Collingwood, you could be forgiven for not knowing a goldmine of good health was within your midst. The Friends of the Earth Food Co-op has lived at 312 Smith Street for 18 years, but the shop is rather concealed from passers by behind the health food café at the front. Not wanting you to miss out on the spoils within, Time Out has taken it upon itself to be your guide.
The operation started life in a house in Carlton in 1975, then moved to what is now the Little Creatures site in Fitzroy, before being priced out and settling in Smith Street. Upstairs are the Friends of the Earth campaign offices, with current projects focusing on the environmental cost of coal and uranium mining, and the depletion of forests. The collective consists of a few staff and over 30 volunteers a week (the shop and café in particular attract a fair few travellers, who are tempted by the 15 percent off stock and free lunch).
All edible produce is organic or biodynamic, and foods that have become recently fashionable, such as goji berries, have always been available here.
“We introduced quinoa into our café mix plates eight years ago,” coordinator Beth Camerson says of the superfood, and she explains that the members of the co-op know the back-story of every grain they stock, taking the time to source each ethically produced food themselves (with the emphasis on Victorian producers).
When coming to Friends of the Earth, you’re advised to bring your own bags, Tupperware and jars (although you can use theirs), because in the style of an old-fashioned grocer, you weigh out what you need – whether you want to buy in bulk or just have a dribble of something or other for dinner. Seeing items like organic teas available by the bucketload is a bit of a pleasant shock when you’re used to shelling out $15 for a small pre-boxed branded tea. In fact, most items in here, if you could find them in a supermarket, would be on the out-of-your-league shelf.
You’ll also find a large section of the shop devoted to beauty products: detergents, shampoos, conditioners, soaps, body lotions and more, and a noticeboard advertising rallies and spiritual speed dating. It’s not hard to believe that the clientele – be they lecturers, architects, students, parents – come from all over Melbourne.
Also worth mentioning, the staff are always on hand to advise you on what best to buy if you’re vegan or have food allergies, and if you join Friends of the Earth you’ll receive five percent off all your shopping.