we've been members of our co-op since June (It was $10, and we get every 11th loaf of bread free, it's worth it). Plus, it's the only place in the area we can get non-homogenized whole milk. No [raw milk] unfortunately, while it's not technically illegal in Idaho, the state hasn't licensed any Raw Milk producers in a very long time, and the Washington producers are closer to Spokane. Actually, I haven't done a Milk post yet, so that'll be coming.
Anyway, even if you're not into the whole 'Organic' thing, there is a very, very good chance that your co-op offers something you can't get at your normal grocery, or stuff that may well be higher quality. Plus, the community focus of most co-ops is important to living a sustainable lifestyle, feel yours out, it may well be worth it for you.