Beans and Rock: Martha Moscowitz & Honest Weight’s Bulk Department

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Walk through any of our local supermarkets  –  even Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s – and immediately you’ll notice the miasma of elevator music pervading the store, effectively stifling any spontaneous thought or communication. On the other hand, when you pass by the open door to the office of the Bulk Department at Honest Weight and hear some good rock ‘n roll, you know you are in a very different world. It’s also a telltale sign that Martha Moscowitz is at work.

Martha is an Assistant Manager of the Bulk Department, and also a connoisseur of good tunes. After all, she used to be in an AC/DC cover band. The music Martha selects is catchy; you can feel the beat flow into the staff and member-owners, based on the friendly banter about it that goes back and forth. Martha is one of the people who gives our Co-op that special feeling that you never get when shopping at a big box grocery store.  You can see her working away and chatting with staff and member-owners as she calls vendors, takes stock of the inventory, puts in orders, stocks the inventory, and helps shoppers find exactly what they need. A member of the Co-op since 2001, she started working in Bulk in July of 2014. As she sees it, her job is getting bulk goods from the vendors to the customers – and that’s just what she does, with a flair.

Before she began working at the Co-op, Martha gained experience in a lot of different fields.  She was a waitress, corporate litigation associate at a New York law firm, the Veggie Mobile coordinator for Capital Roots, a yoga teacher, and primary parent. Martha first came to Albany to go to Union College, and then law school. Her hobbies are yoga, classical guitar, and – obviously – music. She now lives in Albany with her husband and young daughter. Like a lot of our staff, she has brought her wide-ranging life experiences and knowledge to Honest Weight.

When I asked Martha what she likes best about her job at Honest Weight, the answer came out easily: it’s her interaction with the member-owners and staff who work with her. She finds them to be very interesting and unique people. Who are the people that work with Martha? The ones I know about work the Wednesday evening shift from 5 to 7pm, which is when I work as a Shopper’s Helper. There’s Bob Linn, a long-time Co-op member owner and veteran Bulk Floor Manager, who helps Martha run the Bulk section. Bob regularly lobs his wry, humorous observations into the ongoing conversations.  He seems to glide through the afternoon helping customers (many of whom he’s known for years), filling bins, or helping Martha with inventory. Everything he does has a light, witty touch. Another staff member, Phil Enriquez, an expert in tea, spices, and many other bulk items, is always ready to help a customer or Shopper’s Helper who can’t find some exotic grain, nut, or seed, or can’t explain the difference, say, between cinnamon from Saigon as opposed to China. It’s reputed by some that he can tell the difference between an organic and non-organic spice just by smelling a small sample.

The member-owners on the shift—Kiersten Westbrook, Tom Capobianco, and Sue Longtin—all do their part, helping customers, filling bins, keeping the area clean, or doing whatever they can. Everyone on the shift adds to its flow and energy. It is easy to see why Martha would say that this camaraderie is what she enjoys most about her job.

Our Bulk Department: Great Selection—And So Much More

Recent articles in the Co-op Voice have featured the Beer Department and the Cheese Department, which are both unique in their own ways. The Bulk Department is special in its own way, too.  In the Capital Region, they are like the Grateful Dead: “They are the only ones who do what they do.” I have been in bulk departments in stores around the region, but none of them seem to match the variety and range of the one at Honest Weight – or the customer service. In fact, the Co-op’s Bulk Department is reputed to be the largest one in the Northeast!

But don’t take my word for it: just look at these statistics! On the Bulk Department shelves, you can find: 41 granolas and cereals; 37 types of fair trade organic coffees; 20 varieties of plain and seasonal salts; 4 grades of New York maple syrup; and 13 sugars and natural sweeteners. In what other food store in the area can you get almost any bulk item you ask for? As a Shopper’s Helper with what I feel is a pretty good knowledge of bulk seeds and grains, I sometimes think shoppers are asking for the impossible. I’ve had lots of shoppers ask me for an item that I’ve never heard of; sometimes what they’re asking about sounds so strange and exotic, I think they’ve made up the name. Sure enough, Martha, Bob or Phil will know exactly where the item can be found and will know something about its uses and varieties. That expertise and a willingness to work with shoppers is one of the reasons shoppers keep coming to Honest Weight.

Not everything that the Bulk Department carries is exotic. Shoppers commonly ask for items such as King Arthur’s white flour, regular raisins, or peanut butter, and they readily find them because the Bulk Department carries so much more than just the exotic. For example, we have an entire section called “Oats and Granola” where not only can you find your common granolas, but also such specialties as Gluten-Free Goji Berry Granola.

In our dried fruit section, you can get common dried fruits such as dried apples and dried papaya, but for the adventurous or for the extreme chocoholic, you can buy a cup or two of Tropical Valley Dark Chocolate Covered Apricots. What about a mundane item like salt?  Growing up, we had Morton’s iodized or non-iodized. Not any more—at least at the Co-op.

Maybe you’d like to try Ghost Pepper sea salt, or Himalayan Pink salt, for something different. Our spices are legion and all in alphabetical order; they take up one side of an entire aisle. For example, if you want allspice, you can get it in three forms: ground, whole, and powdered.

Even our coffee section is amazing, with fair trade coffees and special blends provided by the People’s Empowerment Project, which uses the profits from their coffees to support the movement to get money out of politics.

Furthermore, when you come to the Honest Weight Bulk Department, you don’t have to worry about getting products with artificial colors, growth hormones, or artificial sweeteners. You won’t find any of these substances in the Bulk area—ever! What about dried fruits? Most of our dried fruits have only one ingredient—fruit. There are no preservatives or sugar added to our selection of figs, apricots, dates, mango, persimmon, mulberries, or aronia berries, or to our freeze-dried raspberries, strawberries, and peaches.

Honest Weight’s bulk foods use less packaging, processing, and labor. That benefits the environment, with less waste produced and less energy needed to package bulk foods.  That also saves us money, and those savings are passed directly on to you. Bulk foods come with the added convenience that you can buy as much as you want or as little as you need.

The Honest Weight Bulk Department really is the best place to go in the Capital Region—in the Northeast, actually—for bulk food. You may come to our store for our excellent produce, cheese, or beer. But, do yourself a favor: while you are in the store, spend some time in our Bulk Department. What you’ll find is there are great people and plenty of choices. You might even hear some good music!

 

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Bob Jacobs joined the Co-op Voice in September as an Editor. He has been a Shopper's Helper at Honest Weight for about two years. Bob has been a teacher, editor, landscaper, advocate at a homeless shelter, coffee and papaya farmer, beekeeper, and an appraiser for the state. He loves the people and energy of the Co-op and looks forward to his new role.