In an effort to distribute affordable organic and sustainable products to the greater Isla Vista community, the Isla Vista Food Co-Op has cut prices on staple goods.

Under the Basic Needs Program, which began in August, the Co-Op has lowered prices on an assortment of products, with the only mark-up from wholesale going to cover the labor responsible for putting products on the shelves. The staple items included in the Basic Needs Program range from black beans and brown rice to organic milk and tofu.

According to Melissa Cohen, the Co-Op’s marketing manager, the program spans the needs of both students and low-income families in the community.

“We want people to feel comfortable here,” Cohen said. “The Co-Op’s not just for students. It’s everybody’s store.”

The focus of the Basic Needs Program, according to Cohen, is to liberate people through cooking.

“Cooking is empowering because you know what is put in your food, and you can take control from the corporate food chain,” Cohen said.

Produce is not included on the list of staple goods because it is more expensive for people to buy organic than non-organic produce. Cohen said the produce at the Co-Op is less expensive than the organic produce at large grocery stores because the chain of distribution is shorter. Food comes directly from farmers to the Co-Op, reducing the number of warehouses, planes and trucks to ship food, Cohen said.

“Farmers can’t make nearly as much money with a longer chain of distribution,” Cohen said. “At the Co-Op, we have the highest quality produce at a much lower price.”

The Co-Op is a consumer cooperative — a business owned by the people who use its service. If the Co-Op makes a profit above operating expenses, the money is redistributed back to the community in the form of coupons and refunds.

“The benefit of the Co-Op is that since no one is above us, the extra money lets us drop the price of stuff,” Cohen said. “Everyone benefits when you patronize the Co-Op.”

To encourage the community to visit the store, the Co-Op has outreach programs throughout Isla Vista. The Co-Op sponsors a diabetes class at the Isla Vista Neighborhood Clinic, which ends in a bilingual tour of the store, and additionally, every first grader at Isla Vista Elementary School will take a tour of the store and come away with a tote bag filled with Co-Op products.