Steep Hill Food Co-op: A grocery store that feels like home

In anticipation of the road ahead, we took the short drive from the office to Steep Hill Food Co-op on Broadway Ave. in Saskatoon. There we were greeted by Gerry and her daughter Andrée, two of the full-time employees at the whole food co-op. Gerry helped to open the co-op in 1978.

Gerry and Andée stand behind the counter at Steep Hill Food Co-op.

While Steep Hill may seem like many other stores trying to get their piece of the organic/whole food grocer pie, a lot sets them apart. Carrying your usual array of health and lifestyle foods, Steep Hill also goes out of its way to work with as many local producers as it can.

I began grocery shopping in my mind as Gerry showed me around the shop. When she pointed out their locally produced honey, I added it to my mental grocery list.

Eventually, mental grocery shopping became actual grocery shopping and I found myself – somehow automatically – building a basket of honey, organic mac and cheese that I remembered from my childhood, and some lactose-free alternatives that I hadn’t seen in other stores before.

As I shopped I discovered Steep Hill’s most standout quality — the breadth of the staff’s knowledge. As I placed the honey into my basket I knew that the person who made it been bringing his honey to the co-op since the seventh grade, and as soon as I had mentioned my lactose intolerance Gerry and Andrée were quick to point out the lactose free ice cream, various milk alternatives, and others.

It was this hospitality that really stood out to me. It truly felt as if this power duo wanted me to leave their store with everything I needed. At one point Gerry mentioned that she will let members make special orders of products they don’t normally carry. It was so interesting to be in a grocery store that wants its customers’ involvement and interaction perhaps just slightly more than they want your money.

Steep Hill’s commitment to members is also apparent in the way it prices its goods.  Itoffers three tiers of pricing: non-members pay the price on the shelf plus 25 per cent; non-working members pay shelf price plus 10 per cent. Working members — who volunteer at least two hours a month — pay the shelf price for their products.

Steep Hill isn’t just a great place for shoppers. As my tour reached the back half of the narrow shop, Gerry mentioned their sink and informed me that anyone can come in for a glass of water — a fact I tucked in the back of my mind for those long hot days on Broadway.I will definitely be returning to Steep Hill – in fact I’ve already been back since the first visit to show my mom their array of gluten-free products, and introduce her to the shop that showed me you can in fact have a favourite grocery store.

I explore some of the bulk goods that Steep Hill has to offer.

How the Bridge City Bicycle Co-op gets their community cycling

During our time exploring the co-ops of Saskatoon, Tanner and I visited the Bridge City Bicycle Co-op (BCBC). This co-op shares space with the Core Neighborhood Youth Co-op (CNYC) — another great Saskatoon organization that offers a wide variety of youth programming and education. This partnership began because of the success of CNYC’s original bicycle program, which grew to the point where they needed to bring on the BCBC to manage it.

I wheeled my bike over to BCBC in search of someone who could help me.

This partnership was a turning point for the BCBC, which had been operating as an enthusiasts’ club before becoming the community service co-op they are today. It allowed the members to spread their love of cycling to the wider community.

It was easy to tell how much the BCBC has embraced its role. Each of the volunteer mechanics looked happy to be there, and more than one told me that their favourite part of volunteering was helping kids learn how to maintain and repair their bikes.

It wasn’t just the mechanics who were enthusiastic. When we arrived just before opening, a lineup had already formed at the gate. People who needed new tires and other bike parts got in line alongside children and their parents. It was hard to tell who was the most anxious to get riding.

That was when I got a sense of how vital this co-operative is. Watching children not only receive a bicycle but also learn how to care for it was one of the most wholesome sights I’d ever seen. This feel-good notion only got better when I had the thought that, for many who use the BCBC, their bicycle isn’t just a source of fun but also a necessary means of transportation and ultimately central aspect of life.

We were greeted by the BCBC’s Stan Yu, one of the founding members of the co-op, who showed me around their space. It’s made up of an outdoor working area, a small portion of the indoor shop that also houses CNYC’s woodworking area, and an attic full of bicycles and parts.

Stan and I chat as he shows me the attic of the CNYC building.

As Stan helped me pump up my tires and give the bike a bit of an inspection, we chatted about the BCBC and the work that they do. While I learned how to adjust my brake lines I also began to learn about the amazing work this shop makes possible.

I learned that the children who I watched receive bikes would pay only the membership fee, and that the adults only pay a small charge.

BCBC is able to do this through donations, and a partnership with the City of Saskatoon that allows them to collect and fix up bikes from the landfill. This set up essentially means that, for bikes at least, all roads lead to the BCBC.

BCBC’s sign advertising their rates.

Not only does the BCBC break down financial barriers to cycling, but also social barriers. At all times the shop is a judgement-free place that encourages developing new skills and the shop also offers special Women & Queer Programming, illustrating their dedication to getting everyone they can on a bike. 

The New Faces of The Backroad Diaries

The new summer brings new backroads — and with it, the latest season of The Backroad Diaries. This year, the diaries will be led by Tanner Bayne and Jack Thompson, two recent University of Saskatchewan graduates and all around good-guys. Both passionate storytellers, they are eager to travel across western Canada to capture the ingenuity of the communities they visit and share the significance of the co-operatives they see along the way.

Meet the crew!

Jack

Hey! My name is Jack and I am excited to have this excellent opportunity to see parts of Western Canada I haven’t before and be able to tell their stories.

I grew up in the small town of Yellow Grass, Sk, and have been working in journalism since my senior year of highschool. I have recently completed an English degree from the University of Saskatchewan and my main duties for this project will be taking on the bulk of the writing, so check back on this blog to read more of my work!

What’s more, I get to travel with my good friend and previous coworker Tanner! As far as the Diaries go, you can expect a great curiosity from me as I try to find all the greatest gems of each community we visit.

Tanner

Hi there! Welcome to The Backroad Diaries — I’m glad that you’re joining Jack and me on our journey to vibrant communities across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia!

I’m from the cosy bedroom community of Warman, Sk, which is just minutes from the bustling streets of the Bridge City. Like Jack, I’ve acquired an English degree from the University of Saskatchewan. In fact, Jack and I met through our shared love of storytelling while we worked at student-run university newspaper together for two years. Since then, we’ve become close friends, collaborators and — once again — coworkers. I guess you can say we are a package deal.

I’ll be in charge of the visual portion of the Backroad Diaries, making vlogs and videos to accompany Jack’s excellent written work. I’m looking forward to sharing stories with you!

You can follow our travels on  Facebook (@TheBackroadDiaries), Twitter (@TheBackRDiaries) and Instagram (@TheBackroadDiaries).