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Market connects rural, urban food producers, consumers

Farm tours and educational programs connect rural and urban aspects of food production, marketing and consumption through the recently opened Main Market Co-op, an addition to Spokane’s Community Building complex, across the street at 44 W. Main.

The programs help consumers and co-op members meet the people who supply the food and see what it takes to produce food for this “eco-grocery” and deli.

Jennifer Hall
At Main Market, Jennifer Hall keeps mission visible.

To minimize the market’s carbon footprint, a rooftop raised-bed garden and greenhouse, plus its “green” architecture make it a model of ecological responsibility and sustainability, said owner-manager Jennifer Hall.

Green features include solar panels, recycled building materials, a system to capture heat generated by refrigeration to heat water and an industrial composter to turn waste into compost to sell to farmers and fertilize the rooftop garden.  Rainwater—collected on the roof is stored in tanks under the parking lot—irrigates the garden and landscape.  Raised beds help absorb sunlight and keep the building cooler in the summer.

Quarterly field trips provide an opportunity for consumer-members to meet local farmers, ranchers and food processors, who are the sources for products the market sells.

Jennifer’s cook-from-scratch mindset gradually led her into this venture, where she can teach people the value of buying quality when buying food.

“People pay for quality for TVs, clothing, couches or shoes, but want low-cost foods,” she said.

“Fewer think of paying higher prices for higher quality food, but food is the one thing that goes in you, not on you,” Jennifer said.

“We operate based on a holistic approach, providing sustainable food while preserving the environment, building social capacity and fostering respect for Earth and respect for life,” she said. “While we don’t promote a full retreat to the past, it is important to recognize the practices that worked well, combine them with today’s technology where appropriate, and create solutions for the challenges we face today.”

The co-op also involves farmers to share their ideas on sustainable agriculture.

Buying locally from farmers committed to sustainable practices and educating people about food, Jennifer believes she can make a difference in the local economy and food system.

Main Market’s mission includes providing the public “a reliable place to learn about food and intersect their values and health with their food purchases,” she said.

Jennifer works with farmers, ranchers and fishermen who need to know about politics, agriculture and mechanical repairs to make their efforts profitable. 

With just two percent of the U.S. population raising food, she said there is need for 50 million more farmers.

In addition to the market’s rooftop garden and greenhouse, where people can see food grow, she urges people to use vacant lots and rooftops to grow food in urban areas.

“While the rural lifestyle attracts some, there are opportunities to grow food in the urban setting,” she said.  “Our reality is both urban and rural.”

Jennifer, who grew up in Spokane, studied finance at the University of Washington and earned a master’s degree in health administration at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., began to realize her interest was in food.  Working in health care, she sought to help physicians take care of people.

Her enjoyment of cooking for dinner parties edged her into catering and working in different restaurants in different states, aware that “everyone eats” and that “food prepared from scratch makes people happy.”

Jennifer Hall
Jennifer Hall beside the industrial composter at Main Market

Jennifer began to realize that cooking was more than a hobby.  It was a way to serve people.

Cooking from scratch led her to relationships with local bakers, businesses and farmers, “people who put their hearts and souls into producing food.”

Cooking from scratch assures the best flavor, she said.  It also leads to concern about who grows the food and how they grow it.  Locally, several restaurants, like the co-op, partner with local, small-to-medium farmers.

“Chain restaurants can’t support that type of buying unless they have independent units authorized to buy locally,” Jennifer explained.  “Chains buy on such a large scale they bring prices down to the detriment of farmers and operations such as ours. Major retailers buy food worldwide.”

Jennifer’s appreciation of sustainable food comes not only from a health-care perspective but also from her affection for the outdoors. 

She knows that poor food production techniques are hard on the whole planet, as well as being detrimental for individuals.

“Outdoors is my divining rod and where I find rejuvenation.  The first thing every day, I go out to run or walk my dogs.  I relish the beauty outside,” she said.

While she knows she is not responsible for creating the beauty of nature, Jennifer feels responsible to care for it.

Pesticide and fertilizer runoff has created dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Columbia River, she said.  It will take hundreds of years to fix the environment.

“I want to help people understand the environment and not take food for granted,” said Jennifer, who partners with Jim Sheehan, owner of the Community Building, Saranac and Main Market.

Main Market seeks to “nourish the community at the table,” by contributing to a healthier and more resilient region “one bite at a time.” 

“We ask people to change their habits,” Jennifer continued.

She likens the co-op to a faith organization:  Both bring people together voluntarily to meet common goals bigger than the individual.  Both help meet economic, social and cultural needs.  Both have missions and encourage people to move past selfishness. 

Money spent at the co-op has a positive impact, helping the planet and improving the community, she said.

“Our goal is more than moving things off the shelves,” she said.

Because people are at different points in their attitudes about food choices, she said the co-op is ready to help people improve their diets, eat organic, eat “slow” food, eat better quality food for less cost, eat food rather than take supplements and choose diets that will help them recover from illness.

“I hope to encourage people to change their diets before they become ill,” said Jennifer, telling about some of the classes.

One class series includes learning skills from how to sharpen knives, because dull knives are more likely to slip, to how to take a whole chicken and break it apart, using all parts.

“It’s a more economical way to eat, to use the whole chicken.  The breast, especially an organic breast, is the most expensive part,” Jennifer said.  “The way many eat, relying on processed foods, diminishes their ability to eat economically and healthfully.”

The co-op’s programs and classes help members identify, prepare and enjoy seasonal foods under the guidance of “great chefs in the community, who share culinary secrets, ” she said.

The next class is May 10.

The 1,000 co-op members, who invested in the facility as it was built, will hold their annual meeting on April 17—Earth Day—to vote for board members and policies.  Members include people from Idaho, Spokane Valley and Cheney, as well as Spokane.

The co-op involves voluntary, open membership with democratic control, economic participation, educational programs, cooperation with other cooperatives and concern for the community.

Anyone can shop at the co-op and pay the same prices, regardless of whether they are members, Jennifer added.  There is also a five percent discount for seniors.

For members, there will be tours, classes, discount shopping days, monthly emails and a quarterly newsletter.

For information, call 458-2667 or visit