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Rising Consumer Prices Increase Popularity of US Co-op Communities

Consumers struggling with higher prices are finding strength in numbers. Community-owned cooperatives, where members pool resources to achieve a common objective, have been gaining popularity in the United States. Members of co-op communities say sharing food, services and manpower makes good economic sense anytime, but even more so during tough economic times. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

While consumer prices have risen sharply this year, income for most Americans has not kept pace. Residents of a Northern California community have found a way to deal with the new reality -- by changing their lifestyle.

Hank Obermeyer is the founder of a non-profit cooperative called Mariposa Grove -- a community owned and operated by its 22 residents.

According to Obermeyer, "we actually own our own places but there are restrictions for how much we can sell them for. We can make money, but we can't make a lot of money."

The community enjoys groups meals three times a week. They also share laundry facilities, and divide the cost of utility bills, broadband Internet and bulk supplies such as detergent and toilet paper.

"It's actually going to cost me less than living in an apartment by myself and I get more for my money," according to community member Diane Dew.

Besides sharing the harvest from the community garden, Mariposa members also share tools, babysitting services and household skills.

"We do work parties together," Dew said. "So say I need a new hot water heater; I don't know how to install a hot water heater, I couldn't afford to pay somebody $1,500 to do it, but somebody else here might have the skills to help me."

But you don't have to live in a commune to reap the benefits of a co-op lifestyle. At a farm in upstate New York, the crops, in this case garlic, are harvested by people who usually go to work in suits.

It's called Community Supported Agriculture or CSA's. For about 450 dollars a year, members receive a weekly delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Farm owner Deb Kavakos says members can also come during the harvest months and pick the crops themselves.

"More than just buying the produce, they really are connected to a farm, and our farm, in a way that I don't think you can just get by either going to a farmer's market or going to a store," says Kavakos.

And the idea is taking root. There are now more than 1,500 CSA's nationwide -- and growing.

"I couldn't find the same quality without paying at least double for what we're getting," said new member Patricia Janof.

Due to the recent salmonella scare, CSA manager Paula Lukats says consumer interest is growing.

"The spinach a couple of years ago, tomatoes and jalapenos more recently," says Lukats. "People are really thinking more about where their food is coming from, what happens to it between the farm and their plate."

Of course, Lukats says there are risks. If the crop fails, members are still obligated to pay for food they may not get.

But CSA members say it's a small risk - for such a tasty reward.